Professional Development = Strong Classrooms

Learning is a lifelong pursuit. These teachers practice what they preach.
 
What if teachers could make math more hands-on for girls, so that they truly understand numbers and shapes, instead of just memorizing formulas? What if a shy girl could be suddenly emboldened by her classmates’ positive responses to her unique “video book trailer?” What if the practice of adjusting a person’s mindset could be put to use in the classroom to open up new possibilities for students?
These are the signs of professional development making a difference in the classroom.
 
Just as we ask our girls to think about things in new and different ways, our faculty are constantly pushing themselves to look at the best practices for teaching a particular subject or grade. Many of our teachers attend conferences during the summer to brush up on teaching techniques, while others work with visiting scholars on campus during the school year to learn effective methods for conveying information.
 
Working together with peers, learning from experts on site, and putting what they’ve learned into practice in the classroom are all aspects of professional development. Funded by the school and by grants from generous donors, professional development amps up the quality of academics throughout the school.
 
Following are just a few of the stories of how professional development creates a stronger classroom.
 
Training Teachers to Improve Fluency in Math
Jennifer Stanford, second grade teacher, is passionate about math, among the other subjects she teaches. She traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 2018 to be trained as a coach for Spring Math. The program is designed to improve math achievement by assessing students and intervening when necessary to help improve students’ math skills.
 
“Spring Math is based on the fact that success with complex mathematical concepts depends on fluency in basic facts,” Stanford said. “The program gives students the practice they need at each level and encourages cooperation among students in the class rather than competition.”
 
Hutchison uses Spring Math in first through sixth grades. Stanford is now able to train teachers in how to implement the program. “We saw great gains last year among classes that used Spring Math,” said Stanford.
 
Educational researcher and Spring Math founder Dr. Amanda VanDerHeyden said, “Hutchison students’ growth in math is remarkable, particularly given that they were high achieving from the start.” She explained that mastering these early skills will ensure that the girls will excel at high level math courses in high school and college.
 
The goal, beyond improving math proficiency, is to make a shift in students’ minds about how they think about math. “I hope that the girls embrace the growth mindset that is built into the program; they may not be as fluent as they want to be at the start of the skill, but they know that if they work hard, they will see improvement,” Stanford said. “I cannot wait to see how the new mindset about math makes its way through the entire school.”
 
Making Math Tangible
Even though many teachers go off campus for professional development, Hutchison also brings visiting scholars to the campus to advise teachers. Sandy Allen, a teacher with 31 years of experience teaching math, has been working with Hutchison faculty on reinforcing research-based best practices in teaching math.
 
Allen thrives on helping teachers make math “hands-on.” She offers advice on how they can move beyond flat numbers and shapes in a book. Allen supports Hutchison teachers in the use of “manipulatives”—color tiles, centimeter cubes, base ten blocks, even calendars. Manipulatives are objects that girls can manipulate with their hands to help learn a mathematical concept.
 
“When teaching the Pythagorean theorem, for instance, one effective way to learn it is to use graph paper and plotting points and to cut out squares,” Allen said. “This goes beyond girls memorizing, ‘A squared plus B squared equals C squared’ and makes the Pythagorean theorem more tangible.”
 
In addition to offering teachers new ways to look at things, when visiting scholars visit Hutchison, they can provide instant feedback on a lesson plan or teaching technique. “I’m in their classrooms. I’m able to say ‘that went really well,’ ‘what if you added this?’ ‘the next time try this,’ ” Allen said. “Oftentimes at a conference, they’re learning and practicing many different things and then they implement those ideas, but without any feedback as to how it is working.”
 
An Authentic Educator Takes on a Fulbright
Tara Thomas is naturally curious and a confessed history nerd. So, yes, the lower school librarian was thrilled to see the actual letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to his Secretary of State on the day of his assassination as part of a session about “primary sources” at a National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) conference.
 
The experience validated Thomas’ philosophy that authenticity resonates with students. “When I choose books for the girls, the more authentic, the better. They respond to seeing suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a mom,” said Thomas. “We try to empower girls to realize they can make the world better. I show them that throughout history, even iconic heroes were just ordinary people who were inspired to do extraordinary things.”
 
Thomas is one of 76 individuals selected for the yearlong Fulbright Teachers for a Global Classroom. The professional development program equips teachers to bring an international perspective to their schools through training, global collaboration, and a two-week stint in a classroom abroad. This past summer, Thomas traveled to Colombia for two and a half weeks to teach, learn about the culture, and share her ideas and experiences.
 
Thomas sifts through the thousands of children’s books published each year. “When I am purchasing books and vetting sites, I want to give girls the most accurate information possible,” she said. In her professional capacity, Thomas has met librarians from hospitals, naval bases, and prisons. “We all want the same thing. We believe in the power of getting information out to people.
 
“Some see education as a job and some see it as a passion. Those of us who dedicate our summers to professional development definitely see it as a passion,” says Thomas.
 
Hutchison Teacher Takes Her Show on the Road
World language teacher Lynn Tian was invited to the University of Mississippi for the third summer in a row to share her brand of teaching with high school students from around the country as part of an elite program at the University.
 
Mississippi Star Talk is an intense month-long program offered through the University of Mississippi as part of the school’s renowned undergraduate Chinese language program. Ole Miss is home to one of 12 Chinese Flagship programs in the country.
 
Tian is happy that many of the students returned to her Ole Miss class in the second year. “I did not scare them away!” said Tian, who teaches Chinese in grades Pre-K through eighth at Hutchison.
 
Tian, who taught college-level students before coming to Hutchison, enjoys the challenge of adjusting her teaching technique for different ages. Her approach is anchored by her belief that exposure to different languages “is good exercise for their brains,” she said.
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Hutchison is the leading private girls school in Memphis for ages 2 years old through twelfth grade.