At Morgan Park Academy, we are committed to the professional growth of the faculty. In addition to the professional development days held on campus, our faculty members attend regional and national workshops and conferences — and then they come back and share with their MPA colleagues what they learned.

Tuesday’s professional development day included several excellent peer-led presentations along these lines.

For All Families

“It is up to us [teachers] to be good stewards of students’ stories.”

This message resounded with the faculty during the session led Tuesday by Sandra Burgess and Heather Kurut entitled, “Creating Curriculum That Works for All Families.”

As the makeup of American families changes, it is crucial that educators adapt to those changes and consider ways to be inclusive of all students and families.

Projects such as family trees and “All About Me” posters that have been part of the curriculum in many schools need to be revisited because some children do not know and should not be put in the uncomfortable or even painful position of trying to answer the questions. Even a seemingly innocuous question such as “When is your birthday?” can be agonizing for a child who might not know his or her exact birth date.

The presentation allowed the faculty to reflect on the types of projects, assignments, and questions we ask, and how we can revise them or change the language to be inclusive of a variety of family dynamics.

We are proud that Ms. Burgess and Mrs. Kurut have been selected to also deliver this presentation to colleagues from all over the Midwest this fall at the annual conference of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States.

Boosting Your Learning Brain

School counselor Jennifer Stec led a session for Upper School faculty called “Strategies for Executive Functioning, Memory, and Learning,” based on a Learning & the Brain conference she attended over the summer.

Ms. Stec went over some dopamine boosters that help activate the brain and explained how the brain seeks patterns and pleasure. Essentially, in order for students to learn and retain information, they have to make a connection, know that it matters, and use it. She offered strategies that included the use of color, movement, appearance, and sound to increase retention.

Students can lose focus so easily with any number of distractions in their modern lives, so Ms. Stec shared practical ideas that teachers can readily use in the classroom to keep them focused and engaged.

Responsive Classroom

To support our ongoing commitment to the Responsive Classroom approach, Liz Raser, Sara Tesmond, and Gloria Ortiz enrolled in an intensive, four-day workshop over the summer, and shared their knowledge Tuesday with Lower and Middle School faculty.

Through modeling and clear expectations, teachers can establish a safe and comfortable learning environment. Morning meetings in Lower School and advisory groups in Middle School are key times that allow teachers to check-in with their students and set the tone for the day.

Mrs. Raser, Ms. Tesmond, and Sra. Ortiz gave examples of language that teachers can use to reinforce, redirect, or remind students about their choices. They shared ideas for quick “energizers” to use if the class is losing focus, logical consequences for dealing with misbehavior from students who are not making good choices, and ways to handle persistent problems after a student has been given consequences.

All returning Lower and Middle School faculty members have been trained in the Responsive Classroom approach; faculty new to MPA this year will be attending the training in December.

Facilitating Mindfulness

Tuesday’s final set of sessions were centered around the topic of mindfulness: our ability to attend to the present moment, with curiosity and without judgment. Benefits for both students and teachers include reducing anxiety, self-regulation, anger management, and increased focus.

Kari Misulonas, Janet Berley, and Shannon Quaid attended a Learning & the Brain conference last spring, and they led a presentation for Lower School faculty. Sarah Haskins presented to Middle and Upper School faculty after attending a Building Learning Communities conference over the summer.

During these sessions, the presenters demonstrated and asked for active participation in breathing and movement exercises and guided imagery while being in touch with the five senses.

The learning doesn’t stop there!

Morgan Park Academy faculty and staff will be taking advantage of a host of professional development opportunities in the coming weeks and months, including workshops and conferences with Responsive Classroom, National Council of Teachers of English, Illinois Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and Illinois Science Teachers Association.

By Jennifer Schmidt

Mrs. Schmidt is Morgan Park Academy’s Director of Curriculum & Instruction.