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Professional Development Day

The Steward School
New knowledge leads to inspiration
Steward faculty regularly engage in professional development to keep up with best practices and trends and to exchange ideas. Inspired, they bring their new knowledge back to the classroom. With a focus on neurodiversity and strategies to help all students, a recent professional development workshop brought together all 84 of Steward’s teaching faculty. The day was planned and organized by Middle School Academic Dean and Dean of Students Ann Robbins and Upper School Academic Deans Melissa Freed and Elizabeth Simpson

On February 16, faculty gathered in the Lora M. Robins Theatre to hear keynote speaker Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, the William Clay Parrish Professor Emerita at the UVA School of Education and an expert on differentiated instruction. Dr. Tomlinson shared the importance of a "differentiation state of mind" and how it impacts teaching and learning and ways to extend and reach all learners. The ultimate goal, she noted, is for everyone in a classroom to feel powerful, empowered, and capable.

“Differentiation asks us to use each classroom element — environment, curriculum, assessment, instruction, and leadership of students — in the most positive and productive ways possible to support each learner in maximizing their academic, intellectual, affective, and social capacity,” said Dr. Tomlinson. Differentiated instruction allows teachers to address learner needs and strengths, maximize student capacity, build community, challenge stereotypes, model respect and empathy, and teach at a a high level of professionalism.

Following Ms. Tomlinson’s talk, divisional focus groups met throughout campus. Kindergarten Teacher Amy Hendrick led a Lower School session based on the training she received in the summer of 2023 on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Middle School faculty met with Becky Balog, an occupational therapist from Adapt & Grow, who led a session on executive functioning (a set of cognitive processes and mental skills that help individuals plan, monitor, and successfully execute their goals). Dr. Tomlinson facilitated a breakout session with Upper School faculty and provided strategies for student engagement.

Ms. Robbins said that participants were grateful for the opportunity to learn or review best practices and to hear about new strategies to help all learners. 

“Many teachers left with tools to implement immediately in their classrooms,” she said. “It is so important to offer professional development and bring in experts to help us continue growing and learning. There is a beautiful passion in Steward’s teachers to keep learning, as they never stop modeling that for their students.”

Middle School Mathematics Teacher Corbin Orgain ’96 said, “I feel invigorated by getting back to basics with education. There’s so much brain science and research being developed all the time. Having the opportunity to have experts teach us about how we can best support students feels deeply meaningful and purposeful!”

Upper School English Teacher Janel Nellen noted, “In a school the size of Steward, we have the opportunity to get to know our students well; however, Dr. Tomlinson’s presentation served as an important reminder of the crucial role that this understanding plays in tailoring our instruction and providing assessment options that cater to the individual needs of each student, thereby unlocking their maximum potential.”

Ms. Robbins said that Deans of Student Support Yaa Agyekum, Lower School; Paul Harris, Upper School; and Kadie Parsley, Middle School connected the information shared during Professional Development Day with the work currently happening at school and created a valuable resource: an online toolkit for faculty that includes strategies and resources to support students. 

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