Professional Development at GCS
We are constantly learning more about the universe. It is the nature of academia --from quantum physics to astrophysics and ancient history to modern day politics—that as our understanding of the world changes, what is taught in the classroom must change too.
Inventions, discoveries and breakthroughs in technology and science change what we know at a rapid pace. Is Pluto a planet or not? It depends when you ask. One day we know "truths" about our world (or solar system), and the next day they can be upended by new information.
Regardless of the depth of their original training, teachers can no longer rely on what they learned in the past indefinitely. Even the best universities in the world 30 years ago taught things that we now know to be untrue.
Professional Development, or “PD,” is one of the ways that teachers stay up-to-date in their subject area. Grace Church School has a robust PD program providing ongoing education and training for teachers and staff through a multi-faceted approach that incorporates conferences, workshops, expert speakers, tuition reimbursement, collective reading, and faculty-led programs.
Assistant Head of School and Director of Studies, arvind grover, whose office has coordinated professional development for the past six years, described the central idea behind Grace's commitment in this area, "If we're not actively getting better, we're actively falling behind."
That belief is carried out in a number of ways, including the $3,100 per year for PD allocated to each faculty and staff member after their first year of employment. In the past two academic years, the School has invested nearly $200,000 each year in PD (see chart). Those figures have steadily grown as the High School Division was established, adding faculty and staff each year until 2015.
Mr. grover suggests a wide range of available PD, but offerings often are driven by faculty interest. When teachers have a project or a curriculum idea they want to develop, or support staff want to increase their skills in an area related to their position, they submit a proposal to the assistant head of school. Some PD addresses specific curricular questions, like the latest in math education, and others involve more theoretical skills, like how people actually learn.
Leslie Peña, Spanish, described her experience at the Learning and the Brain Conference: “I learned about how rewards in the classroom can backfire when you offer them to students who were already motivated. I also learned about how to give effective feedback. Turns out giving it at the same time as the grade is a waste of time. I have now created more clear rubrics, which I can discuss with them along the way.”
Some PD opportunities happen regularly. Each year new teaching associates attend Math Camp to find out what is new in math education. The School also regularly hosts in-house workshops on topics ranging from our changing understanding of human sexuality to how to improve achievement for students of diverse cultural backgrounds.
PD certainly helps fill the gaps as research reveals new knowledge, but even more, it focuses on how classrooms are shaped and content is delivered. Schuyler Semlear, science, attended a workshop called Evolving Out. “It was extremely motivational, and it helped me to home in on my creativity and to find ways to make it shine in the classroom while also helping my students do the same.”
In the pursuit of the highest quality PD, faculty travel broadly, both internationally and across the U.S. They take time out of their lives and spend days away from their families because they are committed to improving their teaching practices. The school makes it possible through funding and covering classes for teachers. The heart of the PD program at Grace is to directly improve the experience of students, which is why PD is offered all employees, including those not in a classroom. The goal is for the entire institution to continually grow and, at the end of the day, if everyone is doing their job better, we will better serve the students.
PD has also been central to the school’s equity and inclusion work. Through PD, teachers, administrators and even the Board of Trustees have explored one question – how do we reach all students? In an effort to create an equitable school, new policies and practices have been put into place, including that all faculty and staff members attend a three-day workshop called Undoing Racism within their first three years of employment. The Board has also welcomed experts to their annual meetings to think about how the governance structure of the school can shift to encourage a more inclusive school.
Individual faculty and staff members also do PD in this area. Jean-Robert Andre, science, said, “The Interschool Leadership Institute for educators of color inspired me to take more of a leadership role in organizing student diversity initiatives. Since then, my colleagues and I have started both a Gay Straight Alliance and a forum to discuss race and identity in the middle school. Both of these serve to broaden conversations, support, and educate, all members of the GCS middle school.”
When Mr. grover took on the role of overseeing PD, Mr. Davison said, "You're the only person who is allowed to break the budget." His position was then, as it is now, that if people want to improve, the school must support it. Mr. grover then made it a priority to encourage and coach people to do more PD.
“Before Mr. grover, the position didn't exist. PD was done ad hoc. Individual commitment to PD has always existed, but we didn't budget the full amount because people didn't always know how to take advantage of it. We wanted him to help us spend the money,” Mr. Davison said of Mr. Grover’s work. “Mr. Grover brought a thoughtful and considerate approach that ultimately led to more people doing PD.
According to Mr. Davison, “The only consistent marker that exists for measuring school quality is commitment to professional development. We invest so much in it because we know that to be absolutely true.”
New Assistant Head of School
As arvind grover transitions to his new role as Head of School at Meadowbrook School in Westin, MA, Robbie Pennoyer has been named Assistant Head of School and Director of Studies and will oversee the PD program along with many other duties, including responsibility for JK-12 curriculum.
Most recently, Mr. Pennoyer was the Upper School Admissions Officer at Riverdale Country School. Prior to that was an upper school teacher at the St. Bernard’s School teaching courses in English, algebra and history. He was also a secondary school advisor.
Mr. Pennoyer said of the appointment:
“I am honored and delighted to be joining Grace Church School. Filling Mr. Grover’s shoes will be a tough task, but one made easier by the fact that he did his job so well, inventing from scratch the contours of a position that I'll now get to fill. It will be a joy to do so. My conversations with folks from GCS have affirmed my sense that that this is a gem of a school, a community that will be a privilege to serve and to join. My wife, Polly, and my daughter, Victoria, share in my excitement; we look forward to meeting you all soon.”
Mr. Pennoyer is a life-long Yankees fan, an opera buff and a Broadway enthusiast. He received an A.B. from Harvard University and a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School as well as a Diploma in Anglican studies and a certificate from the Institute of Sacred Music during his tenure there. He is an Episcopal priest and on the clergy staff at the Church of the Heavenly Rest.
Summer Faculty Reading
- 2012– “Be Excellent at Anything” by Tony Schwartz
- 2013– “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan & Al Switzler
- 2014– “It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” by Danah Boyd
- 2015– “How we Learn” by Benedict Carey
- 2016– “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude M. Steele
- 2017 – “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley
Recent Experts at Grace
Joshua Aronson - “Stereotype Threat & Achievement”
Al Pittampali - “How to Use Meetings to Achieve Your Most Important Goals”
Debby Irving - “Waking Up White”
Sam Killermann - “Gender Identity”
Cathryn Berger Kaye - “Service Learning”
Barb Ackerman - Training for Advisors
Elizabeth Englander - “Bullying & Cyber Bullying”
Boyum Executive Coaching
Jennifer Bryan - “Gender & Sexuality Diversity”