Appointed to the science department in 2018, Amy Norris attended a meeting for the Southern New England Marine Educators Association in addition to a conference held by the Connecticut Science Teachers Association. She says, “Professional development can mean different things to different people but feels strongly that attending conferences lights up learning. One should always be sure they are staying on top of current information related to their field, as well as have that internal drive to be better in some small way than they were the day before. It doesn’t mean having to get another degree and can be as simple as listening to podcasts, reading content from list-servs or newsletters, or even following others on related social media platforms.” She adds, “As educators, what is popular pedagogy is always cycling. New scientific information about the neuroscience behind how the human brain works and how people of any age learn means that nuances in best practice are constantly shifting. To stay relevant, educators need to have something that gives them that touchpoint throughout each school year. I find, besides accessible online content, certain conferences have been best for my professional development. Attending conferences often lights a small fire in me as an educator.”
Tori Fitzgerald joined Suffield’s Department of Academic Support in 2018 and has since completed a master’s degree at Lasell University in sports management concentrated in athletic administration. “It can be a daunting idea to take on an additional workload on top of our busy day-to-day lives as teachers, coaches, advisors, and dorm parents,” she says. “And when I first considered working towards an advanced degree I was worried it would interfere with my work and I would struggle to succeed academically. However, I find it increased my empathy for both my students and professors.” She elaborates, “When a teacher develops empathy for the student experience, the student in turn develops a respect for the teacher’s understanding and will often work harder. The power of kindness, compassion, and understanding should not be underestimated. Teachers and students are both equally stressed and busy, and learning and teaching have their own individual challenges. Neither stress nor challenge is more significant than the other. Understanding the stress of our students has made me a better teacher. Compassion, understanding, and kindness will create better relationships and results than strict and inflexible expectations. After all, we want our students to thrive, grow, and learn.”
Associate Director of Academics and Faculty Phil Hodosy joined the Suffield faculty in 2018 and is a member of the school’s history department who last year completed an intensive, one-year master’s degree program in Independent School Leadership at University of Pennsylvania. The program took deep dives into all facets of independent schools including administration, curriculum, enrollment, pedagogy, development, and faculty support. “As faculty members, being conscious of how we are continuing our own education is imperative to our success, as well as the positive impact we hope to have on our students,” he explains. “The fact that professional growth in education is perpetually changing is one of the biggest joys of being at a school. After the program concluded in July, moments for continued professional growth did not cease. I am now fortunate to be a part of the Alumni Steering Committee, a group of alumni who continue to partake in the Penn program through conference calls, campus visits, and continued discussion about what we are each doing at school. This experience provided an abundance of tools that I take advantage of in my daily work and is an opportunity I would strongly recommend to anyone as another way of expanding perspective with the independent school world.”
Appointed to the science and math departments in 2018, Kevin Van Dam holds an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and is pursuing a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies at Wesleyan University. He offered the following insight on professional development and how he intends on utilizing his graduate school experience: “In my life, I certainly would never have seen myself taking a course like Mid 19th Century British Literature. To say I was outside my comfort zone is an understatement. However, my professor brought a tremendous level of insight and was able to engage me in the material. His dedication to teaching this material inspired me as a math teacher. He had passion for the subject and visible excitement over our learning. I know not every student I teach will love math, but if I can engage them half as much as I was in this course I know I will have done my job well. While I did learn a great deal of the material the courses were designed to teach me, I also learned a lot of skills that will help me as a teacher and mentor for my students.”
“To be a good teacher, we can never forget what it is like for the learner,” says Beth Krasemann in the newsletter’s fifth and final faculty spotlight. “We may be in our 20th year teaching a subject, but for the student in front of us this is perhaps the first time they are encountering the skill or content.” So, to remind herself what it is like to be a learner, Beth pushed herself way out of her comfort zone and enrolled in colleague Erica Caginalp’s fall ceramics class. In response to the experience, Beth lists the following essential lessons learned about good teaching from the perspective of a learner: a teacher must invite and celebrate risk-taking, grit, and perseverance; modeling is important; enthusiasm matters; feedback is imperative; growth mindsets are essential; differentiated instruction helps; celebrate breakthroughs; build positive relationships between teacher and student; what is difficult for one learner is easy for another; students learn from each other. “Erica’s unlimited patience, unbridled interest in my success, and willingness to meet me at my skill level slowly chipped away at my ‘I can’t do art’ mindset,” Beth explains. “What I learned this term as a student has been one of the best growth opportunities I’ve had as a teacher.”
The winter edition Volume 2, Issue 2 examined how faculty are evolving as teachers and featured a winter workshop round-up, recommendations on classroom management techniques and effective PowerPoint usage, a recap from open-your-door teaching week, additional development opportunities on and off-campus, book recommendations, and three faculty spotlights: Mandi Repoli, Molly Vianney P’12, ’14, and Paul Caginalp.
“When I was first hired here in 2013 I was awestruck by the fantastic teachers around me and unsure about how to keep up with the general pace of the school and the sheer intellectual powerhouse of my department,” says Mandi Repoli. Before settling into her role as an English teacher and having always tried to look calm on the surface, Mandi explained how she initially felt like a duck paddling desperately to stay afloat. “What changed the course of my time here is the day I realized that everyone has different teaching styles and I am allowed to adopt my own,” she says. “I do not have to be anyone but myself in my own classroom.” She then offered some of her favorite approaches to growing as a teacher: “Carry a ‘teaching ideas’ notebook, learn from your teaching failures, and sit down with other teachers and talk things out."
