Collaboration & Innovation with Mrs. King

Sometimes, in the thick of things, we have to come up with innovative ideas to get students wrapped up in the lessons we teach or the books we’re reading. And as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and coincidentally, invention and innovation both begin with the letter I and they’re synonymous, according to ye old Merriam-Webster. Mrs. King, our beloved 5th Grade English teacher, has been doing exactly that this year by incorporating STEM projects into her book units.

“I decided to start doing STEM projects with my students to help them better understand the material we’re reading and engage in class,” Mrs. King said. 

She also took this as an opportunity to collaborate with her colleagues, so with the help of 5th Grade science teacher, Mrs. Bernhardt, they came up with a couple of projects based around the book City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, as well as the concepts they’ve been studying in Science.

“Dune, one of the characters, works in the pipeworks/sewers underground and must help to repair them and their leaks while also working on a way out of Ember to save humanity,” Mrs. King said. “So the activity was to get students to move water from one cup to another using straws.” The challenging part, of course, was making water move (two feet!) from one cup to another using only those straws. 

“They also had duct tape to help repair any inevitable water leaks that formed along the way,” she said. And to make things more difficult, Mrs. King added, students “had to move the water from one cup to the next horizontally. A lot of them wanted to hold one cup in the air, but we didn’t allow that.”

Students in Mrs. King’s class have also been working on another project to complement their science curriculum, which is currently focusing on surface area. They’ve been competing to build a box that has the greatest surface area possible with only two sheets of paper. 

“There’s a secret box in the City of Ember that has the information necessary to help Dune and the others leave Ember because it’s falling apart,” she said. And projects like these help students visualize, in hands-on ways, what’s happening in the book. 

“Part of it is reeling in my non-readers,” Mrs. King said. “I’ve overheard my students say things like, ‘Wow, I never thought we’d do stuff like this in an English class,’ and I know there are some students that are likely more excited about Math and Science than they are my class,” she said.

“Anything I can do to help get, and keep, their attention, that’s my whole goal,” she said. “I want  to get them interested in reading and literature, and if STEM projects can help, I’m all for it.”

Not to mention these collaborative, cross-curricular projects seem like good old-fashioned fun!

She Contains Multitudes: Meet Claire Whitehurst

Authored by Marty Kelly

Claire at work

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” is a laughable sentiment for most St. Andrew’s faculty, particularly for Claire Whitehurst, one of our Upper School art teachers and an artist herself. This SA alum (‘09) gets her artist blood honest–and got it early too. When a young Claire got in trouble at school for eating a variety of Crayons, paper, purple gluesticks, and Elmer’s glue, her mom picked her up and said, “It’s okay. I ate glue too.” And there was the time her dad made a costume out of cardboard and went to a Town Hall meeting dressed as a sturgeon (yes, a fish) to emphasize the harmful effects of ATVs on stream beds. Even her brother, Andrew, another alum (‘11), is a musician in New York. And then there’s Claire, who, before she sat down for this interview in my room, grabbed a tissue from my desk, which was used solely for doodling, never nose-wiping. 

Somehow my conversation with Claire quickly turned to a discussion of our self-diagnoses (hers: synesthesia and trypophobia; mine: trichotillomania and cleithrophobia). But her diagnoses seem kind of perfect and almost helpful for her artistic soul–and a lot more fun. Her synesthesia of associating words and numbers with colors is not only fitting but really kind of inspirational for an artist–and really incomprehensible and fascinating for those of us for whom words are, well, just words (don’t get me wrong; I’m an English teacher: words have loaded meanings for me too, just sadly not colors). Claire realized she wasn’t alone as a synesthete in high school when a fellow student said, “My name is yellow. What color is yours?” In fact, in describing her art, Claire says she is “obsessed with color.” Makes sense. Like the eating of her art supplies when she was little, Claire physically senses art, which also explains her trypophobia: holes are too visceral, too much like open wounds, she says.  Claire, who has always been compelled to draw, actually first loved art through the natural world: through drawing science diagrams and making a diorama of planets. Even now nature influences her art, which she describes as “organic shapes” and “sourced from biological things” such as bird migration patterns. Claire says she is often forced to call her art abstract, but that labeling does not sit well with her. “I like art that’s about stuff,” she says, so even though some might view her art as abstract, it’s always about something–even if dreams. “I daydream a lot,” she confesses (it’s okay, Claire; I think my students do too). People, of course, have various opinions about art, and she says sometimes people might prefer “more realistic” art to hers, which she dubs more “lofty, dreamy, whimsical.” However, Claire also loves the moments when people say to her about a piece of art, “I don’t know what this is,” and she can agree and say, “I don’t either!” Other times, people assign their own meaning to her art, which is also just fine by Claire who lights up remembering one woman telling her about a piece, “It reminds me of this dream I had when I was little.” Moments like these fuel Claire who is always “so fascinated by how strong connections can be when you have so little information.”  


Now, don’t let all this talk about dreams and whimsy fool you. Claire recognizes the unfair but bad rap that artists typically get; she knows that “people talk down about artists all the time” because the perception is that artists are somehow “lazy” or “unmotivated.” She made it very clear that stigma doesn’t fly with her: “You have to sit down and do the work.” “I’m in my studio every day for at least an hour,” she says, and these are the hours she keeps when she is not planning for a show. When Claire is preparing for a show, her studio hours are before school, after school, and all weekends (you know, on top of being a teacher). “The only time I don’t produce is when I don’t feel good,” she says, a fact that does not surprise me in the least given how Claire seems to be intensely and viscerally tied to her art.

Even in high school Claire was a dogged artist, so much so that she says, “I drove Jerry Goodwin crazy.” Mrs. Goodwin, frequently trying to get Claire to her next class, would be met with obstinate retorts from Claire: “I’m not done!” Reflecting on these memories, Claire says, “I just wanted to do what I wanted to do.” Given her own headstrong desires when it came to art, Claire gives her own students plenty of room to run. “I just want to get them excited. I just want them to make one thing that they are excited about,” she says, “and then chase that excitement.” As for being a fulltime artist, Claire says she actually really likes the dual role of artist and teacher: “I like being around an environment of questioning.” In her classes Claire is working as her students are: tinkering with art, toying with designs, and problem-solving alongside students. Teachers doing their craft as a means of teaching their craft has got to be one of the most effective tools in teaching ever, right? After I told Claire what an awesome example and tone she was able to set for the students watching her and taking their cues from her engaging in her craft, she said, “Don’t write that in there. Wait. Are students going to read this?” I think she was afraid I was going to give away all the trade secrets of teaching that are working really well for her (don’t worry, Claire; I will give all the money in my wallet to the first student that mentions this blog to me). I also really love that Claire credits others tied to the SA community such as Celia Wood and Ginger Williams Cook with a profound impact on her life as an artist, going so far as to say they are the reasons she is an artist. She calls Ginger, another local artist, “the captain of my ship.” I am pretty sure Claire is going to be someone’s captain too. 


Like many artists, Claire has difficulty letting go of her art when it sells. “They are like my little puppies,” she says of her pieces, “It makes me sad. Because I won’t ever see them again.” But like a true teacher/creator/parent, she also knows when it’s time to let go and says to each piece: “It’s time for you to go off into the world.” In fact, Claire is about to start getting 15-20 new pieces ready for a major solo show in Los Angeles in April of 2022.  In addition, Claire already has pieces hung in St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, at Jackson Academy in Jackson, and two pieces at Ortega y Gasset Projects in Brooklyn. She has also just finished 50 hand-done books called Mirror Drawings of pair drawings with loose narrative (that’s right, she’s also a writer) that will be out November 2. Don’t worry; if that’s not enough, Claire also has shows coming up in January (Memphis, Tennessee), in February (Tbilisi, Georgia!), and in March (Atlanta, the other Georgia). I just texted her this afternoon to confirm these locations, to which she replied: “I CONTAIN GEORGIAN MULTITUDES.” Yes, Claire, you do. And not just Georgian ones. 

