Lori DiLorenzo is always on the lookout for ways to improve.
DiLorenzo, a kindergarten teacher at Arrowhead Elementary, has made personal growth and development consistent benchmarks in her approach to teaching. Just as she works hard to ensure that her students learn as much as possible during any given school year, DiLorenzo is insistent that she consistently find ways to raise the bar for herself.
The Cherry Creek School District's Summer Learning Academy has played a big role in helping her meet those goals. For the past four years, DiLorenzo has reported to these free summer classes designed for CCSD teachers across grade levels and subjects. This year is no exception – DiLorenzo joined colleagues in a classroom at Thunder Ridge Middle School on June 6 for a course focused on incorporating play in classroom lessons. In between discussions about the importance of investing classroom activities with a sense of fun and discovery, DiLorenzo spoke about the value of the instruction.
"I have always found something in the (Summer Learning Academy) to take back to my classroom," DiLorenzo said. "I would recommend it to any teacher in the district."
Perhaps more than any other profession, teaching requires a constant degree of learning. Those preparing K-12 students must be current on the latest trends and innovations in their given subject matter. From kindergarten to high school, the classroom requires a consistent and updated brand of expertise.
For the past five years, the Summer Learning Academy has offered teachers a unique professional development opportunity. The classes are a way for teachers to keep current, to ensure that they're ahead of the curve and providing students of all ages and interests with the most pertinent information. What's more, the summer classes connect teachers with the latest trends in pedagogy and classroom dynamics.
"We'll cover subjects that are both content-based and theory-based. You'll have sessions on cognitive coaching, you'll have sessions that are specific to literacy. We'll have some sessions focused on culturally responsive education, as well as sessions based on technology, science and math," said Floyd Cobb, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the district. "The goal is really to give teachers a well-rounded opportunity to be able to learn during some of their free time, to really be able to digest information."
Such an opportunity is difficult during the school year, when a full workload can get in the way of effective professional development. The weeklong series of courses at the beginning of the summer offers teachers a voluntary window of professional development without interfering with their summer plans.
The structure has resonated with teachers across the district. This year, for example, about 900 CCSD teachers reported to Summer Learning Academy classes at multiple sites.
"All the feedback that we've received is incredibly positive," Cobb said. "Teachers are appreciative to get the opportunity to get professional development that they don't have to pay for and, most importantly, that's aligned to what they're doing in the district."
DiLorenzo was certainly appreciative as she took a short break from her course focused on incorporating play into classroom instruction. She spoke about another class she'd taken that focused on the importance of mindfulness in instruction, and only voiced a single complaint about the series.
"It's been great learning for me every year," she said. "I just wish they offered it more."