Appointed to the history department in 1988, Molly Vianney spoke from a boomer’s perspective when taking on social media—specifically Facebook and Twitter—where she talks with AP groups regarding pedagogy, shares files and lesson plans, and develops study guides. “At my advanced age, new technology is daunting, but I’ve embraced social media for my teaching of AP US History and AP Government,” she notes. “I now have access to new scholarship in the field and can follow the debates that professional historians have over the past and current scholarship. I also follow a bunch of other historians, professional organizations, museums, and historical societies. It is great professional development and super nerdy stuff.”
Paul Caginalp has been a member of the school’s science department since 2006. “What keeps me going as a teacher is my drive to improve both my curriculum and pedagogy,” he says. “I constantly refine my content and delivery in the elusive search to perfect my craft. I ask myself: What do they need to know and when? As I wrestle with this question daily, I find I push away from thinking merely in terms of content but instead in terms of the student experience.” Paul says that “normalizing failure” is a big part of his classroom culture because emotions play a critical role in learning. He explains, “Students who are emotionally hijacked won’t remember much from my class, but if I engage their emotional center they will. Even if I elicit a groan when we return to old and sometimes difficult material, I know by the sound they are emotionally invested.”
As the novel coronavirus pandemic spread globally and schools launched remote learning programs last spring, Suffield’s dedicated faculty and staff sprang into action. Volume 2, Issue 3 entitled “A Term of Teaching and Learning: A Celebration of What We All Learned,” outlined the combined journey of faculty and students as they transitioned to navigating uncharted territory together as learners in an entirely virtual environment. The issue highlighted successful resources used and reaffirmed the best teaching practices and techniques.
To prepare for remote learning faculty members attended webinars, Zoom meetings, AP College Board presentations, read countless Facebook forums, utilized online resources or websites, listened to podcasts, and read updates in Beth’s weekly Monday Memo. Department heads held regular meetings in Microsoft Teams, and teachers in smaller groups met more frequently utilizing OneDrive, Google Docs, and Schoology to discuss helpful techniques, share resources, or collaborate on projects. “Perhaps by April 3  we all realized we would be unable to cover what we planned for this spring,” says Beth. “Hence, many of us adopted the mindset that it was better to teach fewer topics and in more depth. By stepping back and reflecting on the bigger picture, we were able to design assignments and units that reflected the essence of our disciplines. This insight speaks directly to the concept that less is better. Many of us realized the key to finding success last spring lay in us deciding what was absolutely essential for our students to master in the ensuing year’s course and beyond. All of us changed our curriculum while keeping the big picture in mind.”
Good teachers learn alongside their students, and to accommodate for remote learning every Suffield faculty member adopted new pedagogies, technologies, strategies to deliver feedback, techniques to begin or end classes, and much more. Their passion for their subject and craft were on full display. “Students and parents noticed and appreciated the efforts we made as teachers and responded positively,” notes Beth. “In a sense, we all became first-year teachers again last spring. We worked tirelessly to engage our students, adapt our pedagogies, deliver feedback quickly, reach out to struggling students, and continually adjust to the remote-learning culture. The bottom line is that teaching is hard work!”
Suffield Academy is a school clear on its mission in serving a diverse community with a commitment to scholarship and respect for individual differences and growth. While the academic, athletic, and extracurricular experience prepares students for a lifetime of learning, leadership, and active citizenship, it calls on its faculty to be innovative educators and disciplined mentors.
“We all need to teach and reach our students in the best way possible, so we need to be constantly learning and growing,” Beth explains about the importance of professional development. “We all need to be looking for the best practices to better educate our students. The faculty and staff here are extremely busy so we try to provide them with the most accessible opportunities to grow as educators. Professional development benefits both students and faculty because further developing expertise in a field encourages and cultivates great learning.”
Of course, Beth admits getting faculty to attend professional development events is somewhat of a challenge while living in the boarding school world. “I think our faculty want to get better and progress as educators but the additional tasks of dorm duty, class prep, coaching, grading and comments, campus activities and ceremonies, all-school meetings, and family can consume our daily lives and these development opportunities can be easily neglected or ignored. I’ve personally learned a ton and the more I learn the better I think I can engage my students. The process has reinforced and expanded my pedagogy and repertoire.”
When asked to describe the best way for faculty to pursue professional development opportunities Beth offers sound advice to which all educators can relate: “Make it a priority, schedule it, and hold yourself accountable. Visit a class, join a book club, attend a fireside chat. If we do not make it a priority, we will not do it. Nurturing our students to think for themselves and persevere through learning is after all that we do. It is our job and calling. What we all learned during this pandemic is that technology and online teaching cannot replace the human experience of interacting with each other as students and teachers. Computers cannot read a room or quietly inquire after class as to why a student’s camera and microphone were turned off. We must, however, embrace the opportunities available to us now and continue to adapt the best practices for teaching in this ever-changing, challenging, and exciting world of education.”