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Lake Oswego teachers and staff participate in two days of professional development.

Class was in session this week at the Lake Oswego School District, but it wasn't for the students. While they got the week off from regular instruction, teachers spent Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 23 and 24, participating in professional development.

LOSD hosts professional development the week of Thanksgiving every year with the name "PD November."

Sessions this year ranged in topic from suicide prevention to "digital citizenship" and Google Classroom tricks.

Some sessions, like the one on suicide prevention, are required training by the district, but others the teachers get to choose for themselves.

Lake Oswego High School Response to Intervention Coordinator Alissa Evans Censoni called it a "choose your own adventure" style of professional development.

Evans Censoni said she's seen a shift in the district in the last five years to focus more on underserved kids, and that shift has influenced the offerings at PD November. As a result, she said there are more resources now to support underserved students.

Specifically, she said one of her favorite sessions from last year was about supporting LGBTQ students.

This year, she found the session on suicide prevention to be helpful.

For Evans Censoni, one of the best parts of PD November is the opportunity for teachers to share the tools they've acquired with one another.

"I think when you get a bunch of educators in a virtual room together, that collaboration piece is so helpful," Evans Censoni said.

And even though that room was virtual this year, it still facilitated lots of learning.

"I'm feeling really grateful that we still did it this year," she said. "I think that I'm impressed with the direction our district is going."

Still, with the whole thing online, there's no question that PD November was a bit different this year.

"I very much miss my colleagues," said Sarah Goehler, a math teacher at Lakeridge Middle School. "PD November the past few years has been fun because you get to see all your buddies."

Still, Goehler was pleased with PD November this year.

"In the last six months we've done a pretty good job understanding what works online and what doesn't," she said.

The session that she most benefited from was one called "Normal Sucks." Guest speaker Jonathan Mooney, a writer and activist who wrote a book by the same name, gave a talk about how "different doesn't mean deficit," informed by his own experience as someone with dyslexia.

Goehler said what stood out most to her during his talk was that he said he remembers the teachers who actively encouraged him.

That story is one she'll take with her into the classroom where she teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade math.

"Math isn't the easiest topic, especially for kids who don't learn well in a traditional setting," Goehler said.

She said life stresses — COVID-19, social justice and politics, to name a few — seep into the classroom and play a role in a student's ability to learn.

"I really liked the emphasis on looking at kids as individuals," she said.

For Joan Croome, a fourth-grade teacher at Oak Creek Elementary School, PD November is similar to her work in the classroom: it's all about connection.

"It's interesting because normally we see everybody … you just would see colleagues you hadn't seen, that maybe you worked with years ago," Croome said. "There was always a great feeling of connection and camaraderie."

She said that the ability to connect in the virtual world is still there and the same goes for in the classroom.

"At the beginning of the year I didn't think it would truly be possible to connect with students I had never met," she said. But she was soon proven wrong.

"Even though we're online and even though we're not literally with the students, we're still connecting with them," she said.

In fact, she thinks connection is vital to a student's ability to learn well in a classroom.

"To be the best teacher I can be, that's different for every person in the classroom," she said. "I need to know who they are; I need to understand their story." She said knowing her students well makes her better equipped to be a good teacher to them specifically.

"To feel comfortable enough to make a mistake in front of others, you have to have that trust, and to have that trust you have to first make that connection," she said.

Croome, like Evans Censoni, is glad to have a say in what's offered at PD November.

"We have a voice in our learning and in our own professional development. I feel very lucky and honored," Croome said.

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