David McDonie, French Teacher, Chillicothe City Schools
Over the past three summers, I have had the privilege of attending Organic World Language (OWL) summer boot camps, both as a participant and as a facilitator. This summer I joined a group of curious and motivated educators from across the country in Alexandria, MN to spend a week learning how to become better teachers and how to make our students the center of our classroom..
The theme of the week was ROOAR, which stood for Roots, Open, Overcome, Authentic, and Risk-taking. We spent two days with the Roots theme, because the foundation of our practice is two-fold. First we build relationships with our students. We have fun, we love on them, and we create a community. The first day of the Boot Camp aims to create an open and trusting community where the participants can speak honestly without fear of judgment. The second Roots day dealt with the foundation of our content – proficiency. Every OWL Boot Camp has a presenter from ACTFL familiarize participants with the Oral Proficiency Interview and discuss the implications for the classroom. I have sat through this workshop four times, and it is always a highlight of my year. I learn something new every time. With our Roots in relationships and proficiency established, we were able to tackle the rest of the week – learning to be more Open to new things and Open to allowing students to drive our instruction. We spent time discussing our fears and hindrances in implementing 100% Target-language, student-driven instruction, and how we were going to Overcome them. We talked about the value of being our Authentic selves, and how our students need to see us and themselves as Authentic people. Finally we closed the week with the word Risk-taking, establishing plans for implementing a fun, fresh, and organic curriculum in our classrooms.
OWL Boot Camp, and all of the OWL workshops for that matter, are unique for several reasons. First of all, the sense of community they create is palpable. Even in short sessions, the priority that OWL places on building relationships is remarkable. I cannot say how many conferences I’ve been to where after an OWL demonstration, participants come up to me and say how they remember every participant – participants who were recently strangers – from their 60-minute session! OWL’s focus on proficiency is another unique feature of its trainings. The methodology is younger than ACTFL’s proficiency descriptions, and has the benefit of growing up around the concept of proficiency. So much time and attention is given to participants understanding what the proficiency standards really are and how they can be modeled in our classrooms. Another unique feature of OWL PD is the focus on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Every day of Boot Camp begins with a time to quietly reflect on our practice as well as our own lives and see how the two affect one another. We take time to reflect on the words of inspiring educators, artists, activists, and philosophers, and we strive to bring ourselves – our whole selves – into our teaching practice.
Despite this Boot Camp being my fourth one in three years, I’m starting school this fall with brand new ideas, challenges, and goals. My students are going to benefit from my collaboration with other dedicated professionals, my training in understanding proficiency levels, and the reflection that I was able to dedicate to my own practice. I’ve attended and led a lot of OWL sessions in the past four years, and they’re all great! I highly recommend their trainings to anyone who is looking for anything – from fresh ideas to add to their toolbox, or for ways to reinvent their classroom into a 100% target-language, student-driven environment. I’m already planning my next summer around OWL Boot Camps!