Winter 2014
When Teachers Become Students


by Mel Malmberg

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.

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.

The learning that teachers do outside Prep comes back to their classrooms and their colleagues, keeping the campus engaged, invigorated and up to date.

The funding for professional development comes in large part from endowment revenue. Endowed faculty development funds are established in perpetuity, and a percentage of these funds are expended annually to support professional growth.

Director of External Affairs Lakshmi Dastur-Johnson says, “Peter and Molly Bachmann have set a wonderful example in this regard by annually contributing to the Bachmann Fund.”

Others have followed their lead by establishing and donating to endowed faculty development funds like the John Plumb ‘64 Fund and the Edward E. Ford Faculty Endowment fund, among others.

Below is a sampling of faculty professional development experiences from the past year. For more, visit

Theresa Cheng

Hands-on experience

Science teacher Theresa Cheng participated in two programs in the summer of 2013. For three weeks she attended the Teacher Institute at the Exploratorium, the hands-on science museum in San Francisco. She also worked as a researcher at USC after hearing the lead investigator speak at the Learning and the Brain Conference she attended with Dean of Students Midge Kimble and Headmaster Peter Bachmann.

When Teachers Become Students
“Doing science part of the summer is very recharging personally. I can remember what science is doing ‘out there,’ and remember that there is still a lot to be learned.”

The Exploratorium program offered plenty of practical experience, as participants got to try out and demonstrate exhibits, observe guests and work together in teams. Cheng spent many hours at work in the Exploratorium woodshop and her favorite, “the library. It was a science teacher’s paradise, with magazines, books and periodicals all dedicated to teaching science.”

She now has a huge network of science colleagues—alumni of the Institute from the current and previous years—with whom to trade ideas and resources. And, she reports, “I have about 30 new lessons, demonstrations and lectures that are tried and true and really engage kids.”

Later in the summer Cheng worked at USC, studying the social-emotional behavior of high-school-aged bi-cultural immigrants. She tries to work in a lab every summer. “Prep faculty have the summer time to explore, and doing science in the summer is very recharging personally,” she says. “I can remember what science is doing ‘out there,’ and remember that there is still a lot to be learned. I also can use these connections for PrepExchange, so students can have access to science mentors. And of course when the results of the study are published, we may have another window into how kids learn.”

Josh Perlman

Learning and teaching intertwined

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

When Teachers Become Students
“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."

Jill Riehl

Math Camp was awesome!

Jill Riehl 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 experience at Summer Math Camp in Park City, Utah.

When Teachers Become Students
“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.”

Riehl 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.”

This year Riehl was excited to ring back 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 Riehl says hearing about everyone’s summer “keeps us all innovating and enthusiastic about education.”

Oh, and Riehl 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. But still, she says, “I’d rather be doing math!”

Michael Roffina

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, 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.

When Teachers Become Students
“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,” Roffina says. “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

Accessing technology

For three 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.

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

“We brainstormed on getting 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.”

Eldridge met with Prep librarians Sue Hodge and Reggie Ursettie directly after the conference. Within days, Hodge had put together a resource “landing page” that included Pinterest, blogs, amateur and professional photos and videos, books and magazines for a French class project on the Tour de France.

At the conference, Eldridge learned that 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.”