Even teachers learn at school. This year, McPherson’s four elementary schools are gathering for UnConference, an afternoon of collaborating, learning and preparing for class to start next week.

“We have about 33 discussions planned for Friday — ranging from technology, flexible seating, social skills or working with parents — just a wide range of topics,” said Carmen Zeisler, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School and member of the UnConference planning team. “We want to be active participants in staff development, not just “sit and get” so we want to be the opposite of those conferences and really take ownership of our professional development for the day. We’re thankful that the principals let us take over their day. They normally have this day with their staff, so they’re giving up several hours for this and I’m glad they asked us to plan this event.”

Over 150 elementary school teachers from USD 418 gathered at Roosevelt Elementary School on Friday afternoon to ask questions, share what works and learn more about different tools in education. Teachers cycled through groups that interested them so they could implement new technology or tricks in the classroom.

“Hopefully, teachers will grasp something and it will translate into what happens in the classroom because it sparks new ideas and collaboration,” Zeisler explained. “Between the four elementary schools, we rarely get together, so this provides an opportunity for teachers of similar grade levels to learn from each other.”

The plan started last March, when Roosevelt Elementary School held a smaller scale event for teachers to collaborate in discussions. After the event’s success, other schools joined in.

“After that first UnConference, I honestly felt a culture change in our school. There wasn’t anything wrong really, but it felt more open and connective than before. Some really great conversations took place because of that and some people were more willing to take risks,” Zeisler said. “When I can give choice to someone in how they showcase their learning, I’ll get something I didn’t expect and they’ll show me what they know. When you do the same for teachers, they’ll be more apt to be active participants and it translates to the kids.”

Top topics this year include the Seesaw digital portfolio, working with special needs students, behavior intervention, flexible seating or using Google Classroom.

“This year we’ll have more access to Chromebooks so third through fifth grade teachers want to know more about Google Classroom because it will help with that,” Zeisler said. “In flexible seating, a couple teachers this past year have used it with great success and it’s a big topic nation-wide, so I think people are curious about it. When I started doing it last year, I was the only teacher in the district so I had to look on Twitter for tips, so now we can collaborate and talk about what works and what doesn’t.”

Zeisler explained that having the discussions on one of the teachers’ first days back to school is key for starting the year on the right foot.

“We want teachers to come back excited of the school year and feel loved so they pass that on to their kids. One way we’re doing that is with a tremendous raffle,” Zeisler laughed. “We had over 150 businesses from all over donate prizes from web subscriptions to school supplies. A dentist even donated a sonic toothbrush. Businesses are so apt to donate to education conferences like this because they want to show teachers they appreciate them.”

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @DerksenSentinel.