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Teachers become learners at Summer Institute

Patricia Pendleton, a Minneapolis teacher and instructor with Origins, a nonprofit education-based organization, instructs teachers on a recess game based on "paper, rock, scissors." Teachers from across the Midwest are participating in the weeklong Summer Institute workshop at Bemidji Middle School. The program focuses on learning the needs of elementary and middle-school students. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams

Standing in the middle of a circle of peers can be intimidating for some students, while amusing for others. Likewise, taking notes on an empty stomach is tolerable for some, but punishing to others.

A Summer Institute workshop this week at Bemidji Middle School is helping 150 teachers and faculty members from schools across the Midwest and Canada to learn to address the needs of their students.

The workshop is sponsored by Origins, a Minneapolis-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping schools become communities where children feel understood, safe, valued and respected.

Origin workshops include specially trained educators who teach participating teachers on two methods of learning: Responsive Classroom for elementary students and Developmental Designs for middle-school students.

Both methods are founded on the theory that learning is possible only after students' social, emotional and physical needs have been met.

According to Origins, a student's four developmental needs involve connecting with others, wanting to be independent, experiencing success, and wanting to have a good time.

"If a student's needs are not met, their conduct is often worse in the classroom," said lead Origins educator Kristin Sonquist. "If student behaviors are great, their academics tend to be great as well."

Ten teachers from Bemidji Middle School attended last year; this year, 20 attended.

"Teachers who didn't attend last year asked all year when this workshop was going to happen, so they were glad to be able to attend this year," said Jim Wheeler, principal at BMS.

The DD method is split into three classes. First-time participants of the workshop enroll in DDI, which is a prerequisite for DDII and DDIII. There is only one class of RC.

Classes taught by Origins educators address the developmental issues of young adolescents, such as bullying, cliques, coping with change, emerging sexuality, the influence of popular culture and trust. Creative teaching strategies are shared among teachers and even new recess games are explored.

Most weeklong workshops may be taken as graduate courses. Workshop courses in Minnesota and Wisconsin are offered through Hamline University in St. Paul, and Saint Mary's University of Minnesota in Winona.

Origins workshops are held at locations throughout the United States, but the cost of attending is high. Tuition is $695 per person, which includes materials, morning refreshments, and lunch.

Many of the participants are only able to attend the workshop through grant money issued to the school.

Tami Wesely, principal at Solway Elementary School, received enough funding to bring 15 teachers to the workshop. Three of the teachers attended the workshop last year and were impressed with what they learned.

"We wanted to emphasize anti-bullying at the school and this has been a good thing," Wesely said. "This method involves continuously teaching throughout the school day, whereas other programs that are taught every now and then haven't been as successful."

Sonquist believes how children learn is as important as what they learn.

"There's never a dead end with a student and there's never a quick fix, but this gives teachers a toolbox of resources to help the student reach academic success," Sonquist said.

Sonquist said Origins is a proven successful method.

Origins reports it is working with David Hough, dean of the College of Education at Missouri State University. Hough has extensive experience with evidence-based program evaluation and research.