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An Ongoing Quest for Excellence: Heathwood’s June Faculty In-Service Explores Cutting-Edge Approaches to Teaching and Learning

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Heathwood Hall has always worked to design a student experience that is marked by excellence, innovation, and a commitment to evolve as we learn more about best practices, pedagogy, philosophy, neuroscience, and the current state of the world. While our relationships with students and prior tech-integration positioned us well for this pandemic, remote learning illuminated a number of engaging platforms and methods that could be used to enhance instruction. We knew it was worth further exploration. 

During our June In-service, Heathwood teachers engaged in a three-day professional development experience that was designed to encourage us to refine our craft as educators, harnessing the positive energy from our last ten weeks to move forward.

The guiding questions for our professional development were centered around the student experience. What did it feel like to be a student during remote learning? What did students enjoy that could be translated back to a physical classroom? How was student learning deepened through new technologies?  How could we improve the  experience? These questions - and in some cases, the answers to them - were informed by the student and parent end-of-year surveys. We were also eager to find outside expertise from an organization that uses research and data to address these questions. 

To accomplish our goals, John Caballero, Director of Information Services, and Ryan Novak, Instructional Technology Specialist, engaged EdTech Teacher, a consulting group that has tremendous expertise in supporting student learning through emerging technologies and new approaches to classroom instruction, and worked closely with their instructors to deliver a workshop for all Heathwood teachers in each division that would further our vision for excellent teaching and learning. 

The opening philosophical sessions were designed to frame the intention and purpose of our approach to remote learning. It is not feasible to simply take what you do in a classroom and instantly transfer that to a virtual class. We were asked to consider the new opportunities and to define the challenges we faced. We not only looked at the bigger picture, but also reviewed specific skills that we needed to execute. 

“I can proudly say that Heathwood Hall teachers fully embraced remote teaching effectively. The EdTech Teacher workshop was a step forward in the right direction,” said Mala Kapur, First Grade Associate Teacher. 

Teachers learned planning approaches and details about using videos, audio, screencasting, slides, designing digital experiences, image manipulation, and the intricacies of our learning management systems and the interface of that with our lessons. Our hope is that reimagining our approach and implementing varied platforms will allow us to continue our mission of excellence. Upper School Physics Teacher, Tim McKnight remarked, “So many new tools and ways to use existing tools... it's making this 25-year veteran feel all of the excitement of being a first year teacher all over again -- a little unnerving, but also quite exciting.”

Investing in our teachers and inspiring them to provide creative and meaningful learning opportunities for students is a priority for the School. School librarian Jennifer Falvey shared that “having a school that invests in you as a professional feels great. It’s good to grow as an educator—to be the student ourselves sometimes.” 

Requiring our teachers to be the students helps us keep the student experience at the center of our programming and ensure we maintain our commitments to excellence and innovation in the classroom, whether we are on campus or remote at any point next year. Last spring, we found ourselves troubleshooting remote learning throughout the ten weeks based on parent feedback and faculty experience. For example, the schedule and frequency of an “X day” for Middle and Upper School students decreased, and the amount of synchronous time for our Early Childhood and Lower School students increased. After participating in this workshop, we are now synthesizing our new skills and the learnings from our remote experience this spring to plan a program that is mission-aligned and operates consistently, whether on-campus, remotely, or toggling between the two. More focus will be placed on relationship building and with more frequent check-ins in a remote scenario and more authentic demonstrations of mastery through assessments. 

Summer presents us with the time necessary to pause and reflect, learn, and apply. We are grateful for the engagement of our teachers and administrators over this week of in-service and eagerly look forward to welcoming our students back to our classrooms in August to showcase our new skills and understandings.