Teachers organize Create Something Great as a place to learn and grow together
June Think Tank grows to meet demand for collaborative learning
HIGHLANDS RANCH – Create Something Great (CSG) began last year with a simple idea from a group of teachers. They wanted to create a network of peers within the Douglas County School District (DCSD) to share innovative practices.
This summer, the Think Tank they created will support more than 500 Douglas County teachers during a four-day event.
“It has grown into something bigger than I could ever imagine,” Rocky Heights Middle School Literacy Specialist/Gifted and Talented Program Facilitator, and original CSG committee member, Lisa Conner said.
The effort had humble, but promising beginnings. Last year, 55 DCSD teachers participated in the inaugural event. It included a panel of experts discussing the need for well-prepared and innovative students in the workforce. Then participants from across the District were grouped together to share their ideas and to collaborate.
Conner says they wanted to make sure that there was a good mix of teachers from different levels and backgrounds.
“We just shared first names and that was it. It didn’t matter who you were, where you were from or what you taught, because we thought you can learn a lot from each other, regardless of what you taught, what level,” Conner said.
“We are all educators first. We wanted everyone to have equal footing in the discussions and not to think, ‘well, I’m sitting with this person who has a district or school leadership role, so I don’t have as much to contribute to the dialogue,’” Mountain Vista High School’s STEM and Gifted/Talented Program Facilitator David Larsen added.
The teachers say the goal of the event, and subsequent meetings, has been to encourage fellow DCSD educators to explore what it means to be innovative in teaching and learning and then to support each other in applying it in their classrooms.
"We wanted to build a momentum, reignite a fire and then give the participants something that they could take back to their classroom and try right away, rather than it being some intangible thing," Conner explained. "We tried to give them ideas that were practical, colleagues to collaborate with, and a safe place to try something new; something that they could implement the next day."
“It has definitely stimulated some thinking along the lines of innovation,” Larsen said. “We had six or seven teachers from Mountain Vista attend. They have been trying a number of different things.”
Larsen says the educators who attended from Mountain Vista have worked on changing the grading system, project based learning, design thinking, and have worked with students to redesign learning environments in order to better meet teens’ needs. There are a myriad of innovative projects that teachers around the district have implemented as a result of their work last summer and during the school year.
The committee members have even visited innovative classrooms outside the District to bring best practices and ideas back to the group.
Feedback from participating teachers has been positive. In fact, many have asked for this opportunity to be opened to even more DCSD educators, which is why the World Class Education department has partnered with the committee to scale-up this June’s Think Tank.
“We are honoring the request of teachers in our District to provide them avenues to learn, to experience, to collaborate and to network,” said DCSD Secondary Curriculum Coordinator Mary Murphy.
“We wanted it to be by teachers, for teachers,” Conner added. “There is no agenda. It is just a place to learn and grow together.”
The event is scheduled for June 8-11 and will once again begin with a panel discussion, featuring six representatives from education and industry. Then, starting on June 9, teachers can choose from two concurrent conferences, held at the University of Denver. One is a three-day boot camp on Design Thinking, while the other features a choice of 19 learning sessions designed to allow teachers to explore and collaborate around innovative instructional models such as Challenge-Based Learning, Case-Based Learning, Robotics and STEM.
“There are not many times that we get this sort of opportunity within our District. To be able to expose yourself to other schools that have implemented very unique innovations is a good opportunity. I think there will be a lot of applicable learning that you can take back to your classroom. It is very practical,” Larsen said.
Both opportunities in June offer DCSD teachers a chance to learn from experts, without traveling out of state to another school district or an education conference, a cost savings to the District and a chance to share the opportunity with many more employees.
Long term, the hope is that CSG will result in a network of innovative educators.
“We hope that our Create Something Great network grows and expands so we are including teachers from all over the country,” Murphy said. “Imagine the power of bringing educators together, to really transform education throughout Colorado and beyond.”
“People think that it is only Douglas County that is changing,” Conner said. “Change is happening everywhere. It is across the United States and I think we can learn so much when we hear other’s voices.”