In the weeks before the winter holiday, Great Bend USD 428 Assistant Superintendent John Popp and District Secretary Cathie McManaman visited every school in the district to bring lunch to teachers and staff. In this informal setting, conversations were held on how to support district employees in their jobs, Popp said.
Specifically, he wanted to learn what would make teachers want to continue their careers here in Great Bend.
“We know we’d rather retain quality teachers than recruit new ones,” Popp said. McManaman took notes during the meeting and a survey was sent to each teacher requesting additional input.
The answers were helpful if not surprising. “More money is NOT where they started,” Popp said. “They want to feel appreciated.”
Teachers also want classes with fewer than 20 students, more planning times, more mental health support for students and teachers, and more training for dealing with trauma-affected students.
School board member Deanna Essmiller was pleased to hear this face-to-face interaction with teachers and staff will continue in the future. “This is so much more effective than surveys,” she said.
In 2018, the district also launched a program called Learning Walks. K-12 teachers could volunteer to participate in this program that allowed them to go into other classrooms and observe different teaching practices while a substitute teacher covered their own classes. Learning Walks also opened up avenues of communication so teachers could help each other improve their craft, Popp said.
Learning Walks are back by popular demand, Popp said. They started in mid-November and will continue until mid-February when it’s time for student assessments.
Trauma-informed district committee
Popp’s comments were made at the Dec. 9 school board meeting. Also at that meeting, Director of Teaching and Learning Tricia Reiser reported on one of the items brought up by teachers during the lunches: training for dealing with trauma-affected students.
In November, the district sent 15 staff members to the two-day Trauma-Informed Conference in Denver to learn how to better serve students who may be experiencing trauma. Participants learned from leading experts in the field about what constitutes trauma and they learned strategies to help our teachers and students.
A Trauma-Informed District Committee comprised of staff members from every building was created to begin developing a district mission and plan on how to move forward. The first meeting is set for Jan. 9.
“All of our elementary schools now have a trauma-informed classroom,” Reiser said.
Popp reported on these rooms last August. With an increase in the number of students with emotional support needs, a trauma-sensitive room is there to support students in various stages of emotional need. Sometimes students are upset and need a place to regain their composure, and at other times they learn crisis prevention, such as breathing techniques. Staff are receiving additional training.
As Jefferson Elementary School Principal Kip Wilson told the school board back in 2018, the result of a trauma-informed approach to disciplinary problems is that discipline becomes more of a teaching tool than a punishment.