Genius: a very smart or talented person: a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable Merriam-Webster
Fifth grade teacher Nicole Engstrom was inspired by thoughts of genius during a professional development workshop this summer. In her studies she read statements that outlined qualities of genius as curiosity, creativity and wonder, and she brainstormed on how she could personally encourage those traits among her Lower School students.
Summer professional development is a treasured and inspiring tradition for the majority of teachers, and even though it might have looked different this year, teachers still found opportunities to participate. Episcopal teachers took part in sessions on a range of topics including writing, mindfulness, engineering and science, AP Spanish, AP Computer Science Principles and even building an online dance course. Dean of Academics Dr. Sara Fenske says it is important for students to know that their teachers are lifelong learners. “When our students see their teachers as curious individuals who want to grow and learn, that helps our students see the value in continuing to learn,” she says.
There is also tremendous academic value when teachers are committed to professional development as many of them bring what they learn back to their own classrooms. “Professional development has led to so many advancements in our academic program including reader and writer workshop methods in our English courses, responsive classroom methods for building community and modeling behavior, project-based and design-based learning, and staying on top of the most recent changes to the AP curriculum,” says Dr. Fenske. “It has brought new ideas into the classroom, both big and small.”
Engstrom, who attended virtual sessions regarding wayfinding and student agency through Global Online Academy, is excited to implement what she has learned. She hopes to give students more choice in the pacing of lessons and to add more visual thinking activities to lessons. She also plans to “keep asking students to think about their thinking.” Fourth grade teacher Ros Won, who attended Tulane University’s “Integrating Engineering Practices to Your Science Curriculum,” also learned a few tips from her experience that she hopes to use this school year. “My biggest takeaway from this experience was exchanging ideas with other science teachers and also learning some engineering ideas that I could try to incorporate into the curriculum,” she says. “I hope to implement little engineering activities that have open ended questions and promote creativity.”
Tailored Training for a New School Year
This summer also provided an opportunity for Episcopal educators to learn more about distance learning should there be a need for that type of learning this school year. “To make this summer professional development as effective for our faculty as possible, we wanted it to be tailored to our school and community, rather than choosing a one-size-fits-all model,” says Dr. Fenske. To accomplish such a personalized approach to teacher training, Dr. Fenske participated in a course through One Schoolhouse called Academic Leadership for Hybrid Learning. In addition, faculty members were surveyed about what areas of additional training they needed. What resulted was a professional development experience supported by administrators, academic technology experts and faculty. “Everything that is in these courses comes from extensive research, courses that members of the team had attended, and our own significant educational experience,” says Dr. Fenske. “By doing this, our faculty doesn’t have to pick out those bits of information that are helpful to them, since the entire course is geared towards our own community.”
Dr. Fenske says that teachers are finding that distance learning training is also applicable to the current classroom experience. “They are learning about new tools and resources at their disposal, how to use our tech tools more effectively both in the classroom and in distance learning, and new ways to present information online, to more effectively track student progress, and to give feedback to students,” she says.
Episcopal faculty have proven their ability to adapt and adjust as needed. A continued commitment to professional development ensures they remain prepared and up to date for the latest in education. This willingness to learn new skills will certainly make this school year a better experience for everyone.
As schools more frequently rely on technology to support learning, it is critical to have technology experts on board. Recently, several Episcopal staff members earned recognition for their efforts. Congratulations!
Information Technology Specialist Steve Latuso has been selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert for 2020/2021. As a MIE Expert, Latuso now has access to exclusive professional development and product tools from Microsoft. In addition, Latuso and Episcopal Upper School teacher Lisa Pritchard have been named Google Certified Trainers. New Academic Technology Coordinator James McCrary has been named the 2020 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Virtual Environments Network Pioneer of the Year. ISTE says this annual award “honors an educator whose work in both real life and in world most embodies the adventuresome and innovative spirit characteristic of a Virtual Environments Network community leader.”