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Stevenson’s Summer Faculty Symposium Celebrates Its Fifth Year

This August, weeks before students returned to campus, 28 faculty members attended the School’s fifth annual Summer Faculty Symposium. The Symposium affords participants the opportunity to take a week-long deep dive into the critically reflective skills essential to authentic learner-centered teaching, build and practice true collegiality, and refine their pedagogy in keeping with the School’s core values.

Since its inception in August 2016, more than 100 teachers have taken part, and more than 75% of those who have participated remain at Stevenson. Because so many veterans have already participated voluntarily, the program is now largely for the benefit of teachers new to Stevenson, for whom it is a required part of their onboarding.

Stevenson's president Dr. Kevin Hicks '85 designed the syllabus more than a decade ago in light of research regarding adult learning and leading-edge culturally-aware instructional practices. The Symposium's central premise is that authentic collegial relationships—across departments and divisions—can only be built through a shared vocabulary and conceptual framework, practice, and trust. The program provides a welcome opportunity for teachers to get to know one another better by sharing their wisdom and experiences, talking about both “big ideas” and specific techniques, and discussing materials like Stephen Brookfield’s book The Skillful Teacher: Building Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. 

Daily activities vary from plenary discussions to exercises conducted in pairs and small groups. Early in the week, teachers rotate from partner to partner for five to ten minutes at a time as they work their way through a list of more than sixty “conversation starters” that include: 

  • “What role do imagination and creativity play in your classroom?” 
  • “Where do you see the greatest opportunity for you to grow as a teacher this year?
  • “How do teachers signal their credibility to their students?”
  • What do you know how to do as a teacher now that you didn’t know how to do as well five years ago?”
  • “What measurable goals do you set for yourself as an instructor around equity and inclusion?
  • “What kind of work are you most likely to lose yourself in?”
  • “How are you most likely to resist or avoid things you don’t like to do?”

The week culminates in teachers volunteering to teach 45-minute lessons to one another while being filmed. All participants then watch the recording of the lesson before the teacher who taught it reflects on what they observed in their work. The teacher then answers questions from colleagues that are framed to provide a mirror for the teacher’s practice. Learning how to ask one's colleague's questions rooted in non-judgmental observation and to respond with a fierce commitment to curiosity and vulnerability are key takeaways for all participants. 

Lower Division Spanish teacher Mary Kate Colao appreciated the opportunity to meet teachers from the upper division, and to help build a truly integrated PK-12 teaching community. Lower Division teacher Katie Schipper welcomed having dedicated time to learn from her peers—especially those with whom she rarely crosses paths. Molly Bozzo, the head of the lower and middle divisions, and Dr. Dan Griffiths, the head of the upper division, help Dr. Hicks facilitate the Symposium. Both of them appreciate its impact on the School's culture and practice of teaching and learning. “The teachers cherish the intellectual discourse and collaboration with colleagues,” Molly explains, "and wish they could begin every year with a similar dive into the craft of teaching students how to learn." Dan adds, “Symposium is a great way to introduce new faculty to Stevenson’s culture and philosophy, and to demonstrate that its leaders are committed to continually examining and improving how we serve our students. At the same time, we repeatedly stress that this isn’t a one-way orientation to ‘the Stevenson way,’ but rather an exploration of how we can all learn from each other.”