JANE ATTAH, GRADE 2 TEACHER: Essential questions are meant to be thought provoking and should lead to other questions – questions that stimulate our minds to continuously ask how and what teaching children should be all about.
I know with certainty that all teachers have been asked why they choose to teach. The response is guaranteed to be different and personal for each educator. While some of us like to teach younger, and elementary age children, and others prefer middle school, high school, or college, all of us are fortunate and blessed to step into the classroom, with the goal of working towards fulfilling this essential question.
The more time and years I spend in the classroom, the more I make self-reflection a part of my teaching journey. In Gloria Durka’s book The Teacher’s Calling, she elaborates on teaching as a vocation and how those who teach can tap into their hearts and discover their true purpose for teaching. After fifteen years in the classroom, I can state with absolute conviction that I have found my vocation. Here is how I continue to find unending joy in teaching.
DAISY SAVAGE, HEAD OF UPPER SCHOOL: My husband and I are avid amateur birders. Our yard is loud with finch, sparrows, wrens, jays, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatch, and woodpeckers, and we tend our feeders as lovingly as we once fed our children. Throughout the spring and summer seasons, we come to recognize particular pairs and families. The goldfinch and cardinals in particular are lovely to watch as they live in devoted and careful monogamy.
This connection that we, as living beings, can feel towards others – and not exclusively to our ‘kind’ – is, for me, very powerful.
In the late fall and winter, the goldfinch usually move off to warmer climes, although this year they remained late: I thought I caught a glimpse of one late in February but couldn’t be sure. And then one Sunday as Tom and I trekked through the neighborhood woods and fields, we saw a telltale flash of blue: the Eastern bluebird, a certain sign of spring.
I worried for weeks afterward. Even at the moment of our joyful sighting, in 50 plus degrees of an extremely mellow February with March on the near horizon, I knew that frigid and capricious temperatures were on the way. I understand that, to some, such concern might seem trivial or even crazy. After all, birds are exceptionally smart and show incredible creativity and initiative in their instinct to survive. But what if something happened to that bluebird? I could not get it out of my mind. This connection that we, as living beings, can feel towards others – and not exclusively to our ‘kind’ – is, for me, very powerful.
BRUCE SCHWARTZ, DIRECTOR OF THE IDEA AND DESIGN LAB: 10%? Possibly. However, it certainly can’t be more than 15%.
Approximately one year ago, I was asked to lead Peck’s nascent Idea & Design Lab (ID Lab). Yes, at first, I was freaked out. Then, I became excited. Then, freaked out. Then, excited. You get the picture; however, you may be asking why the roller coaster ride of emotions?
Having been on the planning committee for the lab, I had an insider’s perspective on what this leadership role would entail. Likewise, I knew what the ID Lab would mean for The Peck School as we continue to embrace, promote, and foster the use of the design process for student-centered learning across the K-8 curriculum. Thankfully, we had an expert team of people on the committee to offer informed perspectives, insights, and experiences.
The Peck School has a nationally recognized professional development program, known as the Deep Dive. Well, I was about to dive very deeply into some highly unchartered waters!
DAISY SAVAGE, HEAD OF UPPER SCHOOL: Across the last few weeks, I have been thinking here and there about parenting (it’s an occupational hazard). With three children in their 20s and years of work that have allowed me to watch hundreds of other parents, I like to think that I know something about it. But honestly, the more I reflect, the more I see the role of ‘parent’ as the proverbial onion: you’re always peeling it and discovering yet another layer. And while that layer usually looks familiar, it is still new and somewhat unexpected.
The more I reflect, the more I see the role of ‘parent’ as the proverbial onion.
This is the second in a series of blog posts highlighting the “Deep Dive” Professional Development Process at The Peck School in Morristown. Faculty members with more than three years of experience are expected to take a Deep Dive every four years to participate in a meaningful, reflective activity or project that will benefit them personally, as well as their students and the school. The goal of the Deep Dive is to have a lasting and direct impact on their teaching craft and curriculum.
TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING THROUGH PROBLEM BASED MATH: A DEEP DIVE WITH AMY PAPANDREOU
BY CHRIS STARR – DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH
“There is one thing I’ve observed in my years of teaching. Too often, students are taught how to do things without being taught how to apply what they are learning to solve real world problems,” says Amy Papandreou, Upper School Math Teacher. So when Amy heard about the Anja S. Greer Conference on Math and Technology at Phillips Exeter Academy last summer and its focus on “Problem Based Learning (PBL) in the Math Classroom,” she knew it was the professional development opportunity for her.
Too often, students are taught how to do things without being taught how to apply what they are learning
Problem-based math is an approach that jump-starts the development of the skills essential to mastering higher-level math. Traditional mathematical concepts are still covered, but the problem-based approach makes learning math more intellectually rigorous and creatively engaging. In math, as in life, there may be a variety of ways that a solution can be reached. By capitalizing on this notion in the math classroom, teachers can encourage ingenuity in learning math while discouraging students from quitting on a problem when they feel they aren’t on the right track, or locating the “right answer”.
