The ROCORI school calendar, since long before I arrived in the district, has been structured to have Martin Luther King, Jr., Day as a professional development opportunity known as Academy Day.  Students are given the holiday as a vacation day, but staff members participate in training and development experiences through the course of the day.

With Academy Day happening next Monday, I thought I would use this week’s column to share information about the experience.



As I noted, Academy Day has been a part of the ROCORI School District for a long time.  We have conducted it each of the 16 years I have been in the district—and it was a well-established structure when I arrived.

The purpose of the day is to provide professional development opportunities for our school staff.  The type and nature of the training and learning experience has been different each year.  Throughout all the time, the activities within Academy Day have been built around the training needs of the school staff.



Our district Staff Development committee has been responsible for the organization of the day.  Although the Staff Development committee is mostly comprised of teachers, there are members from the different staff groups in effort to represent the thoughts and needs across the district.  In addition, the committee includes seats for community members.

Academy Day is one of the most significant events in which the Staff Development committee engages.  Many hours of discussion, planning and organization are invested in the development of Academy Day program. 

The committee works very hard to get feedback from across the staff about the needs and issues for professional development and areas of training that are desired.   They also look carefully at training experiences that are needed or required by the state of Minnesota and try to align experiences with those requirements.  

The committee also works hard to find resources, presenters, and support for the training needs identified.  If possible, we like to use our own staff to help train others, but sometimes we need to bring in professionals from outside the district.



Academy Day is most often structured in shorter blocks of time to allow staff members to go through a training experience and then move into another setting for different training.  Essentially, the day is like a student day with multiple training sessions occurring at one time and options scheduled throughout the day.

Generally, the sessions are designed to be about an hour or hour and half in length.  This allows staff members to have, depending on the final structure of the day each year, up to four or five different training sessions during the course of the day.  If the sessions are longer, an hour and a half for example, then, of course, there are fewer sessions during the day.

This year, the optional sessions are 90 minutes in length so all staff members have three sections to choose.  The goal has been to have at least 10 options within each 90 minute period.  This allows an “audience” for each session of about 15-20 people.

In different years, and dependent on the work of the Staff Development committee, there may also be a keynote speaker either at the beginning or end of the day.  If the speaker is part of the program, all staff members generally are brought together for the presentation so it ends up being a “whole group” session.



Usually, the Staff Development committee seeks to have the program built around some type of theme.  It may be a very broad-based theme that allows many different ideas, concepts and approaches, or it may be a more narrow theme to focus on a specific idea. 

Over the years, we have had themes such as Reading, Diversity, and Cultural Awareness.  Obviously, a Reading theme is more content focused and the professional development would be geared around Reading programs, strategies and structures.  Often, days focused on a particular content area would be driven by activities across the state, new requirements for teaching, or some identified need within the district.

A broader theme, like Diversity, would allow a number of issues to be included but the idea is to examine our thoughts, approaches, and patterns to understand how our school and community is (or has) become more diverse in demographics and makeup.  The same would be true of issues like Cultural Awareness, Wellness, or other similar topics.



The theme for Academy Day 2018 continues to emphasize the concept of Wellness.  I use the word “continues” because wellness have been our theme for the last few years—but it has been successful and meaningful to the participants.  The structure to the day emphasizes employee wellness from a broad perspective.

The wellness theme, much like the session a year ago, suggested that physical, emotional, financial, and mental well-being are all important elements in creating and sustaining a strong work environment.  As such, our staff members will be able to engage in a wide variety of activities for their training sessions.

Part of the wellness theme allows us to engage resources in our community for the day.  We will have a wellness “fair” in the Commons of the high school allowing staff members to interact with community resources.  The wellness might be a financial wellness conversation by looking at ways to establish some level of financial safety and security.  Wellness might also come in the form of fitness or healthy eating choices.  Experts and resources from the community will engage with staff members on these and other topics.

One of the breakout sessions we are proud to include in Academy Day will be conducted by Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall and her staff.  Janelle is scheduled to offer a presentation during each of the breakout session periods.  The topic is the very sober issue of human trafficking—but it is important for us to know about the issue, how widespread it is in Stearns County (and our own community), signs to observe, and ways that we can begin to respond.  The presentation at ROCORI is the first across the county for Janelle Kendall.



Another key element, this year, is an effort to partner with the Holdingford School District for the Academy Day training.  In the past, our day has been structured solely with ROCORI staff and interests.  Some of the Holdingford staff members have learned what we do on Academy Day and inquired about the possibility of sharing the training. 

Over the course of the last year, our Staff Development leaders have been interacting with leaders from Holdingford to work through the plans for the day.  We are extending Academy Day by incorporating ideas and issues from Holdingford as well as including their staff in the training.

We are excited about the new partnership arrangement.  We can draw on the resources of Holdingford, as well as continuing to draw on the strengths of our staff, to enhance what is done during the day.  We are hoping the day proves valuable to the Holdingford staff as well!



This year’s Academy Day program includes a keynote speaker.  One of the driving factors in the partnership with Holdingford is that two school districts working together can pool resources to bring a more well-known keynote speaker. 

The theme for the keynote is “Sticks and Stones.”  Dave Weber, a nationally recognized speaker, will offer thoughts about the importance of the words we choose in working with other people. 

We often hear the childhood phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Dave suggests that is completely wrong.  Words do have the power to hurt and help others.  His presentation promises to challenge some traditional thinking about interactions and encourages people to carefully consider the power of words.



Our Staff Development team invested a great deal of time, effort, and energy to bring an excellent professional development program to the district on Academy Day!  The wellness theme was very much appreciated each of the last two years and is expected to continue to be meaningful in regard to meeting staff needs.

Academy Day is not “just a day off” for students.  While the students are given a holiday vacation, there is considerable work and training going on across the district as staff members engage in professional development through Academy Day.