Browse Issues

There are no issues to display

Browse Categories

When it Comes to Professional Development, USM Teachers Think Big

When it Comes to Professional Development, USM Teachers Think Big

Teachers at USM are constantly challenging themselves to grow and improve their teaching craft. Thanks to the Think Big Fund, established by Julia ’68 and David Uihlein, they are able to pursue a wide variety of challenging, invigorating, and transformational professional development opportunities. Learn about a handful of the Think Big grants awarded to teachers during the 2023–24 school year, all of which directly impact student learning.

What Rwanda Can Teach Us

A USM teacher smiles while working one-on-one with a student in Rwanda.

This past July, Upper School and Middle School teachers Kate Gay, Haiyun Lu, Hannah Reimer, Joseph Westerfield, and Kat Zilka traveled to Rwanda, where they participated in a variety of tours and activities to gain a deeper understanding of the Rwandan genocide and subsequent rebuilding. The goal was to sharpen their focus on global citizenship to further promote cultural competency and global cooperation amongst students in 5th through 10th grades.

Based on their experience, the team is collaborating to enhance service partnerships and existing aspects of English, history and geography, and world language classes to build students’ global awareness, their knowledge of the roles of government and citizens, and their understanding of why people choose to move across borders. This cross-section of age groups and disciplines enhances the possibility for authentic, relevant, developmentally appropriate program development.

“What’s great about experiences like this is that there’s always something to be learned, but you don’t know how you will be changed by the experience,” said Kate Gay, Upper School English teacher (pictured below). “Now, we’re digging into how we can bring this experience to our students.”

Tools to Help Emotional Regulation

Preschool and Lower School students and administrators pose for a photo during a conference.

Lower School teachers and administrators (pictured below, from left) Mike Engroff, Kelley Sovol, Jennifer Keppler, Patricia Ptak, Gina Bongiorno, Erica Melick, Michael Tauscher, and Lisl Gapinski ’92 received a Think Big grant to attend the Elevate Conscious Discipline conference held in Orlando, Florida. There, they explored ways to integrate social-emotional learning, discipline, and self-regulation best practices into the classroom.

As a result of the experience, Sovol and others have made changes in their classrooms to better serve children, including designating a space in classrooms where students can reset, and adding small tools and activities that can help children feel grounded and soothed, giving them access to the thinking parts of the brain.

Sovol has also implemented a brain smart start activity in her classroom at the start of each school day, in which she dedicates three to five minutes for students to participate in a rhythmic, playful game. The games create a sense of belonging and community in the classroom, and prepare students to start the day in a positive, connected way.

New and Improved Recess

Lower School students play games on the playground during recess.

When 3rd grade teacher Mary Liz Rogers noticed an opportunity to improve recess, she applied for a Think Big grant to collaborate with Playworks, a nonprofit organization that uses the power of play to bring out the best in every child. Thanks to the funding, Courtney Gonnering, a regional partnership manager from Playworks, visited Lower School students and teachers for a week in September to help them reimagine recess.

Gonnering helped teachers and students re-define the Lower School playground into different zones of dedicated games, including tag, four-square, hula-hoops, and basketball, among others. Students can choose whichever game they want to play, and move freely throughout as they want. They learn to settle disputes among themselves using the “Rochambeau” method, otherwise known as rock, paper, scissors, to keep the game moving quickly and maintain a collaborative atmosphere. These social and emotional skills, which are taught in classrooms, are now being intentionally practiced during recess.

“With this new format, the playground is a natural extension of our classrooms, with the added benefit of play,” said Rogers. “The response from students and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Other professional development opportunities made possible by the Think Big grant that have occurred this school year include funding for six faculty and staff members to attend the 2023 NAIS People of Color Conference; a year-long partnership with USM’s Preschool teachers and Dr. Rick Clark, child clinical psychologist; and funding for a variety of visiting speakers, including Sheri Glucoft Wong, Jessica Minahan, and Rosalind Wiseman.

  • On Campus