Distinguished Ideas 2014
June 1, 2014
William S. McKersie, Ph.D.
One of the highlights as we close the school year is the annual celebration of our newest Distinguished Teachers. Well known now, the six Distinguished Teachers for 2014 are Mara Adelsberg (GHS), Cheryl Iozzo (North Street), Sheri McGowan (Riverside), James Micik (Eastern), Robert Walsh (Eastern), and Lin Young (GHS). Once feted locally, the teachers have the option to be named by the Superintendent as the Greenwich Public School Nominee for Connecticut Teacher of the Year. The process of selecting the GPS nominee includes a classroom observation, review of a personal essay, and culminating interview.
The essays require extra effort by the Distinguished Teachers and warrant a wider audience than just the Superintendent. Each teacher is charged with writing about “current issues and trends in education,” but in no more than two pages. Robert Walsh likened the task to “trying to recreate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with a piece of chalk.” Nevertheless, the teachers mastered the challenge: their six essays present a set of Distinguished Ideas, well-chosen and well-reasoned, about what excellent teaching requires.
All Hands on Deck –
“Academics go hand-in-hand with social emotional learning,” argues Mara Adelsberg. “There is no clear break between a student in a classroom, on a sports field or at work; he is the same person functioning in a different setting.” Mara rightly contends that “teachers need to be joined by counselors, coaches and administrators in providing all students the necessary tools to be successful in the classroom and in life.” Mara concludes that every adult in every capacity must use each student interaction as a teachable moment to “encourage, nurture, validate and discipline” – thereby ensuring students “become the best they can be.” A multi-faceted team approach has been essential to Mara’s success guiding AVID students, helping them “to navigate the system in which economically advantaged peers and parents are already comfortable.”
Time, Collaboration and Creativity –
Cheryl Iozzo posits a difficult question: “What happened to the teachable moment when educators had the flexibility and time to go off on meaningful tangents based on students’ curiosities about the content?” The cause, she contends, is that “decisions for education have become so hyper focused on data and numbers that inquiry-based and integrated learning is disappearing for educators and students.” Cheryl continues, ”the notion that quality change takes time has been sadly forgotten. Let us not forget the aphorism: learning should be a journey not a race.” She calls for educators and administrators to “slow down and get back to learner-centered pedagogy.” A critical step for Cheryl is that teachers need definite opportunities to collaborate with colleagues beyond their own content areas. The product would be “increased opportunities for ‘aha’ moments…where students will take ownership of their own learning.”
Blended Learning –
Sheri McGowan’s reflections are sparked by her work this year in Riverside, one of the GPS’s Phase One Digital Learning schools. She has seen “first-hand both the glory and the challenges that our students face.” The glory is the power of the technology to help “individual students thrive and grow…to access programs [iPad Apps] that track their learning and allow personalized instruction.” The challenge is the potential for students to isolate themselves from peers and from the teacher. Sheri sees a way forward, by clearly structuring a blended teaching and learning environment where the technology is used to “honor students’ capability to work collaboratively.” She develops lessons in which students work in groups, with the iPad blended into the tasks to bolster research and the preparation of shared presentation. Sheri concludes, “With effort and a watchful eye, we can guide our students in using technology to their advantage, in a collaborative and cooperative way.”
Countering Poverty –
Looking nationally as much as locally, James Micik reflects on the added burden poverty places on educational achievement. James believes that “we have been teaching the right skills in U.S. schools, such as math and reading, science and civics, along with creativity, perseverance and team building.” He is not sanguine, however, that poverty can be overcome as an obstacle without concerted public (Federal, state, local) and private initiatives. “Kids who live in poverty need more, not less, of the supports that help other students thrive…including Federal and State funding for free and reduced lunch programs, smaller classes, technology, paraprofessionals for individualized instruction and support staff for emotional and behavioral challenges…School systems can tap the resources and financial support of private organizations, which promote equality in education.” James concludes, “Schools have a duty to ensure that pupils have an equal access to quality education irrespective of their race, culture, gender, disability or financial needs.”
The Benefits of Failure –
“It’s more important than ever to stress the benefits of true academic rigor and the healthy introduction of failure into our curriculum,” reflects Robert Walsh. “Our schools, first and foremost, should be a safe place to learn how to deal with frustration,” Walsh writes. “Schools are the forum in which we challenge ideas, beliefs, and perceptions while operating with a safety net. In order to effectively participate in discourse, students need to be taught how to fail; after all, we fail in life more than we succeed. Schools should be ‘soft spots to fall’ while offering endless opportunities and encouragement for students to rise again.” In the end, learning to learn, contends Walsh, is learning how to fail and how to move forward from misdirection, setbacks, or false hypotheses. “If we fall victim to thinking that truly challenging our students might be too much for them, we have truly failed our students.”
Communicating as Global Citizens –
“Interpersonal relationships form the bases of all human interaction,” argues Lin Young. As a result, she sees communication—student to student, student to educator, or student to world—as a major issue for public education. Drawing on her expertise as a World Language teacher, Lin ties the necessity for communication proficiency to the requirements to succeed as global citizens. Lin agrees with the calls for a “Common Core Framework in World Language” as a way to ensure that American students are prepared to compete with their international peers. She writes, “One glance at emerging nationals and economies in every continent will prove that while English is vital in today’s ever-shrinking global village, it is by no means the only world language. Unfortunately, national statistics claim that around 80 percent of Americans only speak English, and that the number of schools that offer world language is decreasing.” Lin underscores that Greenwich is an exception, having in place the three basic factors for success in world language instruction: “supportive administrators, well-trained language teachers and manageable class sizes.” Moreover, Lin reports, her students get it: they repeatedly say that the reason they learn Mandarin Chinese is that “it prepares them for the increasingly competitive world economy.”
What unites these six essays? They are written by exemplary Greenwich Public School teachers, who prove that great teachers are truly reflective professionals, with a commitment to critical inquiry that reaches well beyond their classrooms and particular subject matter. The Distinguished Ideas they share range widely, but they are connected by a fundamental commitment to ensuring all students excel at the highest levels possible and are guided to life and career success. Thank you, Mara, Cheryl, Sheri, James, Robert, and Lin!
June 1, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Distinguished Ideas
2014 Distinguished Teachers Essays
April 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Accelerating Achivement for All: Greenwich and the Achievement Gap
March 4, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Smarter Balanced - Field Test: Facts & Interpretation
February 5, 2014, Superintendent's Message: A Word on the Common Core
January 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Popular Knowledge of Complex Questions
December 3, 2013, Superintendent's Message: Distinguished Reflections
November 27, 2013, Superintendent's Thanksgiving Day Message
November 12, 2013, The Roots of Excellence
September 26, 2013, Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on our Call to Action and Strategic Focus
September 11, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate
September 3, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate
April 25, 2012, Superintendent of Schools Appointment Announcement
Resume for William S. McKersie (April 2012)