Professional Development

At St. Mary’s we are committed to professional growth. Our dedicated and passionate faculty members model learning - constantly striving to refine their teaching to bring out the best in their students. Thanks to generous support from parents, alumni, and friends of St. Mary’s, the school offers a wide range of professional development opportunities that impact student learning and lead to classroom innovation.

Professional Development Stories

A Positive Response to Responsive Classroom by Pam Quevedo

This summer I attended a Responsive Classroom training for Middle School Teachers. Responsive Classroom is a research based approach to K-8 teaching that focuses on the link between academic success and social emotional learning.  It incorporates proactive strategies to engage students and to help promote a healthy learning environment, centered around community building, mutual respect and intrinsic motivation. 

This four-day workshop helped me gain the necessary tools I need to encourage autonomy for my students.  We learned about responsive advisory meetings, effective teacher language, and logical consequences – all practices we intend to implement into the Middle School this year.

The good fellowship I encountered in this conference was contagious.  Everyone was there with the same goal in mind: How can I become a better educator? The art of teaching is never ending, and I am thankful for these opportunities to help aid in personal and professional growth.  I am eager to put my new practices into use and to see the positive changes not only within myself but in my students as well.  It’s going to a great year!

Bright Lights, Big Writing by Kristen Gilhooley

This summer I had the opportunity to attend the Teachers College Writing Institute at Columbia University in New York City.

I was very interested in attending this Institute because of the current implementation of the Lucy Calkins Writing Program at St. Mary’s.  I taught Narrative, Informational, and Opinion writing last year in my second grade classroom, and noticed a huge improvement throughout the year in my students’ writing.  I attended the conference in hopes of strengthening my understanding and teaching of the curriculum, as well as learning some helpful hints for organizing and conducting Writer’s Workshop. 

I learned a tremendous amount of information throughout the course of this Institute.  I learned that in order to teach my students the best, I myself needed to become a writer. Using my own experiences as a writer, I can guide my students through crafting, revising, and editing their pieces more effectively.  I learned that the management of writing materials is critical for a smooth Writer’s Workshop to take place daily.  An organized writing center and clear consistent routine helps students stay focused and organized.  Anchor charts are important in reminding students of goals and guiding them through their writing process.  Small group and individual conferencing with students is key to their success as writers and has become a major goal of mine this school year.

I am eager to begin a new school year with all of the additional knowledge I accumulated from attending this Writing Institute.  I left with a newfound knowledge of the importance of educating parents on the process of Writer’s Workshop and the genres we will be teaching.  This year, parents will be included in the very important celebrations we hold at the end of each unit.  As Lucy Calkins shared during her keynote speech, “Your expectations become your kids ceiling.”  I believe in each and every one of my students.  I know what they are capable of accomplishing as writers, and I look forward to guiding and instilling confidence in them.

Handwriting Without Tears by Kim Moraitis

Last Spring, I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful teacher training put on by Handwriting Without Tears, a premier curriculum for whole child development used by our EEP Division at St. Mary’s. The Handwriting Without Tears curriculum is a comprehensive program which uses a multisensory approach to learning handwriting as well as literacy and math skills that prepare students for academic success. However, the success of this program depends upon a very important developmental sequence of teaching which takes into consideration the developmental stage of the child. 

An especially valuable part of the training was that our teachers were given research-based ideas on how to meet each student’s individual needs regardless of their chronological age but rather according to their unique developmental level and learning style.   As a JK teacher this was certainly the most important takeaway for me.   Although all my students are getting prepared for the big transition to Kindergarten, they are all not working at the same skill level. For instance, I learned specific ways to challenge the ones who are already writing with ease as well as to encourage the growth of the student who is still working on their proper pencil grip or has not yet determined if they are right-handed or left-handed.

This training was particularly significant as it was held at the St. Mary’s campus on a Faculty In-service day and the entire EEP division was able to attend together including all teachers and their instructional assistants.   As a result, there is now even greater consistency among all levels of classroom instruction beginning with the 2 year olds all the way through JK, which will certainly contribute to the success of our EEP students as they advance into Lower School.

Leading from the Middle by Heidi Galloway

Last spring I had the opportunity to join several of my colleagues at a conference entitled Leading from the Middle, sponsored by the California Association of Independent Schools. We met at a peaceful resort in Palm Springs, well away from the city. It was a time to walk in the beautiful desert, spend time alone or with colleagues who quickly became friends, and examine private school education in 2016.

Teachers were challenged on many fronts. One exercise in particular opened my mind in new ways to my role as a leader. I teach students, I lead a small department and as such I am a member of the Curriculum Committee, I participate in a grade level team, serve on the Admissions Committee and lead field studies. Multiple hats! Do they all fit on my head at once? Are some of them mutually exclusive? Just how does a teacher/leader in a small institution wear, or take turns wearing, so much head gear? Additionally, I serve several audiences: students, parents, administration, and colleagues. How can I serve these diverse audiences well? These are mighty questions which I had not entertained prior to the conference.

As part of the exercise, we were asked to simply list all the expectations placed on us in our different roles. I started with teacher, surely the longest list. Preparing for class, delivering lessons, teaching to the entire grade level as well as each individual student, evaluating student work and reporting on their progress, etc., just for starters.  Parents was a shorter list, but no less important: opening and maintaining communication with parents, keeping them abreast of their children’s program and progress in writing and in person. As a colleague and department chair, the list ranges from delivering coffee to creating agendas and researching and sharing best practices for our subject area.

The CAIS team guided us through these exercises, allowing us to compare notes with colleagues from other schools, and encourage each other. We agreed that teaching is a complex job, in ways that most people don’t realize, and in ways that we, up until that moment, had perhaps not recognized ourselves. The lesson, was, of course, that as the conference title suggested, we do indeed lead from the middle. Teachers are the hub of a very important wheel, providing the impetus for our students’ academic accomplishments and personal growth, while at the same time uniting students, parents, colleagues and administration in the essential task of keeping the wheel turning.  It all circled back to serving our students, and we left the conference invigorated to meet all the demands placed on us, striving to keep it all in balance.

Visual Arts in Vancouver by Roxanne Kane

I was most fortunate to have been able to attend “The Role of the Arts,” which highlighted the ways that the arts may be intertwined seamlessly throughout the curriculum in the IB Primary Years Programme in order to educate “the whole child.” Having traveled fairly extensively, and explored much of Canada, it was an added bonus that this year’s conference was held in Vancouver, a city noted for its celebration of and commitment to the arts, as well as for its unique charm, and a city that I had yet to explore.

Meeting with like-minded colleagues, all hailing from a variety of places, was stimulating as we shared unique experiences and also brainstormed about surmounting challenges faced by exploratory teachers who often see hundreds of students in one week. We discussed implementation of the 4 C’s (connection, challenges, concepts, change) in order to inspire inquiry-based learning. The importance of incorporation of inspirational children’s literature in the PYP visual arts program was addressed, and all workshop participants were asked to bring one or two books to share so that participants would be able to note the ways that captivatingly illustrated, well-written stories could enhance relevant IB Units of Inquiry, while complementing, and serving as provocation for, visual arts projects.

There is no substitute for productive, collegial interaction, and the IB Level Three Visual Arts Conference provided just that! I am proud to be part of the IB arts community, educating our youngsters to express themselves and to creatively solve problems through the visual arts, and look forward to participating in future conferences.