Every June, Blair’s teachers leave their classrooms on the hilltop behind and travel to the far corners of the world. Some visit family or reconnect with their non-teaching passions, and many pursue a wealth of transformative learning opportunities—from fellowships and graduate school programs to research projects and institutes for professional development. Here are some highlights from the work our faculty engaged in this summer as well as how they plan to bring the lessons from their professional development back to Blair.
JULIA BOOTH & PAM SCHULMAN
Blair science teacher Julia Booth and history teacher Pamela Schulman joined an international community of educators in Lakeville, Connecticut, for a fellowship at the Klingenstein Summer Institute for Early Career Teachers. Learning from independent-school specialists and veteran teachers, Ms. Booth and Ms. Schulman delved into current issues in education, such as diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging work and cognitive science, and they met with peers from their academic disciplines, focusing specifically on ways to build long-term learning habits in students. The two-week program proved to be an opportunity to compare and contrast teaching styles, educational philosophies and issues facing independent schools.
Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Evan Thomas set out for both Maryland and Arkansas this summer to participate in the National Diversity Practitioner Institute and, later, the National Art Education Association’s (NAEA) School for Art Leaders in Arkansas. Both programs focused on developing community and capacity for leadership in a school setting and they introduced Mr. Thomas to a cohort of peers and practitioners who will serve as a resource throughout the year. “The program provided me with some great ideas and framing to help support my leadership. And, I had the opportunity to eat some great food, experience incredible works of art, and mountain bike on the trails in Bentonville, the ‘mountain bike capital of the world!’”
English teacher Cally Queally undertook her first semester of a five-year master’s degree program, diving into creative-writing and literary-analysis classes at the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English. “It was great to be a student again,” Ms. Queally says. “Being able to talk to my fellow students about resources to use as a teacher to help improve my lesson plans was a game-changer.” Ms. Queally took away techniques for dividing classes to maintain student interest and improve student performance and she learned new strategies to teach Shakespeare effectively—but it may be the hikes that captured her imagination the most. Ms. Queally and her fellow teachers discovered the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail in Ripton, Vermont, where several of the laureate’s poems are mounted in the woods and fields along the trail. “The trail itself was beautiful, but all of us would crowd around the poems, marvel at them, and then discuss once we started back on the trail,” Ms. Queally recalls. “That experience was definitely the embodiment of an English masters program in rural Vermont!”
Straddling the boundary between scrub-filled Texas Hill Country and the open prairies of East Texas, the city of Austin is home to one of the University of Texas’ largest campuses. In late June, Blair science teacher Chris Thatcher settled in to the bustling campus to participate in the “Engineer Your World” program, which puts teachers of Engineering Science in the role of students. Engineering Science is a new course offered at Blair and designed by University of Texas at Austin specialists for students interested in pursuing engineering as a possible future profession. In addition to offering curriculum based on real-world engineering needs, the program provides course teachers with the rare opportunity to sample the curriculum as pupils themselves. “This program helped us, as educators, better relate to how the material could be presented more clearly, while still allowing the students to learn and practice the tools used by real-world modern engineers,” Mr. Thatcher says.
STELLA CHEN, AMANDA LUCAS & SHELLY MANTEGNA
Blair science teacher Shelly Mantegna, math teacher Stella Chen and Dean of Teaching and Learning Amanda Lucas spent a week in historic Exeter, New Hampshire, at conferences held at Phillips Exeter Academy. For Mrs. Mantegna, who teaches AP Psychology at Blair, the biggest lesson came from leading a history class discussion on World War II’s Yalta Conference, an area outside her expertise. “I was reminded of how students must feel when they enter territory that is brand new,” she recalls. “It was a nice reminder of what it feels like to be a student and why we should, as educators, never make any assumptions. It was a pivotal moment in my time at the institute, because growth happens when we leave our comfort zone and I definitely left mine for that hour!”
Attending the academy’s Anja S. Greer Institute on Mathematics and Technology, Mrs. Chen found value in learning from teachers with experience from all over the United States. “It is inspiring to talk with so many people who are passionate about math. I brought back ideas for several hand-on projects—including making a stellar icosahedron with straws and exploring external angles through experiment—that I know will appeal to my students.”
THE SIGETY FACULTY SUMMER INSTITUTE
All School faculty had the opportunity to take advantage of the Sigety Faculty Summer Institute, a professional-development resource that brings together Blair’s teachers annually for weeklong, on-campus programs focused on making their work in the classroom the best it can be. This year, renowned instructional coach Alexis Wiggins, founder and director of The Cohort of Educators for Essential Learning, hosted sessions in June designed to help teachers of biology, anatomy, physics and English determine how to make their courses applicable and relevant to the world outside the classroom. In August, teachers explored what creating an advanced curriculum that is independent of advanced placement classes might look like. “All of these meaningful experiences,” says Dean of Teaching and Learning Amanda Lucas, “further our teachers’ passion and vision for the art and craft of teaching. They are invaluable.”
We look forward to seeing how all of our teachers’ summer adventures enrich students’ learning experiences this year and to continuing to support all those dedicated individuals who so expertly guide, mentor and challenge Blair students in classrooms and beyond.