PLS instructor, Chris VonVolkenburg, recently taught the course, Developing Executive Function to Empower Learners™ (DEF), on-site. Held at Asbury Woods Nature Center in Erie, Pennsylvania, the 6-week course focused on developing and strengthening executive function in the areas of organization and planning, focus and attention, working memory, effort and resilience, cognitive flexibility, self-directedness, and inhibitory control. 

We recently sat down with Chris to ask him a bit about the course, his experience teaching the course, and what he feels is important about in-person learning. 

This course was held at a nature center instead of a traditional classroom. Why did you choose that location and what about it made the experience unique? 

The Asbury Woods Nature Center is a very important attraction to our local community. It is also owned by the school district where I teach, Millcreek Township. Teachers and students alike view the nature center as a place to not only connect content with hands-on learning, but also a place to connect with one’s self. The environment is beautiful and I feel that the positive connection with nature and the peaceful environment allows participants to engage deeply in the learning experience.

Furthermore, several classes I have taken as a PLS participant were held at Asbury Woods. The location is also very sentimental to me as a former student of Millcreek Township. Some of my favorite formative memories in school were field trips taken to this wonderful nature center. Being able to connect these two learning experiences throughout different times of my life allows me to feel proud in providing this same opportunity to educators in Millcreek and other local school districts. 

What are the benefits of taking an on-site course? 

The benefits of taking an on-site course go beyond what words can describe. The content of each PLS course is deeply impactful in all formats. I can attest to this as I have taken over twelve PLS courses myself. When taking these courses, the reason I always sought out the on-site format was to connect with fellow educators. As both novice and veteran educators attend on-site courses from many different school districts, the amount of perspective shared brings deeper meaning to the content. To me, there is nothing comparable to the support and networking of fellow educators gained through interactions of an on-site course. Many of these connections last a lifetime. 

What was the feedback like from participants who took the course?

The feedback from DEF participants share a similar sentiment of being able to use the course content immediately and that it can be adapted to fit many different contents. As a music teacher, I was always amazed at how I could take the content and strategies learned in PLS courses and use them seamlessly in the classroom. The PLS motto of “Learn it today, use it tomorrow.” couldn’t apply more to what is gained in a course experience. Here are some testimonials of participants when asked what they thought was best when taking DEF: 

“Discussing ways to immediately implement strategies to improve in the direction provided to students!”

“Fast-paced learning that information can be used immediately. Like the very next day.”

“Practical ideas that can be utilized in the classroom.”

“The application activities that were given and how you could relate them to your classes.” 

What are the biggest takeaways from this course in particular and how can participants apply what they learned into their classroom?

As listed in the testimonials from participants above, the biggest takeaways are often in relation to the relevance of one’s own classroom and content. Specifically in this course, participants made connections to their students, themselves, and their personal lives. To take that a step further, the content of DEF brings a realization that every struggle can be overcome with effort and strategies. First though, this course helps with the concept that executive function connects with every aspect of life and learning. In my opinion, there is nothing more powerful than having this perspective especially in regard to helping students.

Who do you recommend should enroll in a DEF course and why? 

Any person who desires to help students, family members, or themselves become more successful. I say this because developing executive function (and the strategies to do so) can be applied to every person, everywhere. This includes, and is certainly not limited to, organizational skills, higher levels of thinking, practicing success strategies, coping with anxiety and recognizing triggers, learning how to reflect on failure in a positive way, learning to provide and receive feedback, learning to self-monitor behavior and develop inhibitory control (acting out), improving time-management, setting priorities, learning to problem-solve, developing a growth mindset, practicing resilience and grit, etc. The content of DEF provides strategies and insights on how to improve in all aspects of life. 

As a past PLS Classes participant, do you have a favorite course you’ve taken? 

Although DEF is newer to the PLS repertoire, it is my favorite course. However, my favorite during my PLS participant tenure is MAGIC: Meaningful Activities to Generate Interesting Classrooms. As a participant, you get to “walk the walk.” I remember participating in many and engaging classroom activities. When recruiting friends to take PLS classes, I would always recommend taking MAGIC first because I knew they would come back for more.

Who inspires you most both inside and outside of the classroom?

My family. I believe that education is about being selfless and always desiring to help one’s self and others improve. I can honestly say I learned that from my family. I feel very lucky to have learned this from my parents and siblings through modeling. As an educator, I also know this is the most powerful teaching tool – modeling what we teach to our students. 

Learn more about Chris and check out his upcoming course offerings!

Don’t forget – PLS Classes offers over 35 graduate courses in a variety of formats. Explore our course library today! 

One thought on “Catching up with PLS Instructor, Chris VonVolkenburg

  1. I think that the in person classes are so crucial! I agree with everything that Chris has stated above. It is evident that he cares a lot about PLS and the courses that he teaches. Anyone would be lucky to learn from him! I have taken the DEF course (in person) and I loved it!

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