One of the things I appreciate most about my work as Academic Dean is the opportunity I have to encourage faculty to be reflective in their practice as educators. Even in this role, I have been fortunate to also continue my work as a classroom teacher, co-teaching an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental course in the Upper School called “I, too, Sing America”: The Voices of Black Americans, which means that I, too, still have the opportunity to regularly reflect on my own practice.
When I reflect on my own pedagogy and instructional approaches, I’m often reminded of a piece I read in graduate school on whose core philosophy I often draw– Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire, a Brazilian educator. In the piece, Freire argues that education is “the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” To me, that line resonates beautifully with my favorite line of the Dana Hall School mission statement, that the education we provide our students prepares them “for the challenges and choices they will face as women and citizens of the world.”
Our mission as a school is to give young women the skills they need to critically view the world in which they live and to then change it. In pursuit of this end, we as educators must make sure that we continually reflect on what we are teaching and how we are teaching it. Self-reflection and reassessment are key to successful school function and to the process of change. Teachers, in the all-important role they play as the producers and implementers of school curriculum, must receive constant encouragement to think carefully about that curriculum, their pedagogy, and instructional approaches.
Teachers, new or veteran, are not that different from the students they teach. Educators need to be continually engaged in the process of fine-tuning their skills, culling ideas on best practices, increasing effectiveness, learning how to collect and look at data, and setting long term and short terms goals, among many other things. This engagement is the driving principle behind the professional development work in which the faculty at Dana Hall School are encouraged to take part. Here, our teachers and administrators engage often in conversations about what makes a strong, vibrant, engaging educational experience. Teachers become learners themselves and are challenged, supported, and given the tools that they need in order to continually reflect upon and reassess their practice.
Over the past few summers, we have sent teams of teachers to Harvard University’s Project Zero, where they have engaged in deep conversations about how to structure classrooms that foster innovation, creativity, and both cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking. Additionally, in the past year alone, we have had faculty members travel to New York City to take part in an NPR Moth Conference, to South Africa to work with the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, and attend local and national seminars on equity and inclusion, project-based instruction, Makerspaces, mindfulness, and primary source use. Many of our teachers have joined the newly-formed Teacher Learning Collaboratives [TLCs] that take place here on campus– small groups of teachers who observe each other’s classroom practices, their focus guided by specific questions about teaching and learning designed to help them reflect on their own work.
Today’s “challenges and choices” are not tomorrow’s. If we are going to, as Freire states, help our students “discover how to participate in the transformation of their world,” we must recognize that the contemporary world is infinitely more complex than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. Many previous educational models were built for a society that no longer exists and will not prepare our students for an uncertain, ever-changing future. Dana Hall’s commitment to professional development opportunities is a commitment to reflection, to remaining innovative, to repeatedly asking ourselves what our students need in order to be the thought leaders and change agents we know they ultimately will be.