Professional Development: When Teachers Become Students

At Flintridge Prep, the classroom experience is incalculably enriched by teachers who are growing as people and as educators, who are creative and who are aware of new research in both instruction and in their fields. We encourage our teachers to follow their academic pursuits because we know from experience that the learning that teachers do outside Prep comes back to their classrooms and their colleagues, keeping the campus engaged, invigorated and up to date.

Through a variety of endowment funds, Prep supports independent faculty projects, research, participation in professional conferences and workshops and coursework toward advanced degrees. Prep faculty make presentations, learn new languages or attend institutes with the help of professional growth funds. They have time in the summer to pursue their interests.

Below is a sampling of faculty professional development experiences.

Josh Perlman, History

Learning and teaching intertwined

History teacher Josh Perlman traveled to the East Coast twice in 2014 to learn new methods of teaching.

“Teaching and learning are like breathing in and breathing out: you can’t have one without the other.”

“Going back to the classroom with summer professional development is like taking a step backward so that you can charge forward,” he says. “Teaching and learning are like breathing in and breathing out: you can’t have one without the other.”

Perlman first took part in Project Connect, a North Carolina seminar on interdisciplinary teaching. History and English teachers worked together to discover ways in which fiction is woven into our understanding of history. Perlman is using this creative, empathic approach in his classes this year. Students who need a makeup assignment write a fictional travelogue, covering, from a narrator’s point of view, everything they missed. For a paper on the Renaissance, Perlman is having students design and then write about living in their own palaces. And in American history, each student has chosen a historical personage through which they can interpret and experience the American Revolution.

Perlman’s weeklong conference at the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s seminar on the American Revolution at the Constitutional Archives in Philadelphia left his mind, he says, “practically bursting at the seams. We got to hold letters that the authors of the Constitution wrote, read diaries and visit historical sites. I came back with primary sources, like a scandalous, flirty letter from George Washington to somebody else’s wife. It makes him so real, not a slab of marble. The students see him in a whole different light now."

In 2015, Josh has participated in seminars in mindfulness in the classroom, hosting lunchtime talks with his colleagues to share his knowledge.

Jill Henry, Math

Math Camp was awesome!

Jill Henry is a math teacher on a mission. Currently working on her master’s in mathematics education, she will buttonhole you in a Prep hallway to tell you about her 2014 experience at Summer Math Camp in Park City, Utah.

“You can do something every single year to get excited about being a teacher again each fall.”

“We had two hours in the morning of math—they gave us really hard, challenging problems,” she says, “then two hours of teaching practice and pedagogy. In the afternoon we tore apart a lesson from a textbook and worked on making it better. It was awesome.”

Henry has participated in professional development every summer of her six years at Prep, and the program is helping her finance her master’s program. “Summer professional development means faculty can get excited about returning to school to integrate what we’ve learned and introduce it to the rest of our colleagues,” she says. “You can do something every single year to get excited about being a teacher again each fall.”

In the 2014-2015 school year Henry brought back many ideas from math camp, like re-imagining textbook problems to make them more engaging, which is part of her thesis that she presented at a Monterey conference in December. One of the school’s professional development program requirements is that teachers report to colleagues, and Henry says hearing about everyone’s summer “keeps us all innovating and enthusiastic about education.”

Oh, and Henry also participated in “after school” math camp activities. The girls cross country coach ran on mountain trails through the aspen groves, which she described as beautiful, until she ran into a bull moose. Even though she says she would always rather be doing math, her training helped her keep up with the girls cross country team, which won a historic state championship in 2014.

Michael Roffina, History and Human Development

Validating community

Michael Roffina, history teacher, Prep’s director of human development and a member of the school Health and Safety Committee, went to Tampa, Florida, in 2014 to participate in a Ministering to School Communities in Times of Tragedy conference. The presenters talked about all sorts of incidents than can affect a school—from accidents to natural disasters and trauma—and how best to respond. Chaplains, heads of school, psychologists, professional grief counselors and first responders were on the panels.

“Prep is on the right track. The conference validated that.”

“Prep is on the right track. The conference validated that,” Roffina says of the school’s approach to dealing with tragedy. Besides Roffina and Dr. Robbie Green, there are four teachers on the school’s Mental Health Team, and Headmaster Peter Bachmann is always involved in decisions affecting the whole school. The team meets regularly to share information and track issues.

“When something bad happens to somebody in our community, or to the community as a whole, we go to extremes to make sure those involved have what they need: resources, support, time,” Roffina says. “Yet we strongly believe, and this was confirmed at the conference, that the quicker we return to a normal pattern the better. Not a lot of schools have a team of teachers empowered and trained to help.”

“The conference attendees were surprised that we have such a strong, involved community here, from the headmaster on down. A lot of schools want to turn trauma counseling over to outsiders, but we feel, and it’s a reflection of Prep, that students might respond better to a teacher than a stranger. We give permission to talk about things, and people share their problems and get help. The community comes together to solve a problem.”

Meryl Eldridge, Librarian

Accessing technology

For four years in a row, Research Librarian Meryl Eldridge has attended the Internet Librarian Conference in Monterey. Eldridge appreciates all that attending the yearly conference provides, enabling her not only to take a sweeping look at emerging technologies, but also to turn to other librarians across the country for ideas throughout the year.

“We provide both a funnel and a bridge for so many projects and ideas on campus.”

“We brainstorm about how to get teachers and students to integrate technological resources: if two classes are working on the same assignment, how can they talk to each other?” Eldridge says. “I learned how to package information. There are so many platforms now with blogs, videos and discussion boards—we are learning how to make bibliographies seamless.”

Each year, Eldridge meets with Prep librarians Sue Hodge and Reggie Ursettie directly after the conference, and within days, Hodge has put together new resources based on Eldridge’s findings. No stranger to professional development and conferences, Hodge considers these opportunities are necessities in the constantly evolving field of library science.

One recent conference discovery: a Pew Research Center survey found that libraries are universally loved and serve two polar functions: as places of refuge, rejuvenation and reflection, and places to totally connect.

“We see that in the Chandramohan Library,” Eldridge says. “We provide both a funnel and a bridge for so many projects and ideas on campus. So much of what we all work with is technology, and how we access and interpret data is crucial.

“Attending this is the single most valuable thing I do from a tech perspective. A conference gives you the time to ask, ‘Could I use this great idea?’ or ‘Could I risk that?’—all while sea lions bark outside your room.”

Flintridge Preparatory School
4543 Crown Avenue La Cañada Flintridge CA 91011
Tel: 818-790-1178
Fax: 818-952-6247
Located near Pasadena and Los Angeles in La Cañada, CA, Flintridge Prep is a private independent, coed day school for grades 7-12.
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