Contributed by Ilsa Dohmen, Director of Professional Development and the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE)
We’re all familiar with the highlights of a new school year starting—new pencils, shoes and haircuts, new people to talk to and have lunch with, and the certainty that something interesting will come along soon and change us all for the better. To be clear, I’m talking about the adults on our campus. Since mid-August, teachers and staff have been buzzing into the new school year with pretty much the same hopes, dreams and nerves as our youngest learners. We’re all ready to find out more than we knew before, and to hopefully make some friends along the way.
Two weeks ago, new staff and faculty were the first “new” people to settle into campus at orientation. Each year we’ve invited them, in addition to watching the award-winning video on our school’s history, to read a handful of articles that help communicate the school’s culture and values. Among these is Robert Evans’s 2012, “Getting to No: Building True Collegiality in Schools.” In it, Evans summarizes research, philosophy, and arguments of others to make the case that schools tend to be congenial places, but not always collegial ones. He writes, “True collegiality requires more than being cordial and caring. It requires a focus on development and performance. It means sharing…and it means talking candidly, and being able to disagree constructively, about professional practice.”
This is not new work for Hillbrook faculty and staff. Over the past few years, you may recall hearing about teacher and staff involvement in inquiry groups, program audits, co-teaching relationships, research studies, data collection and transformations around learning spaces, and more. Hillbrook continually strives toward being a great place to be an adult learner—one who engages deeply and thoughtfully with other adults and with our program, in order to better serve students.
What is new this year is a series of teacher-led, protocol-based discussion groups. Last week, we invited teachers and staff on-campus to take a risk and join their peers in delving into their practice through either Critical Friends, Instructional Rounds, or SEED (nationalseedproject.org) groups. Each of these groups is based on a structure practiced by other educational institutions around the country. Each will meet monthly, bringing together teachers, administrators, and staff, across our departments, divisions, and disciplines, to critically examine our beliefs and practice. We will be visiting one another’s classes, examining one another’s dilemmas and sharing deep, heartfelt stories about what it has been like to grow up as our own unique selves. In each, we will continue to build what Evans describes as collegiality: “shared commitment to appropriate candor in the service of collective growth.”
The new protocol groups will be one more way that adult learners on-campus reach beyond themselves to make a difference for students. By examining ourselves as teachers, we become continually better at meeting our mission, to make every day at Hillbrook “a journey of self-discovery, imaginative thinking, creative problem solving, laughter and friendship,” for our students.
I, for one, am eager to see how the year unfolds, new haircut, new friends and all.