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Area school districts take part in four-day education conference at BSU

Facilitator Dana Carmichael, center, works Thursday with Kelliher staff, from left, Kyle Erickson, Mary Lundin, Tim Lutz and John Carlson as part of the four-day Authentic Intellectual Work Conference at Bemidji State University. Administrators and teachers from seven area school districts participated in the workshop, which aims to help districts build local leadership skills by combining, planning and implementing school-wide learning expansions. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The roles of students and teachers were flipped this week, as area school officials gathered at Bemidji State University to learn how to better improve the learning experience they provide to students.

A number of teachers and administrators from seven school districts took part in a four-day conference hosted by the Center for Authentic Intellectual Work, which is designed to improve the quality of teaching.

Fred Nolan, AIW executive director, said the goal of the conference is for teachers to better help students develop higher thinking order, demonstrate a complex understanding of significant disciplinary concepts and engage in work that has meaningful value beyond the academic environment.

"The conference isn’t descriptive on how to properly teach," Nolan said. "Teaching is interpretative; this is more on getting the students to do what the school officials feel is important based on the goals they set."

Partaking in a set of 10 activities throughout the conference, each school district "team" — made up of six to 10 people — worked toward creating a plan that would eventually reach the goals the team set for their school district.

Kelliher School District, one of the teams present at the conference, has been involved with AIW programs for about a year.

Tim Lutz, superintendent of the Kelliher School District, said the conference and AIW materials has led to a number of changes the district plans to undergo before the start of the upcoming school year.

"We will be starting an hour later every Monday so teachers can get together and plan on how to effectively work together, among other things," said Lutz.

Lutz also said additional professional days are being incorporated into the academic calendar and that AIW concepts will also be integrated into teacher evaluations to make the Kelliher staff a more cohesive unit.

"AIW is one of the greatest initiatives to come along to improve our learning and teaching practices," he said.

Comprised of six people, Kelliher’s team was split into two different groups — teaching coaches and data coaches. Four of the team’s members focused on the teaching, while the rest of the team was designated for data tracking.

"Our expectations are to have our teacher-coaches help lead the other teachers so they can improve their lesson plans," Lutz said. According to Lutz there are nearly 30 instructors employed at the Kelliher School District.

Allen Ralston, superintendent for Clearbrook-Gonvick, is credited for contacting AIW to conduct the conference in Bemdiji.

According to Ralston, AIW is one of the better education conferences he attends.

"There are a lot of good teachers in northwest Minnesota, and this is a good way to make small schools better," he said. "This is about teachers getting together with teachers to talk about what makes a good teacher."

In addition to Kelliher and Clearbrook-Gonvick, other school districts included Bagely, Fisher, Laporte, Oglebay and Gilbert Community, Iowa.