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'Summer School' for Teachers

What happens when a teacher becomes a student again? Stepping into that seat and participating in professional development programs benefits everyone – both the teacher and the students who walk into the classroom every day. 

This past summer, Kristin Ahler, first grade teacher, and Laura Peters, academic learning specialist for fourth and fifth grades, both enrolled in the Columbia University Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project, led by Lucy Calkins and Marjorie Siegel. They were among 100 teachers from across the globe who entered the week-long selective program. 

While most conferences or seminars need only a registration and payment, Teacher’s College required a formal application from each teacher; teachers were later notified if they were accepted or not. 

The summer 2022 project was Ms. Ahler’s second course with the program. In 2021, she completed the reading project and this summer she enrolled in the writing portion. Even as a prior participant, she was required to re-apply and gain acceptance again. 

“It’s a pretty intense program,” Ms. Ahler said. “I felt like I was in college again!” 

The full-day online instruction included large group sessions as well as small group breakouts. Ms. Ahler connected with teachers from different states and has kept in touch with many of them. 

“The most challenging yet rewarding part of my job is teaching young children to read and write,” Ms. Ahler said. “I am passionate about it, and we owe it to our students to stay current. Everything we learn goes right back to the students in our classrooms.” 

Ms. Peters enjoyed gaining information on the latest research and best practices through the Teacher’s College program that she will implement with her students, such as workshop methods. 

“I feel that teaching is a craft and I’m always looking for ways to improve my craft,” Ms. Peters said. “I came away with many new ideas as well as afffirmations.” 

Jessie Hudson, Lower School librarian, took her professional development abroad by serving as a visiting librarian for a month at The American Library in Paris. Under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower with a view of the Seine River, Ms. Hudson worked in the Children’s & Teen Services department, which houses 20,000 books. 

The library opened in 1920 to serve armed forces personnel in World War I. It is now the largest English language lending library in Europe and caters to Americans living and working in Paris, either on temporary or long-term assignments. 

Ms. Hudson worked with the staff and other visiting librarians to host children’s events, including visiting young audiences author Samira Ahmed. She gained knowledge of authors popular in Europe as well as ideas for collection development and organization that she plans to implement in the Lower School library. She has already launched a new volunteer program staffed by both parents and fourth- and fifth-grade students. 

“This was the best professional development experience I ever had,” Ms. Hudson said. “I learned so much from my peers and from experiencing others’ styles.” 

“Professional development is critical to ensure teachers have the opportunity to learn and grow,” Nicole St. Amand, head of Lower School, said. “They are able to continue their own educational journey with a growth mindset.” 

—   Christina Mimms