Academic Excellence: Professional Development (Session One)

Our beginnings
The St. Paul’s School community of the 1970s founded our school based on the values that we continue to work with every day, nurturing our students in an urban setting with neighboring partners and a toolkit for civics and ethics to ensure spiritual and academic growth. “Our students learn to love the city by using the resources a city has to offer,” wrote founding Rector Don Seaton in 1989. Strengthening that bond, the School committed to reflecting the City’s diversity. “To be comfortable with all sorts of other people is part of what it means to be a well-educated person,” he continued. The School's founding values are alive and well today, providing guidance in how to design optimum student and teacher learning experiences.
 
What do we mean by values-based curriculum?
The first of five Professional Development days kicked off on Wednesday, October 18. Star Plaxton-Moore, Director of Community Engaged Learning at USF and John Traynor, Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Gonzaga University, a consulting team that focuses on values-based education, visited the School and began a discussion with teachers, specialists, and administrators to dive into a generative process of customizing learning experiences. Where a conventional model may begin with core curriculum and finish with an overlay of values, St. Paul’s curricular review emphasizes our commitment to mission and values as we move a given topic through the review process to form thematic questions and, finally, develop assessments. This process is supported through a peer-led style of professional development that creates lines of communication across grades and subjects.

Teacher facilitators lead action groups tasked with enriching their chosen focus. The following example comes from Grades 6-8 Science action leader Max Fox: “We highlighted culturally relevant pedagogy and multicultural perspectives as something that is absent in our work in middle school science. We mentioned as an example: using scientists from a broader selection of culture, race, and gender spectra as models of scientific excellence, as opposed to only focusing on the Newtons and Darwins. In addition, spending time learning about who those people are or were and how their experiences culturally and otherwise informed their growth as scientists would be ideal.” Generating new ideas and making moral choices encourages curricular review, and the process evolves.

Why is this important for our students?
When teachers talk shop about what types of curricular decisions they make and why, a cross-pollination of ideas starts to happen and students are the ones who benefit the most. Clear communication “provides consistency for students,” explains Head of School Josh Stern, “making sure that their K-8 experience has a roadmap with an architect behind the overall design of the program. That way, students have a more coherent educational experience.” The ability to align lesson plans and themes year over year--creating opportunities for students to build upon skills that they had already begun to acquire--builds connections; connections in the brain, connections between concepts, and connections between people.

Our next early release day for Professional Development is scheduled for Wednesday, November 28.
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St. Paul's Episcopal School
116 Montecito Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610
510.285.9600