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Teachers, administrators encouraged to Create Something Great

Three-day professional development event empowers DCSD educators to make a change in instruction

DENVER – More than 500 of Douglas County School District’s most innovative teachers and administrators gathered this summer, along with colleagues from around the state and country, to collaborate as they reimagine and transform instruction in their classroom and schools.

The Create Something Great 2015 Think Tank, held at the Morgridge College of Education on the campus of the University of Denver June 9-11, was focused on supporting teachers and principals as they work to transform teaching practices.

“This is a week that was designed by teachers, for teachers,” explained Create Something Great organizer Mary Murphy, a Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator in the District’s World Class Education department. “This event is really empowering teachers to not only form their own networks and collaboration groups, but to also empower teachers to be leaders. To really be the change makers and change agents for education, for our profession.”

Create Something Great began with a simple idea from a DCSD teacher. Lisa Conner of Rocky Heights Middle School suggested creating a network so that the District’s innovative teachers could share and support each other’s work.

“I think the most important piece is that this was an idea by one teacher who came to the World Class Education department and said, here is this idea—would you support it? We said absolutely,” explained DCSD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Dana Johnson-Strother.

LEARN MORE: Teachers organize Create Something Great as a place to learn and grow together

Like last year’s inaugural event, a panel of experts kicked off Create Something Great on June 8 by discussing the need for well-prepared and innovative students in the workforce.

“Industry – corporate America – is telling us, please give your kids opportunities to be problem solvers, critical thinkers, and designers,” Murphy said.

“This is the perfect week for teachers to start thinking about that.”

“The goal is to make sure that our students are college, career and citizenship ready. In order to do that we have to change the way that we teach and learn,” Johnson-Strother added.

The experts say the century-old education system is not meeting the needs of today’s students.

“You can start with the number of kids that drop out of school between ninth and twelfth grade,” said Jeff Petty, the director of the Puget Sound Consortium for School Innovation. “You can start with the number of students who are not really intellectually engaged by the time they reach upper grades. You can start with when you say school, the first word that comes to mind for most people is boring.”

Petty believes one of the biggest barriers to innovation in public schools is preconceptions of what school is supposed to look like, which is why he is excited to see the type of work being done here in Douglas County, by our teachers.

“It’s amazing that a school district is bringing together so many of its own staff and also people from outside to explore how to create some new innovations for kids. I don’t think there are many districts that invite that kind of process,” Petty said.

During the keynote address, DCSD Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen applauded our pioneers and encouraged even more teachers to join the effort to transform their teaching practices.

“I want you to know, it is an inspiring thing to be in our classrooms and to see empowered students and very innovative, pioneering teachers like none that I have ever seen before,” said Fagen. “I hope what you get this week, from me right now and the others, is an invitation; an invitation to innovate in the best interest of students; to try something new. To make sure they are learning the high level outcomes that will be so important to their future.”

The three-day event was designed to not only inspire our educators, but to support and encourage them to take action and lead the way.

“We absolutely support innovation in buildings and schools across the District,” Johnson-Strother said. “We want the teachers to blow the doors off of what American education has traditionally looked like… and create what they think is the best learning opportunities for students.”

“I want all teachers to really feel that they have not only the permission, but more importantly the encouragement to be a risk taker – to really take a step back and really start to redesigning their learning experience, their classroom – to really think through, ‘when my students return to me in August, how will I have completed, changed or redesigned the learning experience for them next year.’ [To say] ‘I’m going to take that risk. I’ve been given permission, by not only Dr. Fagen, but also this entire District to become a true innovator. That is what I really hope all teachers will leave with on Thursday – that empowerment,” Murphy said.

They could choose from two tracks, 1) a boot camp in Design Thinking, a program originated at Stanford, which focuses on human-centered problem solving or 2) an opportunity to explore a variety of instructional models.

“The great thing about this conference is that it gives teachers and principals an opportunity to be exposed to a lot of different things,” said DCSD Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator Eric Sonnentag.

Instead of having to travel to conferences or schools around the country, DCSD brought educators at the forefront of educational change to Colorado.

“We are not the only district being innovative,” explained Johnson-Strother. “Districts around the world are being innovative, so we decided to bring these experts in and let’s learn from them and then we create our own.”

“Education is changing and I think that Douglas County is so lucky to have an opportunity to have this design thinking team come and talk to us,” said Jean Wolach, the Assistant Principal at Heritage Elementary. “Standing up in front of kids and teaching and lecturing and having them sit in desks is going away. This is an opportunity for us to actually live it and actually go through a [Design Thinking] challenge and think through that process.”

Participants said they could not wait to bring back the concepts learned to their schools.

“I’m very proud of our staff and the work that we do, but I also know that sometimes you have to plant seeds and seek new ideas and see what the horizon holds,” said Mark Wakefield, the Professional Learning Specialist at Cresthill Middle School.

“It is really going to make for some compelling thought and conversation, not only for our building but for our district as to what education can look like, but also to push the envelope,” Wakefield added.

The hope is that teachers and leaders will go even further, taking a leap this summer to try something different with students this fall, which is why the District will be offering follow up opportunities for teachers who are ready.

Learn more about Create Something Great at

June 25, 2015 | By rmbarber | Category: Create Something Great, District, Schools, World Class Education

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