To see more of Claire’s work, visit Claire’s website.

For a better, fuller interview by Steve Turner, visit here.

It Takes a Village: Resources on North Campus to Support Your Learning Goals

I don’t know about you, but when I used to teach middle and high school English, I felt the visceral weight of all that I wanted students to accomplish as a result of my class: vocabulary, speaking/listening, comprehension, literary devices, love for reading/writing, basic knowledge of literary canon, openness to diverse perspectives, writing, multimodal design, discussion skills, and on and on and on. If you are where I was, it may be nice to know that you are not on your own. We have some incredible support on this campus through the Writing Lab, the Math Lab, and adults that train and build these programs, like Jennifer Gunn and Hollie Marjanovic!

Writing Lab Fellows (Grace, Anna Maria, and Jamie Lee) work with Dr. Foley’s World History 2 classes to help them get started on their upcoming essays.

The image above features Writing Lab Fellows showing tenth grade students how to set up a historical essay.  They answered questions and did a whole group essay outline.  Next, some will return to work individually with students on essay outlines that they start tonight. If you have interest in working with the writing lab, just email Don’t forget that Math Lab Fellows can also help in classrooms.  In the past, we have had them to help specifically on test review days. For help, email or Cathy Davis at Do your students need more help with study skills broadly this year? Email Hollie (; she loves to go into classes and help with study ideas, note-taking, active reading, and organization.  Think this is just all about upper school support? We now have math and writing lab fellows working with middle school students one day per week, so middle school teachers don’t hesitate to reach out!

Let’s Be Real: What Teachers Need

I’ve heard it again and again from faculty. Different words, sure. Different tones, different rifts on the same melody. But the gist is the same: “Julie, I know you mean well, but I don’t have time to read those emails you send out.” “This year is somehow much more stressful than last year.” “Anytime you send out an article or idea in relation to teaching/learning it feels like you are shouting that I am not doing enough.” “Why is it the teacher is always the one that has to make adjustments? What about the students’ sense of responsibility?!”

I’m always grateful for crumbs of truth from folks I trust and respect, even if the very utterance means that much of what I spend my time doing in my daily job may, in actuality, be perceived as a distinct waste of time.

It turns out that these sentiments are not exclusively a St. Andrew’s phenomenon. Last week I ran across the latest Cult of Pedagogy piece in which Jennifer Gonzalez writes poignantly about how teachers are doing this 2021-22 school year in “Teachers are barely hanging on: Here’s what they need.” She put a question out to teachers on Twitter to get a sense of what was going on:

Gonzalez analyzed the hundreds of responses and boiled it all down to three themes: time, trust, and safety. And she doesn’t just talk about them in the abstract; she offers school leaders concrete strategies for how how to do better. I have taken every single recommendation to heart: from this blog I shared, but also from the many conversations I’ve had with all of our faculty. You may also be glad to know I’ve shared this with my senior leadership colleagues. This is a historical-social moment in which all of us who labor are thinking differently about the work we do, the way we are compensated, and the sustainability of our efforts. For this, I am grateful.

Lest you think administrators are exempt, I too have fallen prey to a sense of overwhelming frenzy. I feel it in the air. It seeps into my everyday. Sometimes, most of the time, my calendar reflects my feeling. Other times I wonder how days fly by with very little to account for them. I think sadly to myself: “I used to be productive. I used to have a zero inbox. I used to be able to hold it in my head all at once.” I wonder if it is middle age, or now working at both campuses, or covid fatigue, or all of the above. I’ve heard our students feel this way often as well. From our vantage point, they aren’t doing the reading, aren’t trying their best, have lost their pre-covid commitment to rigor. Yet many of our youth cite feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and stuck.

And yet, I also firmly believe that our very imperfect community is a good one to teach and learn within. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’ve never worked with smarter and more sincerely kind humans: at the faculty, administrative, and student level. I’ve never been at a school that exudes such warmth: in classrooms, courtyards, faculty meetings. This is not a paragraph of toxic positivity. This is not my attempt at gaslighting. This is simply my truth.

My two cents: I do not think the answer is always reducing, reducing, reducing. When I am doing the work I love, even when it is difficult and time consuming work, I am reignited. What rejuvenates you? I think the answer is different for each of us. This is why I strongly believe in professional opportunities that are not one-size fits all. For some, a school visit will remind you of why you love what you do. For others, conferences or blogs or podcasts are more your style. For still others, an informal conversation with colleagues about what is going on in your classrooms fits the bill. Others enjoy deep thinking alone with texts to reimagine the possibilities in their classrooms.

What is draining you? What is enlivening you? Can the answers to these two questions help inform our everyday small realities and our larger institutional commitments? How can we make room for more of the rejuvenating stuff and less of the other? I honestly don’t know, but I am eager to, alongside all of you, imagine my way into a better 2022, 2023, 2024 . . . work that feels sustainable and challenging but also deeply rewarding.

I want to end with an apology, one that Jennifer puts in her blog in a more compelling way than I ever could:

“A few weeks ago, I had an eye-opening conversation with my sister, who has been a high school science teacher for the better part of two decades. I’m paraphrasing her here, but basically she said this: You put out really good stuff, Jenn. I mean, the ideas are great. It’s stuff I really want to try. But most of the time I’m thinking “That’ll never happen.” Because there’s no time. So I end up feeling like a crap teacher because there’s this ideal out there that I’m clearly falling short of and I know I’ll never get there. You just don’t understand what it’s like. For the past eight years, I have been putting out content on my platform to help teachers do their jobs better. And I really hope that it has been helpful, that you’ve been able to use it to improve. But I am deeply sorry if I have ever implied that doing it should be a piece of cake, that you should happily ignore all the jacked-up expectations that make it nearly impossible to do this job well, or that being a good teacher means running yourself ragged for the sake of the kids.” (Gonzalez, 2021)

I’m hopeful you don’t feel the same way as Jennifer’s sister about this blog, our podcast, any of our coaching conversations, our PD days, or our faculty meetings. My feeling is we all need all the help we can get because this job is so impossible. For some of us, these initiatives and ideas spark joy, collaboration, and feel like one manifestation of community. But they are never meant to infer anything beyond that.

Be well.

The Art of Visual Note-taking

Contributed by Jessica Farris

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Perhaps you, like early childhood music teacher Susan Lawler, are a natural at note-taking. Any time I see Suan jotting away on her yellow legal pad, I am intensely jealous – her notes thorough, her penmanship pristine. Her green Ward planners are just as thorough and perfectly cataloged in her black cabinet. I wouldn’t be shocked if she still has every note and planner since her first coming to SA. If you ever have a question about anything – What was the May Day theme in 2005? What was the schedule three years ago? – Susan is bound to tell you, “Hold on. Ah, here!” So what about those of us who just aren’t that amazing at note-taking? Or perhaps you are, but you aren’t the best at retaining that information? Or do you have students who could use a little something to help them stay actively engaged during your lecture? Whatever your reason, visual note-taking can be both a fun and helpful alternative form of note-taking for teachers and students alike. 

As the Lower School Art teacher, many folks often tell me, “Oh you’re so talented. I can’t draw a stickman!” I’m here to tell you that you can! Several years ago Virginia Buchanan,  Marks McWhorter, and I all attended a simple, visual note-taking class at Nueva, and they were employing their visual note-taking skills long before me! Please see some of my personal tips below. I’ve also made a Tips Visual if you’d like to print it out for yourself or your students. 

