By Elisa Marcus, K Teacher and Professional Development Coordinator
It’s been a longstanding belief among the Schechter Manhattan educational leadership that some of the best professional development opportunities for teachers are found within the halls of the school itself. While there is certainly much to be gained by attending conferences and workshops sponsored by educational institutions, and by inviting experts in to present and consult, it is also true that powerful professional growth can be the result of teachers learning with and from one another.
About a year and a half ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the Gann Academy of Boston, a Jewish high school that places prime importance on the professional development of its faculty. I went there specifically to learn about a practice called Faculty Rounds. This practice is modeled after “rounds” that physicians do in a hospital. Together, physicians visit patients, discuss, and problem-solve, each doctor adding to the richness of the conversation and reflecting on his or her own practice.
In Faculty Rounds, teachers gather in small groups, identify a common topic of inquiry, set up a rotation of visiting each other’s classrooms, make observations, and then come together to discuss the observation, using a protocol. For each visit, one teacher is a “host”. That host identifies a “problem of practice” (something related to the common topic of inquiry) and meets with the rounds facilitator to hone her question. She then invites her colleagues to observe her as she teaches. Observers are given guidelines regarding what to look for in the lesson and take only observational notes that will provide data for the conversation. Hosts are also usually filmed on video so that they can observe themselves later, on their own time.
I was so inspired by what I learned that I spoke to our own Educational Leadership Team about piloting a Faculty Rounds group at Schechter Manhattan. We are fortunate in our school to have an ELT that also makes the professional development of our faculty a high priority. After hearing about Faculty Rounds, they were immediately open to my interest in making it happen in our school.
Last year, 6 teachers chose to join a Faculty Rounds group. This group of teachers spanned the grades, including elementary and middle school teachers. In our first meeting, we agreed upon a topic — relationships — and then each teacher took a turn hosting her colleagues. This year, the topic is “constructivism”, the philosophical underpinning of the kind of teaching and learning that goes on here at Schechter Manhattan. Teachers are all familiar with the elements of constructivism, but making it a focus for Faculty Rounds enabled a group of teachers to think more critically and reflectively about these elements.
One aspect of Faculty Rounds that makes it so effective and enjoyable for teachers as a professional development experience is the highly structured conversation that ensues after the observation. This conversation helps the host teacher think about her own practice. Colleagues do not make judgments or offer suggestions. Instead, they asking probing questions, questions that make the host teacher stop and think and consider ideas that had not occurred to them previously. These are questions that do not have one fixed answer. While the conversation focuses on the lesson of the host teacher, the protocol also asks participating teachers to consider implications for their own practice.
“Even if we’re not reflecting on my own [lesson], I find it incredibly meaningful to apply the topic to my own teaching,” one teacher noted. Another teacher shared feelings of strengthened bonds with colleagues. “Though there has always been a spirit of goodwill and cooperation, now it is based in a positive and shared experience of helping each other grow as professionals.”
It is a privilege to be a part of such a supportive learning community.
Elisa Marcus, K Teacher and Professional Development Coordinator
Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop back next week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
Children of Gan had free writing this week.
I had a PlaYdat It waz fun.
I am ixsidd Foormi mAmA to piK m up
(I am excited for my Mama to pick me up.)
I was makiein Amy fel ber Amy felt good
(I was making Amy feel better. Amy felt good.)
I am goeg to ple basbol
(I am going to play baseball.)
We have begun a new literacy unit on poetry in Kitah Bet! Students have been reading many poems and looking carefully at the various features poets use when writing, including rhyme, repetition, descriptive language. Last class, students tried their hand at writing poems, using the theme of Nature as their inspiration.
The 5th-grade students have been working on the composition of complete paragraphs in Hebrew. After reading about museums and other important locations in Israel, they composed their own paragraphs about similar types of locations in New York City.
In our creative writing unit, students are being given an opportunity to work on a manual typewriter. The typewriter (in mint condition) was donated to the humanities classroom by Gramercy Typewriter Company for this unit to allow students to experience a unique creative process from a bygone era. Here are a couple of story maps fresh out of our 1960s Olympia SM9 DeLuxe.