Speyer Teachers as Students: What Our Fearless Faculty Have Been Learning!

Members of our faculty sharing what they learned over the summer with the rest of Speyer’s academic teams.

Members of our faculty sharing what they learned over the summer with the rest of Speyer’s academic teams.

“What makes a great Speyer teacher?” It is a question often asked, and we recently posed it to one of first grade teachers, Samantha Gabrielli. Among other insights, she noted, “The Speyer teacher makes sure everyone gets what they need, academically and socially, in order to reach their potential. They let great ideas flourish and are constantly reflecting and refining, while teaching students to do the same…when you see how accelerated students thrive in an environment that balances freedom and guidance, you see the purpose in being fearless.”

But how do our teachers know how to do this? By being students themselves. Our teachers are just as curious and passionate as the children in their classroom. Over the summer, our faculty used their time away from Speyer learning — exploring new skills, examining classroom practices, and talking with experts, many specifically in the field of gifted education. Each of them brought what they learned back to Speyer, sharing with their fellow faculty members what they discovered. Wondering what they learned (and, in one instance, what they will be learning)? Read on for more details! 

Rod Alonzo (First Grade Teacher)
Mr. Alonzo attended a four-day seminar at Teachers College entitled Developing Curriculum in a Gifted Classroom. Professor James Borland led the class, charting the history of gifted education and highlighted points of agreement and divergence when it comes to the design and implementation of various curricular models. In particular, Mr. Alonzo noted the theorists — Dr. Joseph Renzulli and Dr. Joyce Van Tassel-Baska — stood out as two scholars whose works would do well to inform daily practice at Speyer.

Cory Chung (Middle School Math Teacher)
This summer, Mr. Chung attended Mapping an Understanding Based Curriculum for 21st Century Learning with Jay McTighe to explore strategies for explicitly documenting and embedding opportunities to develop and assess 21st century learning skills like collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking across Middle School mathematics. He also attended two math pedagogy workshops — Keys to Mathematical Success and MathCamp — to learn different strategies and models to aid students in tackling problems in multiple ways and in thinking critically about their methods and the relative benefits of each. These experiences will help Mr. Chung to continue developing a rigorous mathematics curriculum at Speyer that provides intellectual stimulation and preparation for life after Middle School.

Paul Deards (Eighth Grade Humanities Teacher/Deputy Head of School)
Mr. Deards spent two weeks learning how to teach the Holocaust under the auspices of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. This began with a residential week at Columbia University investigating topics including the role of democracy in the rise of the Nazis, law, and medicine under the Third Reich, collaboration, rescue, and how to use artifacts to educate. The group ended the week with a day-long visit to the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage led by the curator who designed this important event. An overwhelming question was: how was this possible and how do we begin to explain it. There was no question about the importance of the topic.

This was followed by the European leg of the course. Mr. Deards and his fellow educators flew into Munich and saw where the Putsch was thwarted (see “role of democracy” above) and Nuremberg, learning the symbolic importance of the city (it was where Holy Roman Emperors were crowned) and visiting the rally site and the courthouse. They then drove to Prague and spent a moving day at Theresienstadt, the “model” concentration camp, and also saw the empty synagogues, once home to a vibrant population.

The final leg was a visit to Vienna where the group visited the Simon Wiesenthal museum and saw his collection of files. On the way to Vienna, Mr. Deards met an extraordinary Austrian educator at the Mauthausen concentration camp. He was determined to confront history and was very determined to show and speak about the role of bystanders and collaborators. Mr. Deards asked him what he would want a group of 13-14 year olds to glean from a visit (note: all Austrian school children study the Holocaust). He thought, sadly, and then said: “Agency. Agency and Responsibility.”

Samantha Gabrielli (First Grade Teacher)
This summer, Ms. Gabreilli explored bibliotherapy, which provided further insights and tools on meeting students' developmental needs through the use of children's literature. The technique is further enhanced by the teacher's creation of a "holding environment" in which children feel safe and secure, while being encouraged to express and explore their thoughts and feelings. 

Elyse Goldstein (Middle School Learning Specialist)
Ms. Goldstein was accepted to the Johns Hopkins University Gifted and Talented Education Certificate Program to continue to pursue her passion for learning, thinking, and creating! Our mission here at Speyer is to nurture and inspire the intellectual curiosity within our students, and as their teacher and learning specialist, it is each student that is a source of inspiration for Ms. Goldstein. The program includes discussion forums, intensive projects, and readings that evaluate how language, culture, economic status, family backgrounds, sex and gender along with domains of learning influence the gifted and talented learner. Additionally, the program recognizes the cognitive and affective characteristics of the gifted and we explore and develop strategies and/or services to address their individual needs. Finally, the program makes connections with cutting edge brain research and how that research can be optimized by educators within their individual learning and teaching experiences. Ms. Goldstein looks forward to gaining additional perspective on the gifted learner and sharing the information with her colleagues to further enhance the students that they are all dedicated to serving.

Ellyn Noll (Second Grade Teacher)
Over the summer, Ms. Noll attended a variety of professional development workshops at Bankstreet College of Education. The workshops covered different areas including comprehension in literacy, games and discourse in math, and mindfulness in the classroom. These workshops provided her the opportunity to speak with other professionals and learn from their craft. Ms.Noll is excited to implement her newly learned skills in the classroom and share her experiences with her Speyer colleagues.

Jake Tiner (Third Grade Teacher)
This summer, Mr. Tiner took part in the opening retreat of the NYSAIS Justice, Equity, and Diversity Institute, a year-long professional development program that  aims to equip its participants to advance the work of justice, equity and diversity in schools. He is looking forward to engaging in this important work, and sharing what he learns with the larger Speyer community. 

Maria Jose Penaherrara (Middle School Spanish Teacher) and Elyse Goldstein (Middle School Learning Specialist)
During a workshop at Columbia University on Gifted and Talented Education, Ms. Penaherrara and Ms. Goldstein explored the broad range of knowledge, performance levels, and abilities that gifted students demonstrate. The workshop allowed them to explore cognitive and affective characteristics of the gifted learner and current strategies. As a group, they thoughtfully built on those strategies, and as a result, those experiences generated ideas for them to individualize and create tools to support and advance the learners that they see in their own learning communities.  The workshop compared and contrasted theories of intelligence that have shaped the field and revisited the multiple measures for the identification of diverse gifted, talented and creative learners. During the workshop, there was an emphasis placed on gifted learning characteristics that inform educators as they plan and create strategies to support learners such as the students at Speyer and how to meet them where they are both individually and as a collaborative group.  

In addition, Ms. Penaherrara and Ms. Goldstein and the fellow workshops attendees explored underrepresented and/or at-risk populations of gifted learners. Many of the workshop participants had significant leadership roles in gifted education throughout the country. It was quite interesting and inspiring to hear their perspectives and initiatives within their communities. They were invited to participate in a broad array of experiences that included games, the multi-faceted uses of children’s literature at all levels, and group activities that simulated experiences they could incorporate into their own classes.  

Irene Alam (Kindergarten Teacher), Nellie Dwyer (Kindergarten Teacher), Samantha Gabrielli (First Grade), Rahmel Huffman (Athletics Director), and Susan Rothenbucher (Kindergarten Teacher)
At the Responsive Classroom Elementary Core Course workshop, our attending faculty members explored research-based methods in building positive community, implementing effective management strategies, considering developmentally appropriate teaching and utilizing creativity to foster engaging academics. The responsive classroom workshop has reinvigorated our commitment to holistically meet the needs of gifted children and ensure that each child is seen for who they are academically, emotionally and as an integral member of our community.