  1. Pick out a LAYOUT. Do you want to start in the middle of the page and work your way out? Do you want to work from left to right? Top to bottom?
  2. COMPREHEND + SIMPLIFY You’ll be translating this information into a different language, a graphic one, so comprehension is imperative. Translating can take time, so simplify the process by only writing down the most important words. 
  3. SCALE Draw/write the most important words the largest. These words will function as your umbrella terms, thereby creating visual order/hierarchy. The easiest and fastest way to do this is simply to invest in some larger-tipped markers/pens.
  4. FONTS can be a great way to make words expressive, thereby doubling down on their meaning. 
  5. COLOR is so powerful. It can be a great way to emphasize the most important information, create contrast for different types of information, and much more.
  6. ARROWS can help guide our eyes from one cluster of information to the next.
  7. Use PICTURES when necessary! Visual note-taking is 90% words, and if you can write words, you can draw anything! All contour drawings are made up of two things: straight lines and/or curvy ones. Beyond that, it’s combining those two things in various ways and/or orienting them in different directions! If you can write words, YOU CAN DRAW! Please see the “Basic Math” section in the visual above for an example! 

Interested in seeing some more examples of visual notes? Click through the slideshow below to see how Jessica experienced the various components of our October Professional Development Day:

Making Maker

So what exactly is going on with the lower school Makerspace and Tech lab? The newly reimagined Makerspace at the lower school is not just a place that houses a bunch of equipment (really cool equipment, no less), but a way for students to get hands-on and bring their learning to life.

Makerspaces are being added to schools across the country, and for good reason. They promote hands-on, kinesthetic, active learning, help in the development of critical thinking skills and the problem solving process, and allow for differentiated and engaged learning. The lower school makerspace is still a work in progress and continuing to grow, but it is already allowing students to use a variety of tools to engage and apply their learning in an organic way.

Take a look at our newly added laser cutter at work on a 3rd grade project. 

3rd grade students have recently been learning about maps, direction, etc., and the focus one particular day was on the compass rose. Not just as an element on a map, but how the design of a compass rose can be considered an art form. This is where their project came to life. Each student was able to research compass roses and create their own unique compass rose design. They visited the new Makerspace to scan, size, and engrave their work into wood. Cool, right?!

Maker is truly NOT a place; it is a method of teaching. A MINDSET. It is the “Wouldn’t it be cool if the students could________.” moments and then giving the students the opportunity to MAKE it happen. Makerspace is the workshop, but maker is the mindset. It may not always turn out like we envision, which is totally okay. Sometimes it turns out even better! It is a way for students of all ages to move through to the highest levels of thinking and let their imagination, problem solving skills, and the use of tools make learning come to life.

Several years ago, while teaching the elements of plot and how events in the story affect the character traits of the characters, I explained to my students about a Disney ride (I think it was Pirates of the Caribbean). We talked about how as you travel in your little boat through the ride, you can follow the events of the story as you go. We related every single element of plot to a part of a rollercoaster, all the way down to the engine room. They loved the “plot roller coaster” and it became one of my absolute favorite standards to teach. Then, I had the absolute craziest idea! (My team seriously thought I had lost my mind.) Wouldn’t it be cool if the students could build their own life-size version of the plot roller coaster that tells the story of the novel they are studying?!?! (No joke, no sugar plums dancing, but I had visions of cardboard carts the kids could sit in, student made mural sized illustrations, student recorded sound effects and narration, the whole-nine-yards) I am being completely honest when I say that my absolutely crazy, elaborate idea did not come completely to life, but what did happen was absolutely MAKER, and learning magic. 4ft pieces of bulletin board paper became illustrations for key events in the plot, the 6th grade hallway became their rollercoaster, and they led other grade levels (walking, no cardboard carts, unfortunately) down the hallway giving them a tour and explaining how events connected, how they impacted the characters, and making this teacher’s heart so happy! They made their learning come to life! It came to life for them, and they helped make it come to life for other students, as well.

I shared this story to ask:

What is your “wouldn’t it be cool” idea?

Meet the Faculty in Foundations

Some of you might be wondering, what is going on in Foundations? What type of learning takes place for the youngest members of the Saints Community? We are an Early Education program for infants to 2-year-olds and are bringing innovations to the way our students learn every day. We have been growing as a program since the doors to Foundations opened in July. I am delighted to introduce some of the new faces we have here at St. Andrews.

Cynthia Gibbs: Older Infant Teacher

I am a graduate of St. Andrew’s and Millsaps College with a BA in Elementary Education.  I have worked with young children for over 20 years as a preschool teacher and director of Children and Family Ministries at our church. In our classroom, we listen to music to play and then lullabies to sleep.  We have a room full of crawlers and love to watch them as they learn.

Idelia Walker: Younger Infant Teacher

I have been teaching young children for 20 years now and I’m currently in school for Early Childhood Education. In the classroom we implement music, art, outdoor exploration, playing with toys, and growing.

Ashley Singleton: Older 1-Year-Old Teacher

I received my bachelor’s degree in Child Care and Family Education from Jackson State University. During Transitions, I love to play silly fun games with my students.

Tabitha Gibson: Younger 1-Year-Old Teacher

This is my 22nd year of teaching in the early childhood field, it is truly my passion. Each day I’m excited to teach and nurture those little people I have in my classroom. My class favorite thing to do any kind of art sensory activity. 

Sandra Flores: Older 2-Year-Old Teacher

I have been an educator for 19 years. I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. I went to college at the University of Monterrey N, L CEDIM and received my accreditation in early childhood in 2008. I worked at Texas and Mississippi in Catholic Schools, then moved to St. Andrews in 2015. Last year I served various roles at St. Andrews working at ECC with Pre-K3 then moving to different First Grade classrooms and finally working with St. Andrews at Home Program. Working with younger kids has been my heart and passion. I love to see them grow as develop their many gifts and talents. In our classroom, we develop physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language development.

Maggie Secrest: Younger 2-Year-Old Teacher

I am so excited to be a part of the Saint Andrews Community. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Family and Consumer Sciences, with an emphasis in Child Development. This is my 6th year in the teaching field and my third year teaching Pre-Kindergarten. I love to teach and my daily goal is to make our classroom a happy, safe, and fun place to learn. I played college soccer at Delta State University so I love incorporating movement and dance in the classroom. Right now my class is working on learning the sounds and recognizing the letters in their names. My student’s favorite thing to do is explore our water and spaghetti sensory bins.

Meet and Greet (the) Dawn

Posted by Marty Kelly

Teacher, writer, singer, cyclist, traveler, and newest addition to St. Andrew’s Upper School English department, Dawn Denham is, above all, a storyteller. And an honest one at that. Despite the fact that she had been coming to Mississippi since she was 16, “I didn’t like Mississippi,” she told me. “I had a deeply embedded prejudice against the South.” What Dawn eventually grappled with was the idea that perhaps her prejudice was a more personal one, tied up in family dynamics. Nevertheless, how did she come to fall in love with a home in Mississippi’s Water Valley called the Blue House? And how in the world did she find her way to us at St. Andrew’s? Only one word works to explain these two pieces of her life: serendipity. Okay, I can’t believe I just wrote that; truly I don’t throw that term around lightly (read: ever), especially after the John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale movie, but Dawn’s story is so filled with moments of fortuitousness that it made me think the ancients I teach about really were on to something with their ideas about fate. Dawn is obviously a much better teller of her own story than I, but here is an abridged version of what I gleaned from her fascinating journey so far. 

