District partnership with SMU continues to pay off

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Claudia Castro has made self-improvement a life habit.

“I have always valued life-long learning, pursued personal growth and have had a deep desire to become better each day, not just professionally, but as a person,” said Castro, a self-contained kindergarten teacher at Larry G. Smith Elementary School. “As a teacher who is passionate about teaching young children, I feel a strong commitment to reach excellence so that I can make a positive impact in my students’ lives and in my community.”

Castro was one of more than 245 Dallas Independent School District teachers who applied for the opportunity to attend a district-funded training at the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education at Southern Methodist University last summer. She went on to be one of 150 selected to attend the Differentiated Professional Development Academies, a three-week long instructional training boot camp. Dallas ISD covered each teacher’s tuition to attend SMU’s Simmons School of Education for the training. The curriculum focused on increasing classroom effectiveness and improving classroom instructional practice.

“Having been selected to participate in the training opportunity was significant because I felt I needed to reconnect with myself as a student,” said Castro, who attended SMU 11 years ago to pursue her Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education.

Castro, who has been a teacher for 14 years, said the SMU Summer Academy provided an invaluable learning experience that helped her learn a lot about herself “as a learner, a teacher, a leader, and as a person.”

“I cannot express with words how grateful I am for everything I have gained with this experience, how powerful the classes were, and how it has contributed to my personal growth,” Castro said. “I have discovered important things about myself that had limited my potential in the past, and as a result of this experience, I feel more confident about the specific steps I need to take to become the influential person I want to be and to make a positive impact in education.”

Dallas ISD’s Teaching and Learning continues to track these teachers’ progress through additional coaching, feedback and follow-up trainings. Most recently, teachers attended a Nov. 12 session on Differentiated Instruction, Response-to-Intervention, Academic Rigor and Educational Leadership.

“The follow-up sessions continue to support job-embedded professional learning and tightly aligned to TEI for district teachers,” said Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Danielle Hernandez. “The district continues to provide teachers meaningful professional development that will assist them in advancing levels of proficiency under the TEI evaluation system.”

Hernandez said teachers who completed the summer academy coursework and these follow-up sessions will have the opportunity to obtain up to 4 graduate credit hours and have an option to transfer those to a graduate degree.

“Through the follow up sessions, I continue to gain new insights about myself, discover my potential, and develop the leadership qualities and communication skills that are necessary in our society,” Castro said. “These sessions are continuing to help me build the confidence that I was lacking and giving me the tools I need to step outside of my comfort zone and make a greater contribution in my school community by helping to extend teacher leadership capacity in my campus. I feel fully inspired to continue striving not only to be the best teacher I can be, but to be the best leader as well.”

Teachers are scheduled to attend two additional sessions in January and March of 2016, which will culminate in each teacher receiving one additional credit hour towards a graduate degree.

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