< Back

Faculty meeting shows more reasons to appreciate our teachers

May 10, 2019
By Billy Handmaker

“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”
--Nicos Kazantzakis

Staff meetings aren’t usually where you would expect to find moments of ineffable magic, but during a recent Lower School faculty meeting, Ms. Vilagi led the kindergarten through fourth grade teachers in a fascinating activity that was a joy to experience, and provided another reason to appreciate what a special place we have in Keystone.

Lower School in-service

She asked teachers to share an artifact representing something significant in their personal or professional lives from the past year. Teachers shared anecdotes about first grandchildren, working with the theater department, and being selected to travel with the National Geographic Society. The stories were touching and reaffirmed how a purported work-life dichotomy is a myth; we bring the joy of our family to work, and the inspiration that comes from teaching exceptional children at school affects what we do at home.

From kindergarten, Ms. LaVelle described how her students are implementing the Lucy Caulkins Writing Workshop approach of breaking down the writing process into smaller stages rather than looking at an overwhelming goal. They wrote true stories or narratives, how-to books, and pieces of persuasive writing. Each lesson gave youngsters new tools, including editing, and the opportunity for students to choose their topics made them move invested in the final product; as a result, they surprised even themselves. As one student wrote in a dedication, “To my teachers for showing me how to be an author.”  Ms. LaVelle summarized by pointing out that, “Every time we put an expectation out there for our students, they rise to the occasion and achieve.”

From first grade, teacher Ms. Westwood explained the engineering process she introduced this year. It offers a method for students to take risks, try something new, stumble at times, and begin again. The method has the following steps:

  • Ask a question.
  • Imagine.
  • Plan.
  • Create.
  • Test.
  • Improve.
  • Evaluate.  

By turning learning into a process, the first graders understood that there will be mistakes along the way, and that’s an inherent part of the learning. As a result, they took away important lessons about engineering in particular and life in general.

Finally, third-grade teacher Ms. Steward shared a piece of writing from one of her third graders and explained a Social Studies project that asked students to examine historical documents to answer a guiding question in an essay.

As she recounted: “In this lesson, students looked at documents in relation to a cattle drive, a class favorite. After all, what third-grader doesn’t love talking about cow poop in class and not getting in trouble? The students had to look at documents that shared the low pay and harsh living conditions of the work, and write an essay arguing about why they would re-up and work the cattle drive again or not. Would they choose adventure or security? The essay asked students to use the facts and their creativity to respond. This is a difficult task for the students overall, as many tend to just list facts and skip over the creative element and chance for storytelling. One student really struggled with pairing the two this year. His essays read more like bullet points of facts from our documents and his voice was missing. This time, his cattle drive essay finally nailed both and he knew it. He was so excited to turn in his essay and so proud when he saw his final grade.”

Ms. Steward described the moment beautifully: “What I was most excited about was his growth as a writer and historian. He has learned how to think critically about historical documents and use what he’s learned as a author to present his facts in a way that paints a picture for his reader. Seeing that light bulb go off is the reason I teach.”

At Keystone, we take the commitment to lifelong learning very seriously. From the youngest children at the Little School to graduating seniors, we emphasize how our continuously learning and growing is an essential part of a successful and well-lived life. It’s part of what makes this place special and we can feel grateful for teachers who love their students, seek out opportunities to challenge and support them, and take risks themselves to improve their teaching.  We are truly fortunate indeed.