How Do Park Teachers Talk to Each Other About Our Kids?

in Winter 2019 by

There’s a steady flow of communication between Park teachers and families: regular email recaps, parent-teacher conferences, grade photo albums, invitations to the classroom, updates, reminders, and so on. It’s a dense sharing of information that builds the healthy home-school connection so important to successful student learning.

But away from the expectant gaze of the parent, how is it that Park teachers talk to each other about our kids? Are they seeking advice and bouncing ideas off one another? Are they sharing their frustration about challenging situations? Are they bursting with pride to tell about student achievements?

Built into the weekly schedule are formal opportunities for teachers to talk to each other about their students. In the Lower Division that looks like grade level team meetings, literacy and numeracy meetings, and teacher-specialist conferences. For Lower Division teachers in their first two years at Park, ongoing meetings with Division Head Kimberly Formisano give them a space to discuss student learning profiles and address curriculum questions inside their own professional learning curve.

In the Upper Division, as the number of teachers working with individual students increases, scheduled conversations take place at grade-level advisory team meetings, channeling information received from subject area teachers. The teams recently spent two and a half hours checking in about every single student in Grades 6–8. “I wish parents could have heard the incredible depth with which teachers talked about their students,” shares Caroline Beasley, Upper Division Head.

When Park’s Academic Support faculty are involved in a student’s learning plan, collaboration is essential. “The relationship between academic support and classroom teachers is a partnership, and communicating with each other is super important,” explains Debbie Henry, Academic Support Department Head. “We’re in frequent contact about the students we share and how best to meet their needs.”

While formal opportunities for talk are part of the timetable, Park teachers are more frequently engaging in ad hoc conversations, be it a passing chat in the hallway, a knock on the office door, or a late night email. Paul Newmark, Grade 3 teacher, particularly values the more impromptu moments of collaboration that Park affords him. Paul says, “Seeking strategies, advice, or another perspective from members of my team or from teachers who have taught my students in the past — these conversations encourage and empower me to try new things in the classroom, which ultimately benefits the students.”

Grade 2 teacher Liz Miller agrees: “I enjoy taking time to talk about my students and find it to be very rewarding and helpful to talk to colleagues and share thoughts and strategies. I would love to see more time dedicated to collaborative conversations.”

It might be natural to think that teachers reach out to each other only when there’s an issue to be addressed, but that’s not the case. “Conversations are not always around negative behaviors or concerns,” notes Heather Offen, science teacher and Growth Education Department Head. “Teachers contact advisors if something great happens, too.”

Park teachers make the effort to collaborate with their colleagues because they understand the inherent value of building a supportive network around their classroom. “With the support of a team, I feel like I can be the best teacher for all of my students,” says Madeline Welty, Grade 1 teacher. “While it sometimes means more work, collaborating to share best practices and ideas about differentiation means that each student is having their needs met.”

“I hope that engaging in these conversations with teachers who have more experience with a child than I do, or who have some kind of insight about that child, helps me better converse and better meet their needs,” adds Heather.

Cultivating teacher-teacher collaboration also aligns with The Park School’s broader ideals of academic excellence, celebration of self, and community interdependence. “Park teachers take seriously the role of advocate, mentor, teacher, and advisor. We see our purpose as getting kids what they need to thrive, and we’re keenly aware that we are far more effective as a team than as individuals,” says Caroline. “Park believes in teaching and nurturing the whole child, which requires a 360-degree team approach to supporting a student.”

“Teachers are committed to knowing their students and to supporting and challenging them as individuals,” adds Debbie. “It’s terrific to be part of teacher conversations aimed at bringing out the best in a student.”

Kimberly Formisano frames it this way: “Park knows its students. And we want our students to know that we know them. We facilitate lots of conversation around that.”

Many thanks to Caroline Beasley, Kimberly Formisano, Heather Offen, Paul Newmark, Madeline Welty, Liz Miller, and Debbie Henry for their contributions to this piece.