Harper Woods teacher leads local teachers in summer training

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published July 25, 2013

 Harper Woods Middle School teacher June Teisan talks to other local teachers during summer professional development through the Detroit 1933-2033 Summer Teacher Institute late last month.

Harper Woods Middle School teacher June Teisan talks to other local teachers during summer professional development through the Detroit 1933-2033 Summer Teacher Institute late last month.

HARPER WOODS — When Harper Woods Middle School science teacher June Teisan brought an innovative learning model based on a reimagined Detroit to her Future Think class last year, she dreamed of taking that lesson to other teachers.

That dream became reality when Teisan created and presented a professional development this summer to teachers in the tri-county area.

Teisan’s idea started when she was at a learning event last summer in Harlem working with the Smithsonian and Model Classroom on project-based learning that focuses on culture and community. She decided that she wanted to bring something similar to Detroit’s educators.

“As I piloted my STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art and math) Detroit 1933/2033 project (D33) with my students this past year in partnership with the DIA, focused on the (Diego) Rivera murals of the Ford Rouge plant and asking students to envision Detroit in 2033, ‘their’ Detroit, I was keeping that professional development dream in the back of my mind, hoping to engage tri-county peers in this important work of connecting student skills and passion in the rebirth of Detroit,” she said in an email. 

“With support from Network of Michigan Educators, the DIA, and (the) Model Classroom program, we built and delivered the D33 training to expand this concept to other classrooms in Detroit and across the tri-county area,” she added.

Her professional development during a weeklong training was a success through a joint effort with the Pearson Foundation, The Network of Michigan Educators and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“The participants were truly blown away,” Teisan said. “I introduced this as ‘not your grandma’s PD,’ because it wasn’t the typical sit-and-get format of lectures and PowerPoints. At this training event, we asked the teachers to assume the role of students for the first three of the four days.

“I’ve always found it valuable to be the student each summer so I can stay in touch with that side of the education equation, not always being the ‘sage on the stage,’ so to speak,” she said.

The teachers interviewed Detroiters near the DIA and went on a scavenger hunt. They also went on guided tours of the Rivera murals, which were a key component to the project-based unit in Teisan’s Future Think Class at Harper Woods Middle School.

A panel of experts in the city gave some insight into Detroit’s history, its present and the possible future.

Teisan thinks reaching out to other teachers and learning from each other is important.

“Teachers are focused in on face-to-face work with their students, and during the tumult of the school year, it is difficult to carve out time to share in deep and meaningful ways about that work with colleagues,” she said. “Staff meetings are typically at the end of a busy work day when all the teachers are wrung out, so there is little energy for digging deep into reflective dialog.

“Creating the time, the physical and mental space, to gear down from the fast pace and work with like-minded peers to build better programs yields greater benefits for students and is immensely rewarding for the teachers, as well,” she said.

As for the upcoming school year, Teisan plans to get her students back to the DIA, digging into more research for the Detroit 1933/2033 project.

“Also, several of the projects that our D33 summer teachers have underway are absolutely incredible, and the door is open for my students here in Harper Woods to join in on the action, networking with students across metro Detroit to make their mark on the rebirth of Detroit,” she said.

As for teachers taking time during the summer to learn to be better teachers and gear up for the fall, Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said Harper Woods’ teachers do use their summer to learn and collaborate.

“The vast majority of our staff already have participated in professional development activities, or will before school opens,” he said. Teaching, as a profession, requires one to continuously update their skill set. As a district, we are fortunate to have staff who are dedicated to improving individually and collectively.

“The fact they are doing so is a significant factor that ‘energizes’ our ongoing instructional improvements and our improved performance level,” he said.