After the dissolution of a 30-year marriage in 2016, Dawn traveled for nine months, and when her father received a cancer diagnosis, Dawn came to her family’s cabin at Lake Enid to help care for him. She had a plane ticket to leave in a week, but she kept pushing the departure back, and back, and back. After a series of not-so-misfortunate events in seeing an ad for a home to rent called the Blue House in both the waiting room of a hospital and the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery in Water Valley, Dawn, over all the people on the waiting list to rent this house, got a call from the renter who said, “We want you in Water Valley.” She went back to New Hampshire, packed up, officially filed for divorce, and moved to the Blue House in Water Valley, Mississippi. If you know nothing about Water Valley, you should know it is a little resurging town outside of Oxford brimming now with artists of all kinds, teachers and professors, and characters in general. Dawn was among her people; and as soon as I met her, I assessed her as “groovy” and told her she must live in Belhaven or Fondren when she moved to Jackson. And, now, one more fortuitous story later, she has moved into the perfect house in Belhaven. But I’ll let her tell that story later.

During her time in Water Valley, Dawn got a job teaching in Oxford High School where, she says, despite being “deep in grief,” the relationships with those young people “saved her life.” However, when Covid became a serious threat looming over schools, Dawn resigned to give herself more time to work on her book. Dawn, who refreshingly confesses, “Writing is very hard for me,” is finishing her memoir. After rewriting and reworking and self-reflecting (and at the command of a sticky note on her computer that says, “IT IS TIME”), she had finally come to a place where she had the moment: “I know what the memoir is.” Dawn revealed that her memoir, fittingly titled The Blue House, has much to do with personal transformation and particularly the role Mississippi has played in that transformation. At this time, she has had seven pieces accepted since February! Don’t worry, we will be on watch for publication so that we can celebrate with Dawn as this memoir journey continues to unfold. 

So how did she get here to us? Well, earlier this year, on a Saturday bike ride on the Natchez Trace (I mentioned she’s a cyclist, right?), Dawn and her beau Eddie stopped at the Crafts Center on Rice Road where she picked up a handful of pamphlets to read on the way home. Among those pamphlets was one about St. Andrew’s (shout out to our marketing and communications people!). After perusing the pamphlet, she looked up the school on her phone on the way home and (shall we say serendipitously?) saw on the school’s website the listing for an Upper School English teacher. “This is where I could spend the rest of my teaching years,” she thought. And fortuitously for us and her students, she submitted her application three days later and now here she is! 

After a little over a month here, Dawn has brought so much care and craft to her senior classes in discussing anti-racist pedagogy, doing significiant community-building, and helping them find their voices in personal narratives, which in turn is helping many of them with their college essays. In return, she has been so impressed with the fact that “these young people read and talk to each other” and have a real “facility for communication,” not to mention how “beautiful” their writing skills are. Dawn’s goal in the classroom, she says, like many of us, is “getting me out of the equation.” Unless singing is involved. I told you Dawn’s a singer too right? And I found out that she loves to sing to her students. She told me, “Avery and I are working on a duet,” which I, for one, cannot wait to hear. Also, just this morning, she said she couldn’t get out of her car in the parking lot until she finished singing along with the Waitress song “She Used to be Mine.” So whenever y’all get the opportunity to meet Dawn, ask her to sing for you or tell you a story. Just wait until her personal car concert is over. 

For a peek at Dawn’s writing, visit here:

Room(s) for Improvement

Posted by Marty Kelly

Hi. I’m Marty. And I’m a hater of change. Like the U.S. Treasury. Okay so not that kind of change (but can’t we all agree that pennies are so over?). No, I’m talking about change change–of the sea variety. Like the time we moved houses in second grade right before Christmas (who does that?) and then my parents tried to put the Christmas tree in the dining room in the new house (again, who does that?) and I cried so much they finally had to move the tree on Christmas Eve. Except it fell apart (the tree, that is). ‘Twas very much the night before Christmas and all through the house ornaments shattered amidst four-letter shouts. 

Or the time my husband told me he would return from a work trip on Thursday and called Wednesday to say they finished early and he was on his way home; and (take note: this is not, I repeat NOT, a great relationship strategy to make your partner feel loved) I got UPSET that he was coming home early because that was not “the plan.” It should come as no great surprise that literally no one’s love language is not being welcomed home.

Look, I understand I am not painting myself as the picture of good sense or rationality, but as I said, I am a hater of change–and I don’t discriminate. Good change is bad, and bad change is badder. Though I am notorious for mis-singing most songs (I thought “On a Straight Tequila Night” was “On the Strength to Keep the Night”), my thinking Aretha was singing, “Change of fools,” could have predicted long ago how I feel about change. 

By now, I hope I have set the stage well enough for you to *somewhat* fathom how well it went last year when Blake drew the short straw of  informing me that my precious Room 4 of the Upper School was being, shudder, renovated (Narrator: it did not go well). Moreover, that my big, beautiful wooden desk with all my glorious stacks of books (my babies!) in front of it was, the horrors!, being torn away from me. Dramatic much? You betcha. And if you know me, you have heard this sob story of mine so many times I’m sure your eyes are stuck in the back of your head from rolling them so hard. Get over it already, right? I am, I promise. Meriwether and others told me it would be okay and it really is. For the most part. I mean, definitely still a little fussy about my desk, but Paul Buckley is the proud new parent and taking really good care of her and says I can come visit whenever I want. 

Thus, when I decided that I wanted to write an update about how renovated room usage was going, I figured the least biased, most objective report would come from, you know, probably not me. Yay for self-awareness and journalistic integrity (Linda, don’t correct me if this is not what that is)! So, in a game I call “getting other people to do my job for me,” I consulted some new* middle and upper school faculty for feedback on their classroom experiences so far in the new rooms. *Some of our new faculty are what I call old/new in that they are an alum or they have taught here previously and returned or that they just moved to a different division. So here is what some of these old newbs like Buck Cooper and Val Prado have to say.

Question 1: What do you like about your classroom?

Val: I had an “i2” room last year in 4G for the first time and again this year here. I do love the writable wall space – it is so awesome for math. We do something called “studio time,” in which the students work on various problems that are prompted out of order and come from different concepts. The goal is to explain your thinking so others can follow your mathematical reasoning. Once your work is up on the wall, your work is “public” and we can all learn from you! 

My favorite part about my new room here is the dimmable light. I strongly advocated for that feature to be added in the LS and it truly makes a big difference for the learning environments, e.g. during different times of the day with the sunlight, or for simply setting a certain mood. 

Buck: I appreciate that it’s reconfigurable–that I can have students working quickly with a good workspace in a variety of ways: partners, groups of three or four around a table, individually at a table either with two or three other people. I also love that I can tinker with what “the front” of the space is. With 270 degrees of whiteboard space, I can do a better job of not privileging the children who are sitting closest to where I stand and talk because it’s where the screen/whiteboard is. I can spread the love all around, so to speak. I also like that there isn’t any required shelving beyond the rolling gray library shelves. I can maximize the space we have for teaching and learning and store stuff not immediately needed out of sight.

Question 2: What do your students like about your classroom?

Buck: Some love the spinning and rolling functions of the chairs. Some seem to love that there’s sufficient whiteboard space for absurd graffiti that I’m less likely to erase.

Question 3: Is there anything your classroom does not allow you to do that you would like to be able to do? 

Val: The movable chairs are awesome for storing materials underneath, however, they are super bulky and cannot be stacked. 

Buck: I’d love a moveable smart board so I could keep the space de-fronted, but also be able to easily annotate something for all the class to see. I’d also love it if I could remotely lock the rolling and spinning functions of the chairs, maybe an app?

