Waterford School has long been committed to providing a comprehensive and rigorous education that centers on the liberal arts. This priority is not limited to a single department or program, but is rather a characteristic core to Waterford’s identity as an institution and one that permeates throughout the entire school community—it is a collective effort that involves faculty, staff, administrators, and students alike. Last year, Waterford took steps to further enhance its commitment and fidelity to the liberal arts by creating two new positions: Lower School Director of Curriculum and Instruction and the Liberal Arts Teaching Chair in Middle and Upper School. These positions were established to help ensure that Waterford’s pursuit of excellence within the liberal arts remains at the forefront of what we do every day and continues to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in an ever-changing world. We recently had the opportunity to learn more about how these new positions have impacted learning at Waterford over the past year from Paula Getz and Nancy Woller, the beloved and masterful educators who stepped into these roles last year. With their help, we were able to explore the influence of these liberal-arts-focused positions and how they align with Waterford’s dedication to the fidelity of the liberal arts.
Waterford’s Lower School Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Paula Getz, shared her insights on how she collaborates and partners with Lower School faculty to cultivate teaching excellence at Waterford. This year, Getz conducted an orientation for new teaching faculty and worked to familiarize them with the ideals of a liberal arts education and how they might be embraced within the Lower School, including strategies for teaching foundational facts, concepts, and skills, while also integrating the development of higher-order thinking skills into student experiences. Getz also attended weekly meetings with grade-level teams, listened for common themes across grade levels, and determined future Lower School-wide areas of focus. For example, she found that some students have difficulty recalling math facts. This discovery has led to a deeper dive into effective teaching and thinking strategies to help students develop lasting fact fluency.
This year, embracing her new role as an instructional support colleague, Getz curated professional development opportunities for teachers that promote effective instruction methods and tactics for enriching classroom experiences for students. Some examples of the professional development opportunities taken by Lower School teachers this year include integrating their writing assignments with a highly effective resource program for teaching writing called “Step-Up to Writing”, a program that establishes a consistent framework for writing instruction across multiple grade levels. Other examples include online author workshops, a Stanford University online course called “21st Century Teaching & Learning: Data Science”, and an online workshop on stress, technology, and learning.
Another function of Getz’s new role as Lower School Director of Curriculum and Instruction is to serve as an instructional coach to teachers, observing teachers in action and then helping them develop goals based on their instructional practices. Part of the coaching cycle requires teachers to set student-focused goals, and Getz suggests strategies to help students achieve them.
As Director of Curriculum and Instruction in the Lower School, Paula Getz now plays a crucial role in cultivating teaching excellence. With her support over the past year, the Lower School faculty have continuously discovered opportunities to further improve and enrich the learning experiences of their students.
Waterford School’s Liberal Arts Teaching Chair, Nancy Woller, spoke to how the school’s faculty is working towards achieving its strategic mission of teaching excellence by focusing on how to teach the curriculum. Woller reflected on her favorite teachers from her middle and high school days and highlighted that the most impactful teachers were the ones who connected with her on a deep level and saw her as an individual. She emphasized that teaching excellence requires more than just content knowledge; it requires a teacher to understand the importance of creating an atmosphere that allows students to reflect and grow, and for the teacher to possess the crucial ability of developing meaningful relationships with their students.
Woller outlined three ways she, as the Liberal Arts Teaching Chair, is working towards helping the school create such an atmosphere. Her first focus is on creating a professional community of educators who interact with each other, providing feedback, and seeking inspiration. Throughout the school year, Woller implemented faculty visiting days, where teachers could visit each other’s classrooms and collaborate to create an environment where everyone is seen and valued. Faculty have enthusiastically embraced this and have asked that these visiting days occur within every term.
Additionally, this year Woller also prioritized providing opportunities for teachers to grow, develop, and flourish here at Waterford. She assembled a team of seasoned Waterford teachers to serve as instructional coaches, who worked individually with teachers from all departments across campus and a wide range of experience levels to improve student impact through a reflective process. The peer-to-peer coaching program has been successful and has helped strengthen trust among colleagues, therefore increasing the sense of community and belonging for teaching faculty.
Woller emphasized that the work of creating teaching excellence is ongoing and requires constant reflection and improvement. She noted that “Waterford’s strategic mission aims to provide a world-class liberal arts education, and my role is to examine how best and most impactfully to deliver on this promise by creating a community of educators who prioritize relationship-building and reflection”.
It is thanks to the many extraordinary educators at Waterford School like Paula Getz and Nancy Woller, that makes it possible for Waterford to achieve its mission of providing students with a world-class liberal arts education.
September 11, 2020
February 14, 2023
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