February 23, 2018
In a landmark study on student achievement, John Hattie, a very well respected educational authority from New Zealand, examined many of the influences on variance in student achievement. He concluded that next to students themselves, the largest variant in how students do in school is their teacher. Hattie goes on to examine the dimensions of excellent teachers and concludes at the end of his paper that teachers in fact do make a difference in the students’ educational experience.
I think for all of us who are or were once students, we know this to be true. Excellent teachers create excellent learning environments and allow students to thrive and grow. As a school, one of our primary responsibilities is to hire and grow outstanding teachers. I feel confident that we take teacher hiring seriously. We meet with candidates, watch them teach and observe their interactions with students. However, any teacher, no matter how experienced, has room to learn and grow. Our teachers have a professional responsibility to further develop their skills and knowledge as they grow and as our school evolves.
On February 14th, our teachers became students and I became the teacher. We had a very productive day of professional development where we deeply explored some of the topics that have emerged in Strategic Planning focus groups as important for our school’s success. The primary focus of our day of learning was looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of our Judaic curriculum. What is unique and special about Paul Penna DJDS is the way we integrate Judaic Studies, prayer and Jewish tradition into our whole school experience. However, over time, as the school has increased in size, some of the content and methods for integration have lost their initial depth and pervasiveness. We have a great opportunity in front of us to take stock of where we are and what we do and to forge a path forward into the future.
It was amazing in our workshop to see both the convergent and divergent perspectives of our staff and to work through dialogue to bring us together. By the end of the morning, we clearly identified successful areas in which we feel pride and confidence. We also identified areas where we as a faculty need more work and attention in order to deliver the program that we want to share with students and families.
In a consolidation activity, we used collaborative technology to generate word clouds of our strengths and opportunities. So impressive to me was the faculty’s whole-hearted desire to engage in the thinking. Teachers are invested in learning more deeply to ensure that our students have an experience that is consistent over time and deeply rooted in the values of curiosity, diversity and community that are the cornerstones of our vision.
I am so grateful to have had a full day to learn with faculty. The power of a day of learning, and even better two, is that we have time and energy to deeply explore complex issues and return to them throughout the day in whole group and in small group environments. What we achieved last week lays the foundation for our faculty development and student programming for the next eighteen months. Thank you, our families, for giving us time together to take a deep breath, gather and learn.