Question 4: How does your classroom compare to classrooms you’ve previously taught or been taught in?

Buck: I’ve spent much of the last five years of my career trying to create this type of space by making do. We could push desks and tables together, but without lockable wheels, it’s potentially bad for the floor and noisy and a bother to our neighbors if it happens during instructional time. These classrooms provide a simple space, which is what I’ve grown to love. College classrooms are fairly generic because they don’t belong to anyone exclusively. I like that this space is more like that than like a space that somehow I feel like I have to go all out decorating. The pillowy, homestyle furniture, the thematic decor—it’s not me. I respect the people who want this in their classrooms because it helps children feel more comfortable, but I don’t want this in the space where I work, and yet here I have a wonderful classroom space that’s functional, clean and as I said, simple.

“Do it Anyway”: Stories from two third year teachers

We end our mini-series, “Living it: Stories from the Teaching Life” with a laughter and truth-packed episode featuring two of my favorite humans (not to mention educators) in the Jackson Metro Area: Shamia Hopper & Lucy Kaplan.  I had the pleasure of working with both of them while at Millsaps College, and I can quite honestly say that both Lucy and Shamia feature the killer mix of being simultaneously (1) real (2) brilliant (3) 100% committed to more equitable spaces for teaching/learning for all youth, and (4) super fun to be around. 

Shamia Hopper is a founding fourth grade teacher and grade team leader at Smilow Collegiate.  Her passion is teaching black and brown kids that live in low-income areas in our state.  After school she runs a vegan meal prep business called Shamia’s Food Diaries (Find her on Instagram).  Lucy Kaplan is entering her third year teaching middle school ELA in Jackson, MS.  She is passionate about teaching writing, creating an accessible and inclusive classroom, and education policy.  After school, she self-publishes her own writing and sings in a punk band.  Both have taught for three years which puts them squarely in that sweet spot of “knowing stuff” and “still discovering stuff.”  

During our conversation, we discussed:

3:31-5:15:  How Lucy’s experience with challenges in her own schooling led her to a career situated in the classroom

8:32- 10:50: Why the best teacher education is steeped in community engagement; Shamia’s story of becoming inspired to educate.

11:20- 14:17: Why Shamia loves math, and when it comes to math instruction, multiple strategies beat out one-size-fits-all recipes.

15:19-18:32: Real talk about what it was like teaching kindergarteners at-home and in-person concurrently during a global pandemic.

18:32-20:03: That oh-so-recognizable-teacher-feeling of “I KNOW THIS COULD BE BETTER!” 

22:25-26:33: Stories from Lucy’s first year of teaching seventh grade English: on the feeling of being “coached” and the vital importance of just being yourself as an educator.

28:10-32:04: The most valuable lessons Shamia learned with her five and six year olds first experiencing school in the midst of a pandemic; “it wasn’t me versus them; it was us together.”

33:50-36:55:  The time Lucy raced one of her students during recess.

37:05-41:10: Two reflective teaching practices you have to try, courtesy of Lucy: (1) keep a list of something good you observe each day when teaching in tweet form and (2) ask your students for “one piece of advice you’d give youth taking this class next year.”

44:58- 45:33 : Shamia’s final tip, bound to inspire us all: “Do it anyway.”

“Meeting Students Where They Are: Mentoring as Teaching” featuring Tonja Murphy

This post was contributed by Emmi Sprayberry.

This week’s podcast features Tonja Murphy, Community Engagement Coordinator for the Mississippi Book Festival. Tonja is an amazingly passionate and talented woman who uses her skills as author, consultant, and motivational speaker to give back and invest in the community of Jackson, MS. I first met Tonja at a banquet for Red Door Jackson, an after school tutoring program for kids in JPS. I was serving as a coordinator and she had come as a community member and JPS parent to support the work that Red Door was doing within the community. From the moment we met, I was blown away by her heart to empower others to be their best selves. This theme is at the heart of anything she does, whether it is helping kids navigate what books they need to get and how to do online schooling in the middle of a pandemic, mentoring young teens, or promoting a love for reading. I could go on and on with her list of accomplishments and why you should know her if you don’t, but I’ll let the podcast speak for itself. I always come away from my time with Tonja inspired and challenged. I hope you too are able to come away with some strong nuggets of wisdom.  

During our conversation we discussed: 

  • The wonder of teaching middle school  (2:00) 
  • Guidance for middle school students vs. telling them what to do (3:00-4:00)
  • Expectations vs. rules (4:00-5:00)
  • Mentoring and tutoring in the middle of a pandemic, using the platforms that students already used to connect with them , and the power of meeting students where they are (6:20-11:00)
  • Using Tik Tok as a means to get students to analyze music, apply critical thinking, and engage in textual analysis  (11:00-13:15)
  • How Tonja came to do working in community, where passion met vocation (14:00-16:25)
  • The importance of having something outside of you to inform your work (17:00-17:30)
  • What do you wish educators knew? (17:45-20:)
  • What advice would you give teachers coming back into the classroom this year?(21:00-21:25)
  • Grace (21:25-22:40)
  • The importance of community engagement  (23:00- 25:50)
  • Instances that have stuck with Tonja (28:20-30:08)
  •  Was there an interaction that was a pivot moment that moved you to turn outward vs inward? (31:30-32:47)
  • Avoiding the scenario of “when helping hurts” and cultivating mental health (33:05-38:08)
  • Living what you preach and teach; fostering the skill of reflection. (38:08-44:10)
  • Socio-emotional-learning and the loss during a pandemic — getting to know the students and where they are at now (46:15-50:00)
  • Fostering community within a classroom and knowing who is in the room  (50:01- 52:05)
  • What book should every educator read? (52:20-53:25)
  • Don’t let your experience frame how you help them navigate theirs (53:45) 
  • Organizations to connect your students with (54:50-56:25)

Podcast Episode Drop: “Finding your Jam when you feel like an Imposter” with Josh Brister

This post was authored by Dean Julius.

This week we’re pumped to release our second episode of Series 2 (“Living it: Stories from the Teaching Life”) with a conversation with Josh Brister, a great human and an even better Spanish teacher at St. Andrew’s. Josh Brister came to St. Andrew’s in perhaps one of the most challenging years for educators in a century. In the episode we discuss being a new teacher, being a new teacher in the time of COVID-19, the joys of teaching middle school, and developing meaningful relationships with kids. Personally, I’m honored to be able to call Josh a friend, I’m even more fortunate to call him a colleague, and I had the pleasure of being his mentor last year during his maiden voyage at St. Andrew’s. Hope you enjoy the episode!

During our conversation, we discussed: 

  • Being a teacher, especially a new teacher, in the time of COVID, Imposter Syndrome, and working at a place like St. Andrew’s (1:30 – 12:00) 
  • The educational value of YouTube for Teachers (13:00 – 16:00)
  • “Show me you’re a middle school teacher without telling me you’re a middle school teacher” + Why Josh hates baseball (16:00 – 25:00)
  • Building relationships with kids and dealing with setbacks/conflict (26:00 – 36:00)
  • Burnout & managing other interests/hobbies while teaching full time (36:30 – End)

Hunting for Plants: Mr. Goldsbury’s Dichotomous Key Scavenger Hunt

One of this year’s goals at St. Andrew’s is to continue engendering a collegial spirit of watching one another teach, taking what we observe, and stealing those ideas. After all, Picasso famously said, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” And in the spirit of great artists stealing, Mr. Goldsbury’s 7th grade science class put to good use a database of local flora gathered and catalogued by Mr. McWhorter and students in the upper school. 

