“Teaching is a delicate, nuanced art, and though books and workshops offer all kinds of interesting ideas for how we can improve that art, the resources that lie behind every door in your school can offer something even richer, if you’re brave enough to let each other in.” – Open Your Door: Why We Need To See Each Other Teach by Jennifer Gonzalez author of The Cult of Pedagogy
Over the summer, I was charged in my new role as director of professional growth and development to envision how we could best foster community and innovation among our faculty this year, especially as we come out of the confines of the pandemic.
Thankfully, BDS has a robust professional development program and budget to support pursuing opportunities beyond the school walls that will fuel their teaching practice. While workshops and conferences are often the focus of our ongoing PD—and they undoubtedly offer powerful moments for connection and education—some of the best professional development I’ve experienced as an educator hasn’t come from workshops, keynote speakers, and panels of experts. It has come from getting into the classrooms of my teaching colleagues, observing them teach, and inviting them into my classroom to do the same.
It seems so simple, right? Incredible teaching and learning are happening all around us every day at BDS. Yet finding the time and the structure to actually plug into it for our own professional growth is a challenge. Teachers everywhere share that they would relish the chance to see their peers “in action” in the classroom, but the demands on teachers are many, and the immediacy of each day takes priority.
I am very happy to report that through our teaching triads program, we’re now making the time for this work a priority. In teams of three, teachers from pre-kindergarten to grade 8 now have the chance to reflect on their own teaching practice with peers and observe each other teach in a structured and thoughtful way.
The triads have four overarching goals:
- To reignite a collegial, connected, and professional learning community, especially as we adjust after years of demands brought on by the pandemic.
- To grow our reflective practice and work towards some shared language about teaching.
- To expand our understanding of our individual and collective strengths and goals, specifically by getting into each others’ classrooms.
- And finally, we strive to continue to improve our practice through collaborative observation and feedback.
I am grateful for the partnership of Director of Innovation and Technology Annie Fuerst in developing the program. In our first meetings with faculty, Annie and I shared effective teaching practices and habits collected from Research for Better Teaching, Harvard’s Project Zero, NAIS’s Principles of Good Practice, and the work of Kim Marshall. Some of the areas we discussed were curriculum design, differentiation, social-emotional learning, building relationships with students, reflection, innovation, assessment of student learning, clarity of teaching objectives, and prioritizing equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Before meeting in their triads, every teacher had time to reflect on their practice and their areas of strength and room for growth. Teachers have now developed goals and talked with their triads about their thinking and what they hope to learn from peer observation.
Jennifer Gonzalez is right that it takes a certain degree of bravery to do this kind of work, but it’s powerful too. When our students see teachers in each others’ classrooms learning from each other and working in partnership, they are witnessing what it means to be a lifelong learner.
I know of no other school that is doing this kind of intentional work across its entire faculty. Not only is it innovative, but it has generated tremendous conversation about the craft we all care about so deeply. I am very grateful to work in a school where teachers are willing and eager to grow and learn together.