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Educational hub makes professional learning more accessible to educators

Submitted Photo Raquel Dugan Dibble, science teacher at Bottineau High School, is one of the teachers who has accessed professional learning via the North Central Educational Cooperative Hub.

Not only do K-12 teachers have to teach the students in their classes throughout the year, they must also continue learning themselves.

To maintain their state teaching licenses, teachers have to earn a certain number of graduate credits every five years, said Amy Jo Leonard, an education specialist for Turtle Mountain Elementary School in Belcourt.

Earning those credits can be time-consuming and expensive for teachers who might have to travel long distances, take time away from work or take classes during the summer to attend training.

This year the North Central Educational Cooperative Educational Hub, based in Bottineau, is offering virtual classes via its online forum free of charge to any educator interested in taking the classes.

“We are considering this our pilot year, and for that reason all classes are free to any educator interested in participating regardless of what school they come from,” said Debby Marshall, North Central Education Cooperative executive director. “We are working on a viable model for sustaining the initiative into the future, but for now we are encouraging anyone interested to check out the Hub.”

Submitted Photo Alysa Palmer, K-12 Librarian at Bottineau Public Schools.

According to the NCEC information, courses available include various book reads, Classroom Management, Integrating Technology, Motivating and Inspiring Students, Standards-Based Grading and Fostering Positive Relationships.

Topics developed for administrators include AdvancED (now Cognia) planning, mental health and standards. Each course has a facilitator guide, course outline, videos and other materials enabling any educator to present the material to their colleagues.

Most recently, a counselor professional development series was created in partnership with various agencies and organizations. “Counselors from across the state are able to listen to and discuss with a professional on a variety of topics throughout the year and apply for a credit toward their licensure at the end,” said Aimee Erdman, former NCEC Succeed 2020 director.

These are the types of partnerships North Dakota Education Cooperative would like to continue to grow.

Online classes have long been available through colleges and universities, but Leonard said one advantage of classes taken through the hub is that they are designed for the needs of the students at the individual teacher’s school.

Teachers like Leonard and Alysa Palmer, the K-12 librarian at Bottineau Public Schools, also like the flexibility of being able to work on the classes when it is most convenient for them. Leonard said she enjoys meeting and talking with other teachers on the forum. Two of the teachers she has interacted with on the hub are from her hometown.

The Hub got its start years ago when the North Dakota Education Cooperative received grant funding to expand professional learning communities. When the grant ended and there was no longer funding to pay for travel, substitute teachers and face to face meetings, the North Dakota Education Cooperative decided to try to continue the benefits via virtual meetings for the professional learning communities, according to the press release.

In the beginning there were 35 participants from eight districts that met in seven different professional learning communities. The following year there were 106 participants from 10 districts meeting in 18 professional learning communities. The different groups developed priority standards for their content and grade level and proficiency scales for different standards, according to NDEC information.

“What we could see from the growth was that the option to work virtually was needed for more than just the PLCs. So, we decided to try other avenues,” said Shelly Hoerer, Professional Development director for NCEC.

In the fall of 2018, four book reads were offered to NCEC educators, according to NCEC information. Participants read portions of the selected book weekly and contributed to online discussions with colleagues about the material and how it impacted their teaching practice. In all, 47 educators from five districts were able to meet and discuss educational books on a weekly basis.

“After the launch of the initial book read in September of 2018, we could see the need for additional online professional development. We could visit our schools and see the impact the PD was having on educators and students. We could see the virtual forum was allowing our educators access to each other and to high quality PD. We were breaking down the silos and limited opportunities! So why not offer them accessibility to more options?” said Hoerer.

Last spring the educational cooperative developed an expanded course catalogue that serves not only teachers but also administrators, counselors, librarians, athletic coaches and paraprofessinal staff, according to NCEC information.

More information can be found online at www.nceceducationalhub.com.

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