The National Association of Independent Schools recently highlighted Peck’s Deep Dive process by adding an “Online Exclusive” to their Fall edition of Independent School magazine. The story chronicles the chair of The Peck School’s Art Department, Mark Mortensen as he takes a Deep Dive into incorporating the Epilog Mini 18 Laser Engraving System into his woodworking program, and the resulting ripples this professional development had to students and teachers at Peck.
Read about Mark’s exciting Deep Dive Journey here.
In addition to the annual observation and reflection on their teaching methods, faculty members at Peck with more than three years of experience are expected to take on what Chris Weaver, director of curriculum and faculty development, calls a “Deep Dive” every four years. The Deep Dive year gives teachers an opportunity to participate in a meaningful, reflective activity or project that will benefit them personally, as well as their students and the school. The Deep Dive is meant to have a lasting and direct impact on the teaching craft and curriculum.
Stay tuned in the weeks ahead to our guidedbyvalues.org school blog for continuing chronicles of faculty Deep Dives…
My heart goes out to each and every child, returning and new, with his and her trepidations, anxieties, excitements, consternations — you name it!
DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: One of my dear friends and colleagues always told me, “Sometimes having too much empathy can be a hazard.” This statement is never truer for me than on the first days of a new school year. Every year, I enter the new adventure with my most empathic heart on my sleeve, and my family would be happy to tell you that it’s an emotional roller coaster.
My heart goes out to each and every child, returning and new, with his and her trepidations, anxieties, excitements, consternations — you name it! The one certainty is that each and every student walks through the doors of our school with a myriad of emotion. Some are just better at buttoning down and masking those emotions. While all of us as adults fall into the trap of feeling we have somehow “succeeded” when we minimize or avoid first day tears, we are simply deluding ourselves if we believe that many are not “raining” or trembling on the inside.
Note: The Ben Alexander Grant for Faculty Enrichment at The Peck School is awarded to one or more faculty members each summer. Up to $2,500 is available for a personally enriching experience that demonstrates the growth mindset and sincere interest of the applicant. A proposal for the grant need not relate to their teaching responsibilities at Peck. The following story poignantly illustrates that growth and success do not always travel hand in hand.
CHELSEY CARR – UPPER SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER AND DEAN OF STUDENTS, 7TH AND 8TH GRADES: My four year old son, Matthew, recently asked to go to the jet pack store. He wanted to fly and saw the purchase of a jet pack as an obvious substitute to the gift of wings. Matthew instructed me to research a store on my phone’s map; I did my own research — on Pinterest. Finding DIY jet pack instructions, we set out to gather the materials. We bought, emptied, and dried two 2 litre bottles; went outside, spread newspaper on the driveway, and started to coat the plastic with silver spray paint. Only, the nozzle became stuck. The freon continued to spray, but not the paint. So, with one green plastic bottle still green, we moved inside and waited for the painted bottle to dry. Later, we cut felt and glued it along with shot-sized red Solo cups to create the boosters — and, no, I did not have these on hand. Once Matthew was harnessed into the contraption, I waited for his reaction. How did our homemade jet pack stand up to his expectations? Did it feel like half-painted empty soda bottles were stuck to his back? Or, like he was one with a machine, a jet pack, revving and ready to take him to new heights? I braced myself for a response.
ANDREW SCHNEIDER, DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS: As the finance guy at Peck, I’m not often associated with the importance of the arts. But here’s my dirty secret: I was (gulp) an English major! In fact, I started my career as a teacher.
Back when I taught English at a Connecticut boarding school, I could set my watch to the time of year when the first student would ask “why doesn’t he just say what he means instead of saying it all weird-like?” It was always in October, and it was always after being assigned T.S. Eliot’s The Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. As a young teacher, I struggled to answer the basic question: “why do we have to read poetry?” Admittedly, there was a part of me that wondered the same thing my students did. Deep down, perhaps I didn’t want to admit these feelings because it would have invalidated my career path or, even more simply, because I thought it would make me look stupid. In my mind, the real answer was probably “poetry is important because a lot of smart people say it is, and if you don’t think so, then you are probably not smart enough to understand why it’s so important.” So rather than answer the question, I consistently dodged it, continuing to tell my students about “the wonderful imagery” of “measuring out my life in coffee spoons” and how they needed “a hundred visions and revisions” of whatever essays they were submitting the following week.
DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: Having started a career in education over thirty years ago, my views about educational best practices have naturally changed and grown over time. However, one thing has remained constant, and this one thing is my fervent belief that the greatest gift we can give our children is a genuine love of learning. When children love learning, they commit to a lifetime of seeking knowledge, understanding, and truth. They become the problem solvers who are the true change makers.