Mr. Goldsbury’s students have been learning about and practicing how to use dichotomous keys in their class. Using the website Mr. McWhorter put together, Mr. Goldsbury asked his students to create a dichotomous key for how they could identify various plants around school. And the results are stellar!

He said, “I have done several campus searches before in class, but by using this website the students have a more structured and informative assignment, and with the help of the locations that Marks has put for each plant, I will be able to make it into a competitive scavenger hunt!”

This is a perfect example of teachers inspiring other teachers. Mr. McWhorter made something that, quite frankly, is awesome. And Mr. Goldsbury, inspired by that database, decided to use it in his own classroom to create an engaging science scavenger hunt. Something equally awesome! Teachers inspiring other teachers, great artists, stealing from other artists: it’s what we do at St. Andrew’s. Not all thievery is malicious, especially when it comes to perfecting our teaching craft. 

“Pure, Unadulterated Common Sense”: A Conversation with Virginia Buchanan & Harriet Whitehouse

Authored by: Marty Kelly

What do you get when you interview two longtime educators? A bucket of metaphors apparently. (I hope you see what I did there.) Listening to Julie’s barely twenty-minute interview with now-retired middle school teachers, Virginia Buchanan and Harriet Whitehouse, I counted at least five analogies about teaching and school: being on a journey, being on a ship, preparing a meal, doing housework, and creating magic. For some of us, we perhaps relate most fully to a ship metaphor, envisioning a rocking vessel buffeted with wave after wave of various crises; but lest we lose hope, we are far from a sinking ship, and as Harriet and Virginia confirmed, we are all in the ship together (very High School Musical of us). Read on to see what this math teacher (who taught me as a student) and English teacher (who inspired me as a colleague) have to offer in nuggets of wisdom for those of us not quite at retirement. 

For starters, forget fancy stuff. Professional development is all well and good, but Harriet points out the tool that “works better than any educational strategy” is “pure unadulterated common sense.” And to butcher J.Lo’s song, that kind of teachering don’t cost a thing. But what does common sense in a classroom mean? According to Harriet: “Listen to the kids, see what they need, listen to yourself. Do what’s practical… Just go with what’s logical and reasonable.” As one who has wrestled with and feared and been fatigued by the amorphous goal of “innovation,” I felt a sigh of relief and validation come out of me when I heard her say the words “logical,” “practical,” and “reasonable.” I am finally coming to a place where I realize that practicality and my gifts and my students’ needs and innovation are not mutually exclusive. Who knew? Turns out, Harriet did. 

Also in the category of things I wish I had been told as a first-year teacher, Harriet and Virginia dove into the concept of never feeling caught up. Harriet says, “You know from day one of a school year that you are behind … and you will never be caught up and that is the way it is.” Defeatist? Nay. It’s for real. I feel it. You feel it. We all feel it. And instead of fighting it, Harriet says, “I think making peace with that and making space for it and not worrying about it… that probably kept me sane.” Easier said than done, I’m sure, but Virginia chimes in, “I’ve always thought of it like housework, at least at my house, it’s never all done. If it ever was, it might be for a second because there was stuff crammed in the closet or something momentarily.” So cram away and if you need an extra hand getting that closet door to close, call me. Kidding. I don’t think Virginia wants us to cram stuff away like we do our emotions (is that just me?) but try to accept certain feelings as a part of the natural rhythm of school: “Just go with the flow, evolve with it…. enjoy the journey instead of the ultimate goal.” Okay, Virginia, I’ll try… but no one has ever accused me of being a go-with-the-flow type of gal. 

This next piece of advice is perfection. “Never be bored,” Harriet says, “If I’m bored with what I’m teaching, they will be bored with what I’m teaching. So boredom is not an option.” Now, are there times when I have pulled out all the tricks and strategies and the students still look at me lifelessly and I want to scream like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, “Are you not entertained?!”? Absolutely. But *most* of the time, if students get that we are into something, they can get behind it, and they at least respect the vibe we are putting out. A 5-minute pop culture lesson about teens will tell us it’s all about the “vibes” for them and what they are “vibing” with. I have ended so many sentences with prepositions in this blog, but it felt so awkward to write “with what they are ‘vibing.’” Jests aside, students are actually scarily good at reading people and can sniff disingenuous enthusiasm and hypocrisy faster than you can say ‘Bama Rush TikTok. So if you feel passionately about the Oxford comma (which I do) let it be known and maybe, just maybe, they will campaign for the serial comma too. 

BUT (big but) here: our job is not to tap dance at the front of the room to keep student attention and keep them happily entertained for over an hour (don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of stamina). Of course, there is a time and place for everything (at least according to Ecclesiastes 3) including lecturing and being in the spotlight, but I think Virginia speaks for all of us when she says: “I’d much rather be a facilitator than a lecturer. That’s when I’m in my happy place.” Me too, Virginia, me too. Listening to all five of my classes sustain a Harkness discussion for over 30 minutes without my input was what I needed to give me life in the first full week of school, during a pandemic, you know, again. Virginia calls this “eavesdropping” when students are “discovering” on their own. It definitely feels cheesy, but it felt so right to me when Harriet described these moments as “magical.” As she admits, “it doesn’t happen all the time,” but sometimes “there’s just this magic in the room,” and “you feel as if you’re in tune with the spinning of the galaxy.” And for a long time teacher of A Wrinkle in Time, I can think of no more apt analogy.  We won’t ever have perfect pitch in the classroom, but chasing those moments when we are in tune sounds pretty magical to me too. 

Launching Our Next Series, “Living It: Stories from the Teaching Life.”

It’s that smell-of-fresh-marker-beginning-of-school-season again and Inspire & Innovate: A Podcast for Educators is back at it with a mini-series to get you back into the swing of things.  Without a doubt, our first series released last Spring (“Teaching in the Time of Covid”) remains relevant.  We are still masked, still distancing, and still very much figuring out how to teach and learn and build relationships in a pandemic-world.  But we are also very certain that the same enduring truths about youth, systems,  and the subjects we teach that we’ve learned from our collective years of doing what we do continue to resonate and inform what we do today.  We are also quite certain that the best way to figure out this impossible business of teaching well (pre and post pandemic) is to network with educators showing up every day  in our local realities and beyond.   That’s why we think you’ll glean a lot out of this four-episode mini-series that centers on local educators in the Jackson metro area giving it to us straight in: “Living it: Stories from the Teaching Life.” 

Ep. 1: “Leading with Love, Featuring Dr. Anita DeRouen”

This week we are proud to release “Leading with Love,” featuring Anita DeRouen, Ph.D., an English teacher at Murrah High School in Jackson, MS.  A former professor at Millsaps College, DeRouen has published on race and media representation, digital literacy, and most recently Richard Wright and modernism (with Anne MacMaster). DeRouen also serves as Community Liaison for the Millsaps College Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Center and is an independent racial dialogue consultant.  I’ve been lucky enough to count Anita a colleague and a friend, and her ability to crystallize truth into words has shifted my own thinking in powerful ways. 

During this conversation, we discussed:

  • (5:45-6:35) Poetry as a vehicle transporting youth to  literary love.
  • (9:45-13:17) How Anita “winnowed her way” into teaching (and why every single person should work in retail or food service at some point for at least a year).
  • (13:35-18:00 ) The role of empathy, bounded choice, and addressing perfectionism for teachers working with “high achieving kids not living up to their potential.” 
  • (18:28-19:37 ) How particular school contexts produce particular expectations around “what learning looks like” which then trickle down to assessments.
  • (20:19 -23:55 ) Why the next time a student misbehaves in your classroom,  you need to internalize the phrase “it’s not you; it’s the chair.”
  • (24:23-25:50) What a gift it is to see the humans in our classrooms, not as a homogenous group, but as a collective of unique individuals, including our own “geeky . . . nerdy sel[ves]”
  • (31:29-33:30 ) Keys to growing and working with colleagues: brought to you by a compliment from her grandmother and “listening with a healthy, not a sick, ear.”
  • (33:31- 35:10 ) What it requires to work as a Black academic in predominantly white institutions.
  • (35:27-39:37) Pitfalls of white institutions seeking to become “more diverse”: on labor and the importance of discomfort in the process.
  • (40:28-44:21 ) How “leading with love” could open up an entirely different set of questions, positively transforming our education system (and our world).

