Gilbert Schools’ staff members routinely seek out professional development opportunities

Heather Schurr and Jodi Hurn, two of our social studies teachers at Gilbert High School, were like two young children on Christmas morning. The excitement was palpable and they couldn’t stop chatting; not in the airport as they waited to board and not on their multiple-hour flight home.

Unlike that young child, their excitement didn’t stem from a new bike or perhaps a video game system. Instead, their gift was knowledge and they couldn’t wait to return to their classrooms and share all of it with their students.

“It was just so exciting,” Hurn said.

“I quickly wrote down probably three pages of notes just to get the motor running,” Schurr said.

What had both teachers on adrenaline overdrive? The chance to collaborate with some of their peers from across the country, and the opportunity to learn themselves.

From January 18-21, Schurr and Hurn attended a multi-day seminar on America’s involvement in World War II. Hosted by Ashland University, the conference took place in New Orleans, which is where the National World War II Museum is located.

“To be able to sit in a room to talk about what you teach with teachers from across the country, that’s invaluable,” Hurn said. “That’s not an experience you get very often.”

It’s the Power of We on a national level, and these types of opportunities can be invaluable. History is such a broad subject, and the idea of teaching students about World War II and everything it encompasses can be daunting. It’s why seminars like the one Schurr and Hurn had the opportunity to attend are critical to their teaching.

They get to ask questions. They get to gain knowledge maybe they didn’t have. They get to hear their peers talk about teaching methods that have worked for them. And they can bring all of it back to their students.

“We get that expert opinion from a professor the conference hires, but we also get the collaboration aspects with teachers from around the country as far as ‘what did you actually think about this?’ and ‘how did you interpret this?’ just to shed different perspectives,” Schurr said.

The level of excitement from the duo can and will have an impact on their students.

“The kids know when we get jazzed about something and that infectious energy can make things so much more enriching for us and for them,” Schurr said.

Gilbert Schools has long held the belief that professional development opportunities like this are invaluable. Inside our halls, teachers collaborate every day to improve the level of education for our students, so it makes sense that national opportunities could only help.

“Going to something like (the New Orleans conference) only ups their game on what they can do in the classroom,” GHS Principal Cindy Bassett said. “It gives them more tools, more strategies, and allows them to be at a higher level of understanding so they can better teach it. World War II is a huge part of what Jodi and Heather teach … to help students better understand and make connections with World War II can improve our students’ understanding.”

Gilbert CSD Director of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Carrie Clark constantly encourages our teachers to seek out these types of opportunities in an effort to broaden individual horizons. After all, it’s not only the learning of students that is critical to the success of the district. 

“We believe in the importance of teacher learning and reflection on the practices used in the classroom,” Clark said. “Teaching is fast-paced, and taking time to discuss and reflect makes the work that happens in the classroom much stronger.”

“With the level of students we have here at Gilbert, we have to do that,” Bassett said. “Our teachers are so high-level. They attend conferences, they read, they learn, and they’re constantly refining what they’re doing.”

During the 2023-24 school year, Bassett said three of the high school science teachers took part in a national conference. All four math teachers took a Saturday to attend a conference in Ankeny. Art teachers are signed up to attend a conference in April, and over the summer some of our counselors will be attending a national conference.

And these are only a few of the opportunities our teachers have jumped at in recent months.

“Our teachers, supported by (Clark), really seek out opportunities to become better and better teachers all of the time,” Bassett said.

Schurr and Hurn both acknowledge these opportunities wouldn’t be possible without the encouragement they receive from administration and the Gilbert school board.

“At Gilbert, we emphasize professional development communities,” Hurn said. “The school board was gracious to allow us to take the juniors on a trip to the World War I Museum in Kansas City in November.”

The challenge Schurr and Hurn now face is taking the vast amount of knowledge they collected in New Orleans and incorporating it into their lessons. But the excitement they possess and the passion they have for the subject is sure to translate into their teaching.

“It’s creating a puzzle, but we don’t know what the picture is yet,” Hurn said. “We’ve got all the pieces, now we need to figure out a way to put it all together. But we’ll get there.”

Schurr is equally excited about another out-of-state excursion she has planned for over the summer. In June, she’ll travel to Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, to take a master’s course in the historical subject of her choosing. She was nominated for this unique opportunity by the Teaching Ambassador at the New Orleans conference.

“I’m probably going to be studying the Supreme Court, the government side of things,” Schurr said. “I’m really excited about it.”

Another chance to learn. Another chance to expand her teachings. Another chance to add to the knowledge available at our students’ fingertips.

The definition of win-win.