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Professional Development— Our Commitment to Lifelong Learning

by Carrie Zulanas
At St. Mary’s, we, as a faculty, are committed to lifelong learning. The type
of learning that challenges and inspires us to understand more about our craft, discipline and students. Last year, the faculty at St. Mary’s created the Characteristics of Professional Excellence, a list of specific behaviors, values and attitudes that illustrate how teachers support the school’s mission and help mold our graduates. In addition to promoting international-mindedness, demonstrating a growth mindset, creating real-world relevance and differentiating instruction, the faculty recognized the importance of continuous learning.

Excerpt from:
St. Mary’s Characteristics of Professional Excellence
“Above all, I am passionate about and proud of my role as an educator. I push myself to seek knowledge, I welcome professional development opportunities and I always strive to grow in my understanding of both content and pedagogy.”

In 2017, a portion of the Fund-a-Need was designated for professional development. Through the generosity of St. Mary’s families, high-level, research-based, on-site trainings were provided for our teachers. These experiences included sessions from the Reading and Writing Institute at Columbia University; Responsive Classroom training; and a mathematics workshop led by Cathy Williams, co-founder of youcubed at Stanford University. All of these professional development opportunities informed and inspired our teachers.

In June, we participated in our final trainings of the year. All teachers, EEP to Grade 8, attended sessions led by trainers from the International Baccalaureate Organization. Early Education and Lower School classroom teachers participated in the Role of Mathematics in the Primary Years Programme, while exploratory and Middle School teachers attended Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning in the Middle Years Programme.

Interdisciplinary learning, a component of both the PYP and MYP programmes, connects two or more academic disciplines to create a meaningful learning experience that emphasizes integrative learning, critical thinking and creative problem solving. Children who engage in interdisciplinary learning develop a deeper understanding of skills; apply these skills in meaningful contexts; and inquire into compelling issues, ideas and challenges.

Time was given for teachers to work in collaboration, creating or revising current interdisciplinary units. Lower School Art, Spanish and Design faculty worked together to create a unit exploring surrealism.
Focusing on the work of Frida Kahlo, students will investigate the artist, create a surrealist self-portrait and create a film about the piece narrated in Spanish. Inspired by a visual image of discarded fruits and vegetables, Middle School Science, Individuals and Societies, Spanish and Mathematics teachers designed an investigation focusing on how our personal choices about consumption can lead to local and global change. During this unit, Grade 8 students will explore the concepts of both consumer and non-consumer societies, the chemical consequences of modern production, laws and regulations governing consumption and production and how active citizenry can bring about change.

“Teachers of all subjects found the training to be productive and rewarding. Everyone was able to complete at least one new unit to be used with their classes in the upcoming year. They are extremely motivated to work with their new students and use the units they spent so much time designing!” explained MYP coordinator, Jocelyn Williams.
This same motivation and excitement were evident in the PYP mathematics training. Continuing education related to the teaching of mathematics and the development of a curriculum that features problem solving and real-world application has been a focus throughout the year. This workshop gave teachers an opportunity to reflect and build on their work by “dissecting the curriculum to find authentic connections between the mathematical skills we teach and the bigger concepts addressed in each unit of inquiry,” shared PYP coordinator Lauren Sterner.

Looking first at each unit of inquiry, grade-level teams of teachers determined which mathematical ideas and skills fit best within the context of their current units. With a deeper understanding of these connections, grade-level teachers were able to enhance current units. Some teams even developed new units of inquiry.

Wanting to help students recognize the real-world application of percentages, data handling and measurement, Grade 5 teachers designed a unit exploring the benefits and costs of the industrialization of food systems. Next year students will have opportunities to calculate food waste; determine the carbon footprint created by the transportation, packaging and production of food; and investigate the calories, carbohydrates and sugar found in their own personal diets. The teachers also hope to use the Green Family Commons to help the students understand the process of and work involved in the preparation of the food they eat.

At St. Mary’s, we are passionate about and proud of our roles as educators, and effective professional development supports us as we continuously strive to be better. Opportunities to place ourselves in the role of a student, to learn from and with one another, enable our teachers to further develop the knowledge and skills needed to empower and inspire our students and to provide the types of learning experiences that prepare them to lead lives as courageous, independent thinkers who communicate effectively.