Archive for Thursday, August 28, 2003

Teachers tap into creativity in De Soto High School think tank

August 28, 2003

Since January, teachers have been gathering inside a room in the De Soto High School library known as the "inspiration room" to brainstorm ideas on how to become more effective educators and improve the school.
"We were trying to find a location where the faculty could come together and exchange ideas and approaches to education," social studies instructor Michael Murphy said. "We wanted to identify the common visions we have for the school and the district and try to prioritize the best ideas."
With those goals in mind, the faculty looked for an area that would allow teachers of different disciplines to come together and comfortably speak their mind. In what is now known as the inspiration room, cushy sofas and soft lighting have been put in place to foster such an atmosphere. The room has the fixings of a corporate board room, but with enough features to keep it informal and laid back.
The relaxed location was essential to what Murphy referred to as one of the "nine points of success." The formula was borrowed from Mike Vance, who in the early 1970s began popularizing phrases that dealt with "thinking outside the box." Vance wrote several well-received books before going to work in the corporate world, developing ideas for employee development for Walt Disney Productions.
"This is hopefully a place for us to come together and share our visions for the school district, as well as our own education careers," Murphy said. "I know I intend to be here and make this my career, so I hope to do something to make the school a better place."
Now in his third year of teaching science at De Soto High School, Scott Sharp became intrigued with the idea of using the school think tank to encourage more integrated classrooms.
"It would be a way to combine teaching from different disciplines within one classroom," Sharp said. "We want the think tank to help increase collaborations from teachers in different classrooms."
Murphy and Sharp look at the think tank as more than just a place to foster creative discussion among educators. Additionally, they hope it can act as a support base for teachers who are struggling with the transition to a new school.
"When teachers get here in their first year, they may need some sort of mentoring to help them get started," Murphy said. "We don't want them to struggle because there is no support network or figure here to help them figure out what to teach or how to teach to our kids."
About 60 percent of the faculty were already involved in the think tank. The goal is to establish more effective teaching skills within the school. With most feedback at schools aimed at gauging job performance, the think tank members hope to expand feedback in the effectiveness of alternate teaching approaches.
"The effectiveness of your own teaching approach is sometimes hard to determine when you don't have outside feedback," Murphy said. "The instruments in place now may only give you the kind of feedback to tell you if you are doing the job you are employed to do, but not what you could be doing better."
Right now, the high school teachers are not concerned with spreading the think tank to the entire district. For the time, they are focused if fostering an "open door policy" that would blend the teachings of different disciplines in the high school.
"We're only worried right now about what the think tank can do for our school," Sharp said. "The open door policy is something we are excited about. We feel it would be helpful for teachers to be able to do something, such as observe another teacher's classroom and pick the brain of other teachers for ideas to use in their own classrooms."
One of the ideas recently conceived in the think tank was for teachers to network with the local business community. The idea was that the business community would help teachers develop ideas for expanding students capabilities to think critically and solve real world problems. Students would then be better prepared to enter college or a work environment once the school's curriculum has been adjusted to introduce the corporate thought process. The idea is one of many in a five-year plan the faculty has for improving the school.
"Hopefully this think tank will remove some of the stagnant thinking that tends to be in education," Murphy said. "The think tank is a completely voluntary activity for educators looking to improve school atmosphere by bringing about change."

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