Stay tuned for more educator-centered real talk to be released the next three Tuesdays; this series may be mini, but each episode is mighty.

Final Podcast Drop in Season 1: Tim Fish in “Centering Agency”

See this video glimpse for a taste of this week’s conversation with Tim Fish.

Last but certainly not least in Season 1 of Inspire & Innovate: A Podcast for Educators, we feature NAIS Chief Innovation Officer: Tim Fish.  He started his career as a 4th-grade teacher and has served as a founder, board member, and consultant for a variety of education and technology-related schools, organizations, and companies. His Magnetic Mountain metaphor has been formative for school leaders across the country as representation of the trajectory of innovation that school organizations take on, and we found that speaking with Tim really brought it home for classroom teachers as well.  We found Tim warm, honest, and thought-provoking, and we hope you do too.

During our conversation, we discussed:

  • How fourth graders gave Tim his first orientation to the world of teaching and why playing football with the kids at recess can have unintended consequences (4:02-7:15)
  • How Tim conceptualizes innovation.  Spoiler alert- it has nothing to do with chasing the shiny and new! (11:07- 12:39)
  • Why it’s important to differentiate between the what and the how of innovation . . . and why doing “retrospectives” can reframe failure as learning (16:10-18:04)
  • Why deep empathy and vision-led innovation are a powerful combination in this particular historical moment (18:05-19:25)
  • How Tim’s interest in “nose down to nose up” NAIS schools led him to first conceptualize the Magnetic Mountain (20:05-25:27)
  • What this journey metaphor has to do with the micro everyday choices that classroom teachers make (26:45-32:28)
  • What Tim doesn’t mean by “not returning to now-town” (teachers- you are going to applaud!)  . . . and a reminder that innovation is a disposition.  (33:30-35:55)
  • What now-town has to do with bias, privilege, and inequity (37:57-38:59)
  • The difference between reactive and proactive innovation . . . and why the reactive innovation we’ve all been doing in response to the pandemic  is much more draining (39:13-40:25)
  • Why agency is a big deal for both faculty and students now more than ever and one trend Tim’s noticed among teachers that have maintained energy during this difficult season (41:25-42:38)
  • How one high school faculty member managed to maintain high academic standards in this difficult past year while recentering the student experience (43:45-48:19)
  • How Tim’s favorite teacher when he was a young reaffirms the importance of  “really climbing into kids’ lives, being present with them, and helping them take the next step, whatever that might be”  (53:26-55:15)
  • Must-reads from Tim! (57:44-58:50)

In this week’s Teacher Talks episode, we feature the amazing Sheena White (Head of Foundations), Susan Pace (4th grade teacher extraordinaire), and Dean Julius (7th grade English).  They extend, adapt, and reimagine Tim’s metaphor in powerful ways and collectively help us take a breath just in time for summer.

i2 Inquiry-Based-Learning Fellows

Design-based thinking. Problem-based-learning. Student-centered learning. Project-based-learning. There are a host of ways to frame designing learning experiences for youth that revolve around inquiry, utilizing the general template of students: (1) Asking a question (2) Doing some research (3) Crafting an artifact or paper or project to demonstrate your sense-making and (4) Reflecting on the entire process. There’s also a lot of (perhaps rightful) angst about overly-utopian portrayals of such pedagogies.

We wanted to dip our toes into more inquiry based pedagogies with the people who know best (faculty in the trenches), so a little over a year ago we sent out a call for interested folks to apply to be part of a summer/school year group of fellows engaging in research, preparation, and implementation of inquiry based learning practices.

Many answered the call, and we were thrilled to engage with four faculty across divisions to devise very different projects for implementation. Matt Luter (upper school, English) worked with place as a site for memory with his high school students. Ruthie Taylor (middle school, drama) engaged youth in an exploration of theater traditions across the world as well as devised productions that center social justice. Val Dembny (4th grade, math) and Kathy-Vial (lower school, science) explored various levels of question-asking for sense-making.

In no cases did projects go off without a hitch. In all cases these pathways were doubly difficult because of pandemics and concurrent teaching/learning and masks and and and. . . . However in all cases youth stretched themselves and faculty learned how to pave the way for more success in future iterations. And lucky us, because during a faculty PD in April, we all became the benefactors of their collective and individual journeys.

Missed the sessions but wish you could have been there? You can! Just check out the google meet recordings/resources below and get ready for nuanced, real-life takes on inquiry based learning in classroom spaces during a very strange, very challenging school year.

Kathy Vial’s “”Introducing Inquiry-based concepts into your classroom without headaches or tears (yours)

In this session I’ll introduce the components of a true inquiry lesson: there is a back and forth flow of knowledge between the teacher and students. It begins when the teacher poses an idea or concept and then asks targeted questions. This leads to students sharing their ideas and asking additional questions.

Ruthie Taylor’s “When going wrong goes right: Wrestling with the tensions and learning from mistakes in inquiry-based projects”

Are you worried about how inquiry might go wrong? (or at least differently than you expected)In this session we’ll discuss some of the missteps, mistakes, and tensions that came up through 4 iterations of Performance Traditions Inquiry Projects with 5th Grade students and strategies for adapting to diverse student needs and interest levels.

Matt Luter
Hands-on research, hands-off guidance in a writing classroom

In this session I’ll share the assignment I’ve designed for a senior seminar in Southern literature, address how I’ve altered it from fall to spring semester, and then we’ll reflect together on the tension between guiding student inquiry and keeping control of students’ work in students’ hands.

Val Dembny’s “The importance of questions in the classroom” 

Have you ever wondered how many questions a teacher asks a day? Did you know that there are different types and levels of questions you can utilize in the classroom? We will discuss why questions are such an important part of the learning process and how they lead inquiry.

“Centering Teaching by Design”: A Conversation with Michael Nachbar

This week’s Inspire & Innovate Podcast features guest, Michael Nachbar, the Executive Director of Global Online Academy, a pioneering network of schools and educators reimagining learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society.  If you’ve ever wanted to get inside the brain of a teacher planning learning experiences, you are going to seriously enjoy this episode.

Enjoy this video excerpt to get a sense of the themes Michael introduces in the full podcast.

