Sparks trainings are designed to assist early-career teachers (five years or less experience) in building a solid base for a long career as professional educators. Participants are surveyed ahead of time about the issues and topics that are important to them, and veteran educators facilitate the discussions. SPARKS retreats are held at various locations around the state, and feature plenty of fun and fellowship as well as strategies for career advancement and personal growth. IEA Vice President Layne McInelly has taken part in SPARKS retreats as both an attendee and as a facilitator, and he shares his experiences with the IEA Reporter. Contact your Region Director for information about how to attend or host a SPARKS retreat.
Spending a weekend learning about classroom management, technology, stress management, the Idaho Code of Ethics for educators, teacher contracts, and the Idaho Education Association is what SPARKS is all about—as well as building lifelong friendships with other education professionals. Having the opportunity to participate in SPARKs, an indispensable professional development opportunity for early-career educators, was an experience that I am glad I did not pass up.
In my third year of teaching I attended a SPARKS retreat—and it turned out to be one of the best things I did as a new educator. Learning about the ins and outs of teaching and being able to bounce ideas off of people who were going through the same things as me was very impactful. We started off with an icebreaker activity so that we could all get to know each other, which helped us to develop bonds that remain strong today. The SPARKS facilitators then led us through a variety of professional development concepts. I still use many of the materials, ideas, and advice that were shared during the training. Throughout the weekend we had great whole-group discussions, interactive lessons and role-playing exercises to help us become better educators. Not only did we learn different professional development concepts, but we had great social activities, like a bonfire and roasting s’mores, which helped us further develop friendships.
One of the biggest things I got out of the SPARKS training was learning about the Idaho Education Association. During the session called “Putting the U in Union”, I realized how important and valuable the IEA would be for me throughout my education career. The Idaho Education Association is the professional organization for educators, and it is clearly committed to making public education the best it can be for all students, teachers, and education support professionals in Idaho. I learned that we are the IEA, and that we can make a brighter future for the education profession across the state. It was during that SPARKS training that I decided to get more involved in the association. I became a building representative and was later elected as Vice President of the IEA.
After attending SPARKs I have had the opportunity to facilitate two other SPARKS retreats. Sitting with new professional educators and discussing the issues that they deem valuable is always enlightening. We always have amazing conversations around the professional development concepts that will help them in their classrooms. The one thing that is always the highlight, and generates the most enthusiastic conversations, is “Putting the U in Union”.
Reflecting on my experience at SPARKS retreats, as a participant and as a facilitator, I realize that while the professional development is always outstanding, it is the relationships developed with my peers and the insight into the association that is the foundation of SPARKS!
SPARKing in Eastern Idaho: Testimonials from SPARKS Participants
Regions 4, 5 and 6 in Eastern Idaho held a SPARKS retreat at Greystone Manor in Lava Hot Springs recently, with 18 participants from eight different local associations. Here are some of the superlatives that came from attendees following the training.
- “SPARKS was a great way to collaborate and obtain ideas from fellow teachers. Comfortable environment and a great way to make new friends!” Erica Hernandez, Blackfoot EA
- “I LOVED SPARKS! This was an amazing experience. I learned so much from other teachers. Thanks!” Julie Jenkins, Preston EA
- “The knowledge and friendships from SPARKS will help me become a better teacher. I am excited to share and put into practice what I have learned.” Cinniman Schwartz, Oneida EA