For its annual road trip to an exemplary southwest Missouri school district, the Ozarks Teacher Corps traveled to Willard this week to see how the sprawling rural district (with a small town at its center) is incorporating technology and new ways of thinking into its curriculum and mission, from administration on down.
Covering a wide swath of northern Greene County, including some areas inside Springfield city limits, Willard is the largest district the aspiring educators of the OTC have visited on these trips; past visits include Hartville, Leeton and Hollister. But it was a valuable chance to see how a relatively large district (4,250 students) is making large-scale changes using cutting-edge technology and a flexible, year-to-year strategic plan.
The day started with an overview of the Willard R-III School District, and its mission of being “Student Focused, Strongly Connected, and Success Driven.” The group then went to Willard High School, where they sat in on class sessions, observing how teachers incorporate universal classroom technology (Smart Boards, iPads) into their lessons in a district where every student from fourth grade on up is given his or her own personal laptop computer.
Lunch featured some one-on-one pointers from Willard R-III Superintendent Dr. Kent Medlin, who stressed the district’s commitment to collaboration with other districts and to hiring teachers who are willing to learn new ways of teaching and incorporate technology into the classroom through virtual lessons, online courses, and more. “We see education as bigger than just Willard,” he said of collaborations with other COC schools like Ozark, Nixa and Branson. The future educators also got to ask questions about the interviewing and application process. And it’s information they’ll need: more than 90 percent of OTC graduates currently eligible to teach have been placed in a rural Ozarks school.
The day concluded with observation sessions at Willard Middle School followed by a hands-on hour with the Placeworks Arts Initiative at Willard East Elementary. Stephanie Sechler (an Ozarks Teacher Corps grad) invited the OTC to her special education classroom to observe Placeworks Teaching Artist Rachel Jamieson working with students on a visual/theater arts lesson. The students, aged kindergarten to fourth grade, were asked to pick a story from a book and draw their interpretation of the beginning, the middle, and the end, and then act it out in front of their peers. It was a mix of interpretive art and group improv that built on the classroom objective of reading comprehension and cooperation.
Current OTC student Patricia Rodriguez shared her thoughts on one portion of the visit:
The second part we saw a Business classroom in which students are involved in DECA, a leadership program for high school level students. Students also run their own business within the school, integrating technology and using all of the marketing skills they learn in their Business class. I was so impressed with the level of maturity and passion that these students had for their own learning! As an added bonus, we also had the chance to tour the theater within the school. Students were busy working on building their set for their upcoming production of Cats!. The wood shop teacher partnered with the theater teacher to benefit students to the highest degree. The theater teacher also talked with us about involving lower grades in their production, a great way to involve the entire school community.
The Ozarks Teacher Corps develops a cadre of talented teaching candidates who will explore rural education issues, serve as teacher interns in small schools, and commit to teaching in their respective home communities for at least three years. The overarching purpose of the Ozarks Teacher Corps is to encourage extremely capable and passionate young people to become educators and return to their rural hometowns as teacher-leaders.
This program is made possible by the Chesley and Flora Lea Wallis Trust, a $2 million Community Foundation of the Ozarks charitable fund.