Sometimes the possibilities are before our very eyes.
Open Classroom Week, October 23–27, at Loomis Chaffee offered the chance for faculty members to visit various classrooms and learn a thing or two. Each day numerous teachers took time to visit the classrooms of their peers.
“Open Classroom Week is important to me because this is an opportunity to lean into the best asset we have here, which is our teaching faculty, and the ability to learn from each other,” said Ned Heckman, a science teacher and the associate director of the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching. Ned organized Open Classroom Week. “I don’t think the Kravis Center needs to be top-down; there is some nice bottom-up learning that can happen as well through programs like Open Classroom Week.”
On Thursday morning, October 26, many teachers gathered in the Parton Room for a breakfast celebration and discussion of their experiences in each others’ classes. They wrote down what they had learned on large sheets of paper on the wall.
One sheet was labeled, “Wondering. What did you see that made you wonder?”
One teacher wrote: I saw students at many different levels learn the same thing in the same time frame.
And another: If I give kids lots of directions at the start, how much can they keep in mind while also experiencing an activity? How might I spread these out more?
Another sheet was labeled “Shooting Star. Accolades for your colleagues.”
Wrote one about English Department Head Steve Colgate: [He] is a fantastic, patient discussion leader who blends lecture and student opinion with panache.”
Another had three simple words inside a star: “Jen on stage.”
That comment referred to Jen Solomon, the associate director of innovation and a member of the science faculty. Someone needed a partner in an acting class taught by Theater Director David McCamish, so Jen went from observer to participant. On this day an activity involved wearing masks, a tool for training actors. Jen performed in theater in high school and was president of the school’s Thespian Society, but this was different.
“I had never, ever worked with masks,” she said. “Not only was it fascinating to be in the mask and take on the personality of the mask in the way I entered the scene, but it was also valuable to experience David’s teaching from a student’s perspective while on the stage, rather than as an outside observer sitting on the edge of the class. The masks have really limited vision, which prompts you to look at the world differently. It was an exercise in empathy and communication.”
Jen leads the Innovation Trimester (I-Tri) program in which students step away from their regular classes and daily schedule in their senior spring term to tackle real-world challenges and offer innovative solutions to problems faced by local businesses and non-profit organizations.
“I do integrate a small amount of improvisation into the Innovation Trimester, so I was really interested in going to David’s class to see how he facilitates improv and see how I can learn from him,” Jen said.
Little did she know that she would be on stage.
Jen also reflected on other lessons she took away from Open Classroom Week, during which she visited multiple classrooms.
“When I was viewing [economics teacher] Liz Leyden’s class, I was thinking of the ways in which she is constantly checking in with kids to make sure they understand something before moving on,” Jen said. “When I viewed David’s improv class, he was giving students very calm and motivating direction throughout but did not expect everyone to remember everything he said when they were doing the scene. So really understanding where kids are in the moment is a big theme that I took from both those classes.”
Jen witnessed similar themes in the classrooms of Science Department Head Neil Chaudhary ‘05, math teacher K.C. Lawler, and science teacher Justin Daniels. These visits got Jen thinking more about how and whether she is meeting students where they are to help get them to where they need to go, she said. Different class. Different students. But the same goal.
Part of Open Classroom Week is finding something new that might work for a teacher right away, later this year, or next year, depending on the situation.
Kravis Center Director Sara Deveaux said the opportunity allows teachers to come out of their silos. “We like to say we want to de-silo them with opportunities such as Open Classroom Week,” she said. “It does not matter what discipline you teach because you can always pick up something from someone else’s classroom.”
Sara also said Open Classroom Week attempts to create a “habit of the mind … that other teachers will see the value in observation and understand that some of the best professional development we have is here. It also sustains the culture we have of professional growth.”
On a personal level, Sara said, every time she observes a classroom she is struck by the enthusiasm of the faculty for the students and the subject matter. “That is evident from the second you walk in the room,” she said.