Teachers Are Learners Too!

In the last GMLS newsletter, Mrs. King discussed students’ learning. In today’s edition, Mrs. Manor shares the learning initiatives underway for teachers.

By Candace Manor

Academic excellence, social responsibility, and active Jewish living may seem like the only mission at SDJA but it turns out that there is a tacit understanding among the faculty that we have our own mission: learn, refine, reflect. As our children and teachers busily worked on building classroom communities in the first few weeks of school, GMLS staff began working in four professional learning communities (or PLCs), tasked with addressing this second, co-equal mission. PLCs are a progressive model of collaborative professional development in which teachers benefit from our collective craft knowledge. The end product of such collaboration is increased student achievement.


One of our PLCs is led by Danielle Heyde and will have us examining our Language Arts curriculum. In writing, we will focus on creating authentic writing experiences and teaching what writing looks like in the real world. Together, we will hone in on how assessments can be used to meet the needs of every student when we conduct small group and one-on-one writing conferences. We foresee this work taking our writing instruction to the next level and will positively impact student learning by giving them the tools to effectively share their voice and inspire change. 


Lauren Dolinka will be facilitating a PLC that will explore possibilities for differentiation and personalization in the math classroom. We will choose strategies to implement in our classrooms and critically discuss the results with one another. Built into our work will be observations of these math strategies in practice, with an eye toward their impact on student learning.


Relatedly, Shelly Moses will be guiding teachers in analyzing student engagement and learning through observation of each other’s practice via the use of video clips of students working both individually and collaboratively. Teachers examining these videos of students are able to notice which academic, social, and collaborative skills students are actually using. Knowing this enables teachers to better plan future lessons to meet student needs and promote better usage of skills in all of these areas. Analyzing these videos with students themselves allows them to critically evaluate the relative successes and failures of various behaviors. Followed by instruction, practice, and re-evaluation, students can take charge of their learning and note their progress and growth. Through this approach, we can look at the “whole child,” well beyond the insights a paper-and-pencil assessment can provide.


I am facilitating an investigation into project-based learning, or PBL. PBL is an exciting approach that asks children to partake in long-term inquiry studies centered around challenging, real-world questions. As agents of their own learning, children conduct research, often meeting with experts in the field, and select a method for sharing their learning with an authentic audience. As just one example, Kindergarteners this year will learn about homelessness and hunger in our community, and will use that learning to design solutions that they can share with San Diegans facing food inequity. There are many facets of PBL that make it an effective, meaningful pedagogy, such as children’s ownership of the project; the opportunity to create empathy for and connection to others; and the endless ways in which we can tie together learning from other disciplines, such as social studies, reading, writing, math, art, Judaic Studies, and science. After learning the why and how of PBL, GMLS teachers will work together in our teams to plan and implement investigations in our grades.


You might think that GMLS teachers would be comfortable resting on our laurels after earning the prestigious Blue Ribbon designation from the Department of Education. At GMLS, we spend long hours learning together not for a prize but because we believe our students deserve the very best education. In order to continue to live up to this belief, we won’t settle into comfortable complacency.  Instead, we strive to constantly learn, refine, and reflect on our practices so that every child can learn to their highest potential.


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