One key to strong teaching: continuous learning
“Those Who Teach, Must Never Cease to Learn.”
–John Cotton Dana
It can be incredibly exciting to watch teachers implement something they recently learned. Whether it comes from attending a conference, taking a class, participating in a book group, or observing a colleague, educators are constantly pushing themselves to grow and develop. These experiences fill a need to better ourselves, but they also enable us to hone our craft and help our students.
From my very first meetings with Keystone teachers and staff members, I have been impressed with people’s commitment to continuous learning. Two summers ago when I began working here, I met with teachers who shared the work they were doing during the summer: they were revising texts they had created, introducing new books and concepts into their classes, or developing different and creative assignments. They were researching the newest discoveries in child cognitive development, the latest trends in literary criticism, and the most innovative thinking in curriculum and pedagogy. Spending time with these individuals was both inspiring and energizing.
For far too long, professional development for educators has consisted of large districts herding hundreds of people into oversized rooms and requiring everyone to sit through presentations that failed to inspire and offered little practical value. In the process, people were turned off to that demonstration in particular and to professional development in general.
At Keystone, we want our professional development to inspire and help our professionals hone their already strong skills and knowledge.
Our professional development takes a variety of formats. Some teachers visit schools to see what professional peers are doing, while others attend conferences and workshops that they have chosen. For example, last summer, four lower school teachers spent a week at Teachers College-Columbia University studying the Lucy Calkins approach to teaching writing while another group of lower school teachers attended a similar conference in Houston; at the same time, some high school teachers attended Advanced Placement conferences. In November, four teachers and Dr. Wivagg will attend the Association for Middle Level Education Conference in Nashville.
A couple of weeks ago, the entire Little School faculty and I participated in the Teach Your Heart Out Conference where we heard from inspiring speakers. A few teachers attended this conference last year in Atlanta and recommended it highly. Many of us went to sessions on how to build a learning community or tips for teaching books that reflect a variety of people’s experiences. As you would imagine, the discussions stimulated us and led to conversations on what we can bring back to Keystone for teachers in other divisions. In addition, the opportunity for a group of committed educators to learn together and have time to process what we had discovered proved invaluable.
Cindy Tyroff teaches eighth grade English at Keystone and oversees our professional development initiatives. Recently, after I asked for her thoughts on the benefits of PD, she told me, “writer Scott Hayden says, ‘Teachers should have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.’ It is this third love that moves teachers from simply feeling passionate about their subjects and their students to becoming experts in the classroom. Each year Keystone faculty members engage in professional learning, ranging from self-reflection and action research to membership in professional organizations and attendance at conferences. Students benefit when teachers return to the classroom with renewed energy, innovative ideas, and an enhanced understanding of how to tailor instruction for advanced learners.”
I have often thought that the pre-flight instructions we receive from attendants before taking off hold relevance for people in care-taking professions. As you may recall, if the cabin loses air pressure, an oxygen mask drops from above. When adults are traveling with small children, they should place the mask on their own faces first and then care for the child. The thinking behind this reflects the understanding that an adult cannot help a child if the grownup is unconscious.
Similarly, if we fail to care for the caretakers, they will be unable to nourish the people for whom they are responsible. There’s an old adage-”if you don’t feed the teachers, they eat the children.”
When educators pursue their own learning, they tap into the passion for education that prompted them to enter the field in the first place. In addition, they come into contact with the most recent thinking in their field and change what they are teaching and how they do it. Ultimately, everyone, educators and students, benefits.