(Reid Fritz advises 7th graders in Algorithmic Thinking as they create a robotic arm to demonstrate how an elbow joint works.)
When a faculty member writes a paper, participates in a conference, does outside research or takes a class, this work benefits the entire Prep community. Professional growth opportunities don’t just keep individual teachers engaged with and connected to their fields; sharing experiences back on campus encourages faculty to connect across disciplines. Being a student for life is good for everyone.
Eleventh Grade Dean and Spanish teacher Katie Canton feels “energized and fulfilled” by the seminar she’s currently taking on school leadership. It includes networking, outside coaching calls and workshops on clarifying values. “When I seriously needed it, professional growth has helped me face change and transition, and also reminds me that we do live out our mission at Prep.”
Lately, programs that remind teachers to see students holistically, beyond the classrooms, are in demand. Dovetailing with initiatives on campus that encourage STEAM, Global Studies and Leadership, professional growth experiences spark conversations and cross-curricular innovations.
The school provides money through special funds earmarked for professional development so that faculty can perfect a skill, pursue an interest or present at a professional conference. Faculty apply for the grants each year and can access an amount up to $5,000 every five years.
Since the start of 2019, at least 25 of our 70 faculty members have attended workshops, summits and conferences, and taken online and inperson courses in subjects as diverse as Chinese and ceramics. Faculty have explored topics like equity and inclusion, “educating anxious brains” and gender and sexual identity.
Becoming a student again allows teachers to evolve how they connect with their students. History teacher Abel Fuentes saw this firsthand at the 2019 Exeter Humanities Institute–West, a five-day working conference that explores the student-centered, discussion-based seminar style called the Harkness method.
“The conference was structured so that each participant was given the opportunity to assume the role of a student and that of the instructor/ facilitator. I found the opportunity to engage as a ‘student’ particularly insightful, as it made me keenly aware of the challenges a student might [have] when it comes to participating in discussion,” says Fuentes, who has implemented one Harkness seminar a week this past semester. He says it empowers his students to “make meaning of new information together. They learn to become receptive to other ideas and perspectives and empathize with their fellow classmates.”
Listening and empathy are essential themes at conferences faculty have recently attended, especially ones where faculty across departments team up to learn more about a topic or issue. Math teacher Madeline Martin and biology teacher Michelle Gee attended the 2019 NAIS People of Color Conference together and participated in sessions about equitable grading and racism in STEM curricula.
“A lot of the talks I went to focused on my experiences as a person of color, especially as an Asian American. I also went to workshops that talked about equity and diversity work in science classrooms. It feels natural to incorporate into history and literature, but it’s less obvious in STEM, so I got a lot of ideas, inspiration and jumping-off points to think about,” says Gee, who recently presented what she learned to the Science Department.
Echoing Gee’s experience, Martin says the conference got her thinking more broadly about issues and concepts she hadn’t considered before. “There were just so many ideas to process and think about and consider. Since we’ve been back, we’re still debriefing,” Martin says, adding that she and Gee hope to attend again with students and more faculty.
A new program, the Curriculum Innovation Grant, was inaugurated in 2019 by Prep and is supported by the E.E. Ford Foundation. Faculty who require intensive time in summer to prepare new units for the coming school year are encouraged to apply for grant funds. Last summer, the grant helped support Prep’s STEAM Initiative. Science teacher Eric Kleinsasser did local on-the-ground research, preparing field trips for his Environmental Science class, while physics teacher Reid Fritz created new units for the 7th grade Algorithmic Thinking class.
“Often, when you choose a professional growth course, the content is very targeted. These funds provide financial and philosophical freedom,” Fritz explains. “Last summer, I did for this class what I ask my students to do: to think about something, carry it to its logical conclusion, then backtrack to see what improvements I could make.” He ran ideas past STEAM Coordinator Dr. Shane Frewen, Science Department Chair Laura Kaufmann and Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper; Kaufmann and Frewen gave Fritz practical tips and directed his thoughts toward the overall science and STEAM curricula, while Cooper advised him about trends in education, how to incorporate social-emotional learning in his teaching, and Prep’s curricular philosophy overall.
The Curriculum Innovation Grant provided Fritz time to think, and he appreciates it. “It’s Prep saying, ‘We want to see what you are coming up with.’ Professional growth funds, and especially this grant, are yet another way Prep supports us faculty. They want to see us succeed and do the best we can.”