While Abilene ISD students were sleeping in, playing outside, or glued to their favorite game console on Monday, Feb. 20, AISD educators and administrators were scattered on campuses throughout the district, learning best practices from each other as part of Professional Development Day.

Like their contemporaries in history, mathematics, or English departments who gathered to share ideas and new teaching techniques, instructors and administrators in fine arts and district coaches also had their sessions at Cooper High School, Madison Middle School, and Taylor Elementary School.

It’s a day when teachers, staff, and administrators can share their thoughts on how best to teach students and reconnect with friends they might not see during the school year.

“I always look forward to seeing ‘my people,’ ” said Brandon’a Garcia, sixth-grade Art 1 teacher at Craig and Mann middle schools. “No matter what the activity planned each time, it’s always encouraging and validating to spend time together as art teachers, talking about the struggles and triumphs we each are experiencing. It helps us feel understood and greatly inspired as we share how we are doing and what we are doing that is successful with our classes.”

Secondary fine arts teachers shared ideas Monday morning at Cooper, and elementary fine arts teachers collaborated that afternoon at Taylor. Secondary theatre instructors went through “stage combat” training led by Hardin-Simmons University Theatre Promotional Director Kathlyn Messer, while secondary art teachers were introduced to Gelli plates that will be used in classrooms this semester.

Gelli plates are reusable printing plates that allow users to make monoprints without a large, expensive press.

Garcia went through the introduction and training with the Gelli plates and will introduce them to her students this semester for use in class.

“Gelli plates are always a hit with adults and kids alike,” she said. “They are manipulatives with a wide range of production options and are kinesthetically pleasing. Ashley Lowrance (new 6th-grade art teacher at Madison Middle School) did a wonderful job presenting a wide range of techniques and styles this media can create, and we were all excited to get our own class set of Gelli plates to take back to our campuses.”

On the stage at the Cooper auditorium that morning, six secondary theatre instructors were being schooled by Messer, who was instructing them on how to train their students to make fight scenes on stage properly look real while using safe techniques.

“The purpose of stage combat is to create an illusion of violence on the stage while maintaining safe and consent-based practices for the actor,” Messer said. “UIL has updated its rules for One-Act Play and no longer allows contact blows to the head. However, some scripts call for acts of violence like slaps, punches, and hair pulls. Therefore, teachers and directors need to understand the techniques necessary to make it appear that these pieces of violence are happening without making damaging contact with the head.”

Those instructors practiced fake slaps and other maneuvers to teach their students the safest ways to make those fight scenes as accurate as possible to look good to an audience.

“Many of our students love the idea of participating in a staged fight scene,” Abilene High School Director of Theater Arts Kyle Martin said. “But even if unintended, people can get hurt if they try to create a mock fight without the proper tools. The skills we learned in our Professional Development will help us ensure that students understand stage combat basics and safety principles regarding all stage movement and performer interactions.”

The art teachers and theater instructors were involved in hands-on activities, which is the norm for fine arts teachers.

“Professional learning days are a wonderful way for educators to obtain new and exciting information to implement in their classroom,” AISD Fine Arts Coordinator Brady Sloane said. “In the Fine Arts Department, Professional Development days are often hands-on and may cover things like stage combat safety, strategic planning for contest season, printmaking, and new ways to teach recorder. The Fine Arts Department brings in experts in their field from the Abilene community and beyond to ensure that these experiences enrich the classroom and learning experience.”

Meanwhile, the district’s secondary coaches and physical education instructors met at Madison that morning and into the afternoon. They heard from Cooper baseball coach Brandon Stover about an innovative program he started called the “Lifeboat Competition.” Every aspect of the program – grades, attendance, anything practice-related, attitude, and discipline – all factor into the competition.

Positive and negative points accumulate throughout the year, with the winning team receiving a reward at the end of Spring Break. The competition then re-sets and goes through the end of the season, with the winning team during that period receiving a reward.

“We’re trying to build player-led accountability in our program,” said Stover, now in his second season as the Cougars’ head coach. “We have a lot of young kids in our program and on the varsity, so we’re trying to create an atmosphere where players take leadership and ownership in our program.”

After spending time in the gym, the coaches moved to the Madison tennis courts. Cooper tennis coach Trance Rosenquist gave a brief demonstration on basic tennis fundamentals to all the coaches who serve as P.E. teachers on their campuses. Then the coaches all took part in a game that would generously be called tennis. Abilene High School defensive coordinator James Williamson took top honors with a couple of blistering forehands to win the “A” court over Cooper boys’ golf coach Mitch Aston.

“Having all our secondary physical education and athletic coaches together develops camaraderie,” AISD executive director of athletics Jim Garfield said. “We can collaborate efficiently and effectively with our lesson plans.”