Steve Bergen, Mayfield Senior School, Pasadena, CaLeAnne Kannapell
Associate Head of School at
Connelly School of the Holy Child

After 30 years as a teacher and administrator in the public-school system in Northern Virginia, I accepted a position as Associate Head of School at Connelly School of the Holy Child in July 2017. First on my plate was to learn the culture of the school and understand the perspective of the faculty.

Over the years, I have discovered that in schools there is a feeling that every new practice or strategy is an initiative. Within that, every department has its own toolbox of practices they value. I came to understand that over the past few years Holy Child has employed new strategies and approaches to help our teachers have the most contemporary practice. A side effect of this effort is that teachers and administrators were left wondering how all the practices and strategies fit together. It was overwhelming.

Last summer, more than a dozen of Holy Child’s teachers gathered on campus to help focus and reframe teaching and learning into deeper and more intentionally focused discussions regarding our learning culture in school. The teacher leadership team organized their assignment into three buckets: a learning culture of collaboration, deep thinking, and shared responsibility. The exercise centered around establishing and fine tuning our identity (the who) and combining it with our buckets (the what), and how we could move forward.

During this three-day workshop, teachers identified ways in which our faculty can make an intentional cultural shift in teaching and learning which would inform and design our professional development. The group identified procedures and tools needed to make the three buckets a natural part of classroom and school culture.

This is not another new initiative, but rather, a plan to reframe various pedagogies into a deeper and more intentionally focused learning culture. This endeavor also provided an opportunity to develop a professional development plan that includes a systematic way to on-board new staff to our buckets while allowing our more experienced staff to guide new teachers in school culture.

Over the course of the year, this team met during committee meetings to identify the strategies and practices that they felt fit into the buckets and shape what would professional development look like over the course of the next three years. They considered what the whole school would need, and what was necessary for each department. Eventually, the teaching and learning team began to realize how the buckets could help us build a stronger community as a whole — including staff, families, and students — and help us all move towards a broader vision as a school

Our faculty has found that the exercise has been beneficial. Kristin Roberts, chair of the Social Studies department said “The creation of the ‘buckets’ of focus for our teaching and learning community – collaboration, deeper thinking, and shared responsibility – and the implementation of Professional Learning Community groups within the faculty body, not only helped shape my own professional goals for the year, but has given me a group of colleagues with similar goals that I have collaborated with throughout the year to share in our accomplishments, challenges, and ideas in working towards achieving our goals.”

This summer, the teacher leadership team will continue to explore how collaboration, deeper thinking and shared responsibility can not only help us improve instruction through professional development but guide our school culture where we can engage the whole school community to fill our buckets together.