World café: grounds for professional growth


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SAN DIEGO — For Catholic school students throughout the Diocese of San Diego, March 10 was a day off, a Friday that served as the start of a three-day weekend.

But not for teachers and principals.

The schools were closed because about 500 Catholic elementary school educators were gathering at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Mira Mesa for a professional learning day organized by the diocesan Office for Schools. Another 150 preschool directors and teachers participated in a similar event via Zoom.

Diocesan schools are currently in the second year of a five-year professional development plan. Each academic year, there are two professional learning days, one in the fall and one in the spring, each followed by a series of online “mini-sessions” where participants work on a “product of practice” related to their learning.

The diocesan Teacher Liaison and Curriculum Leadership Team members play an essential role in planning and facilitating all sessions, as well as providing opportunities for sharing best practices and building collaborative learning networks.

Unlike previous professional learning days, this most recent one incorporated the “World Café” method of group discussion. For over 90 minutes, participants were separated by grade level or subject area into different classrooms on the Good Shepherd campus; there, they rotated among tables for 20-minute facilitated conversations on specific topics, such as classroom management.

“Seeing the excitement on the teachers’ faces … makes all the work behind the scenes worth it,” said Leticia Oseguera, diocesan superintendent of schools.

The event was “an opportunity to share, to listen, to generate some best practices, and also to network,” said Dr. Julie Cantillon, associate superintendent of schools.

She said that one participant described the World Café as “a gold mine of ideas.”

“Most of our schools are one class per grade,” said Cantillon, “so this is really the only opportunity that many of them have to meet in person with a colleague who teaches the same grade level or same subject area that they also do.”

She said it’s been “exciting” to see that discussions that began at the World Café were still going on days later. She noted that, after the event, teachers were sharing strategies in their online groups and exchanging email addresses.

Carmen Poqui, who teaches fourth-grade Spanish at Mater Dei Catholic Elementary School, expressed her appreciation for the World Café.

“We were able to cover different topics and we realized that we’re all in … very similar situations,” she said.

Michelle Kerr, an eighth-grade homeroom teacher at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon, said, “We all got wonderful ideas from each other that we can take back to the classroom and help enhance student learning.”

Kerr said she came away with resources that will help her make social studies, a subject she teaches to sixth- through eighth-graders, more engaging for her students.

The Office for Schools plans to make the World Café a feature of the diocese’s professional learning days.

Matt Cordes, associate superintendent of schools, said that, when it comes to professional development, the Office for Schools focuses on quality rather than quantity.

“We’ve created a culture of continuous improvement where schools are seeking (professional learning), not to meet a number (of required hours), but to improve student learning, to grow in their profession and professional practices, to grow as a school community,” he said.

Ultimately, the real winners are students.

“Getting that time to connect with your peers,” he said, “is only going to make the instruction more impactful.”

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