During our conversation, we discussed: 

  • How Michael’s background and experiences in curriculum led him to the work he does now…and how incredible teachers re-thinking their craft helped GOA get its start ( 2:30-12:04)
  • GOA’s “northstar” mission and approach to coaching educators, helping leaders in the Design Lab,  and providing deep learning of the skills students need to be successful in college, career, and life ( 14:00-18:51)
  • The mindshift of being deliberate in the outcomes you want to see and designing intentional learning experiences for students (18:52-22:00)
  • Teacher wellness and how it applies to having a varied approach to providing student feedback (22:10-25:10)
  • Keeping relationships and communication at the center of student experiences during asynchronous learning (25:12-29:49)
  • Challenges teachers faced this last school year due to constraints they had to navigate and how “necessity can drive innovation in a big way” (29:50-33:25)
  • Articulating your northstar and designing learning experiences to match that (33:26-35:00)
  • Focusing on equity and justice, and as teachers, being aware of students’ unique experiences with empathy and compassion…and rethinking what we teach and how we assess to be more culturally relevant (36:15-39:18)
  • Helping parents and guardians understand the how and the why behind what we do (39:20-40:30)
  • Michael’s predictions he made a year and a half ago about educator competencies and the need to continue “upscaling”…and a focus on supporting teachers’ health and wellbeing (40:30-45:30)
  • Aspects of teachers’ work that are rejuvenating and reenergizing and lowering the cognitive load (45:30-49:50)
  • What “getting back to normal” looks like and how we will navigate the return to “normal” with virtual components moving forward (50:25-55:08)
  • Michael discusses his favorite teacher (55:18-57:20)
  • The book that Michael Nachbar thinks all educators should read (57:25-58:35)

Want some help digesting the important themes Michael raises?  Remember that our companion podcast, Teacher Talks, is always there to help!  This week I interview four inspiring  upper school faculty members: Nancy Rivas (Spanish teacher), Wesley Saylor (French teacher), and Gracie Bellnap (science teacher ).  They keep it real about this challenging past year while also laying down some serious wisdom. 

Feeling ready for summer? Next Tuesday we feature our final podcast of the season with Tim Fish. It’s a finale that is pretty grand, so don’t miss it.

This Week in i2 Inspire & Innovate: A Podcast for Educators, Charlie Jenkinson talks “Centering Relevance”

For a taste of the themes we discuss in this week’s packed podcast, check out the video teaser above.

This week’s featured Inspire & Innovate Podcast guest, Charlie Jenkinson, serves as the Chief Strategy Officer for the World Leading Schools Association (WLSA).  He believes that “schools have responsibility to act as powerhouses of social and global mobility” and he leads with a vision of ever-broadening access to and transformation of our educational spheres. 

During our conversation, we discussed:

  • How Charlie’s experience as a student  led to his drive to transform the system of education . . . and why extrinsic motivation never worked for him (4:10-7:28)
  • Why this transformative work cannot be the sole responsibility of individual teachers or even individual schools . . . a network is required (7:29-8:00; 18:10-18:53; 25:35-26:54)
  • A powerful example of why simply developing individual, measurable skills and performance  is not enough for transformative teaching/learning (8:02-9:02)
  • How WLSA is fighting for equity and access for all youth to learn, travel, and develop as global citizens through the acquisition of  intercultural lenses and working toward change  (13:58-16:30; 53:56-55:50)
  • Why the pandemic makes all of these commitments more important and more timely than ever (16:30-17:55)
  • The kinds of experiences youth need to thrive: featuring (in part) the double helix of “a deep understanding of what they offer the world and what does the world need from [them]”  (22:08-25:35)
  • The influence individual teachers and schools can have (26:54-28:58)
  • Charlie’s philosophy about the utilization of literature in schools in relation to student interest and faculty expertise (28:58-31:58)
  • A new phrase (and literacy practice) to incorporate into your vernacular, thanks to Charlie’s dad: “reading ‘round your subjects” (32:40-36:12)
  • How an individual school can best contribute to a network of schools, and why those of us in the Jackson, MS area are uniquely positioned to provide youth opportunities to study and make sense of civil rights in the US (38:30-41:25)
  • The definition of  intercultural intelligence and why it has more to do with math class than you might think (41:31-48:25)
  • Why a combination of a proactive and responsive curricula is key for older youth (48:26-51:33)
  • Why your ability to connect personally/relationally with your students is the part that really sticks with them (56:35-58:36)
  • The book that Charlie Jenkinson thinks all educators should read (1:00:18-1:00:01:46)

Don’t forget to also tune in to our Teacher Talks companion podcast . . . this week I interview two St. Andrew’s superstars that both teach and fill a variety of other central roles at our school:  Kate Dutro (our lower school librarian) and Rev. Annie Elliott (chaplain).  They help us unpack Charlie’s interview in some profound ways, so don’t miss it.

Also, exciting news! You can now access all Inspire & Innovate: A Podcast for Educators episodes through iTunes.  Just click here. Next week Michael Nachbar from Global Online Academy is up, and he’s got many practical ideas for curriculum and pedagogy both online and face-to-face. See you then!

“Centering Curiosity” with Julie Mountcastle

Get a taste of our conversation with Julie from this brief video snippet!

We’re back on another Tuesday with another podcast drop: this week featuring Julie Mountcastle, simultaneously Head of School and Grade 2 / 3 Teacher at Slate School, a K-12 independent school located in North Haven, Connecticut.  Slate School happens to be near and dear to our hearts, as one of the co-founders, Alexander Clark, is a St. Andrew’s alum. Julie has been a teacher for nearly 20 years and has taught every elementary grade level and worked in both traditional and project-based classrooms.  Passionate about reimagining elementary education, Julie has extended her collaborative and creative energy to every aspect of Slate School, including the development of the curriculum, the school and building design, the integration of the arts into every day, the school’s mission steeped in curiosity-driven education, and sharing that mission with the world . . . even (especially so) during this strange past year. Click here or listen below to access the full podcast.

Highlights of our conversation with Julie include:

  • How Julie’s less-than-inspiring experience in her own K-12 journey, her love for theater, and having children of her own ignited a passion for her to make changes in schools (3:15-5:41; 6:43-8:59)
  • A day in the life of someone who really does seem to do it all . . . and why you should incorporate 7am “infinity fun” into your day . . . (9:30-13:48)
  • How to find “your people” in your school organization and why it’s worth the time to prioritize sharing your teaching craft with work buddies (13:58-16:30)
  • Julie’s number one collaborators . . . (hint- they haven’t yet hit the double digits in age!) and how she engages them in personal passion projects to follow their curiosity  (16:30- 17:30)
  • Slate School’s unique student-led, interdisciplinary, nature-situated philosophy toward education . . .  (18:44-23:54)
  • How passion project sharing can help all  young children “stumble upon”  their interests along the way and how kids that know so much about one thing can find a way to connect to everything else  (25:23-27:40)
  • Why it’s important to communicate our philosophy the parents of the youth we teach (27:43-31:28)
  • A (pretty glorious) day in the life of a second grader at Slate School . . . now and pre-pandemic (31:22- 41:15)
  • How all of us, even those from the most traditionally structured schools,  can scooch our way closer to the direction Julie describes . .  and how simple tweaks can make a day “a day a kid never forgets” (42:35-44:51)
  • Why we should center class activities with questions that inspire our own curiosity as adults (44:55-44:53)
  • How the pandemic has distilled priorities and recentered compassion (46:30-50:18)
  • When adults should intervene in student-centered moments, why sometimes “when things are going sideways we should step back,” and a call to avoid the tendency to “squeeze youth tighter” as they grow more capable. (50:33-54:34)
  • Why assessment is a sticky issue they are still considering as they conceive of their upcoming high school (54:35-56:18)
  • Why Julie’s favorite teacher was actually a student  (57:26-58:13)
  • The one book Julie thinks every teacher should read . . . and why we should never settle and should always pursue what gives us  joy. (58:48-60:37)

Don’t forget to also tune in to our icing-on-the-cake Teacher Talks companion podcast! This week’s features Shea Egger interviewing three incredible educators:  PK3 educator Lea Crongeyer, first grade teacher Mary McCall McArthur, and fifth grade teacher Toby Lowe. (All three have taught/are teaching a kid or two of mine, and I can say from personal experience that you won’t want to miss eavesdropping on their conversation about Julie’s education ideals.)

Until next week, when we launch an interview with Chief Strategy Officer for the World Leading Schools Association, Charlie Jenkinson!