This past weekend was the 150th year anniversary of the university I attended, Trinity University. They had big alumni events including a block party Saturday night where they closed down the street next to Trinity and they opened the homes of VPs and campus officials to alumni decades for toasts and celebrating. On Friday, they had a K-12 Education event to celebrate the Masters in Teaching (MAT) program that enabled us all to connect after years apart. It was such a fun day catching up with old friends and getting a glimpse into the past, present, and future of Trinity. So I wanted to share some reflections from the day.
We started with breakfast and a welcoming speech by Angela Breidenstein, my professor for the MAT program in the Great Hall of Chapman (such a beautiful space!) After, we headed out to various campuses around the city that have partnerships with Trinity’s MAT program. I went to the high school within my district, LEE High School and ISA, and although I actually used to teach at ISA, I wanted to see it from a different perspective and learn new insights as to what is happening on their campus that I can bring back to others I work with. We started by hearing from the principals at the school and then went on a campus tour guided by students. It was so awesome to listen to the genuine positivity and admiration the students have for their school and their teachers. Everywhere we went around the campus, they would describe the community feel and how much they loved every class we walked by. When I taught there I always felt the same welcoming, inclusive feel of the campus, but it was reaffirming hearing it as an outsider and I was excited to know more of why and how the teachers believe this feeling exists. So, after the tour we got to sit down with teachers and admin of the school to have an open roundtable discussion using the protocol, Open Space Technology, led by another professor, Ileana Liberatore. In talking with teachers about best practices, I heard three major facets of education that the school makes important resulting in that positive environment: relationships, interpersonal skills, and teacher teams.
- Relationships: At the beginning of the year, teachers give learning inventories to their students to find out learning styles and learning preferences. Some teachers hang these in their rooms as a reminder and a check in for how specific classes learn and interact. One participant in the conversation commented that some of the inventory is typically done by counselors at other schools, but the teachers explained that they felt this is the unique structure of their school to help teachers get to know their students and their needs. (If this is something you’re interested in doing, I believe it’s never too late to do an inventory like this…let me know and I can find out the specifics of what questions they use to gather this information.) The teachers also discussed how they often use brain breaks during their classes not only as a refocusing strategy, but also for peer to peer interaction and teacher to student interaction. They listed specifics such as GoNoodle, beachball play, Trading Places, Mingle Mingle Group, and Walkabouts that I’m interested in reading more about. One teacher explained that when they are rushed for time, they found themselves cutting these brain breaks, but it only resulted in less learning because students needed these for energy and focus, especially in longer classes. The teacher said that rushed feeling is a “problem of our planning, not the student’s doing” and therefore cutting these out was unfair to the students and something they strive not to do.
- Interpersonal Skills: The first part of this discussion focused on the importance and the way in which they help students have difficult conversations in class such as discussing politics, global issues, and current events, while maintaining respect and understanding for each other. To foster this safe space for communication, the teachers explained that they always have their classes come up with ground rules together. It is less directive and more collaborative so that the students feel a part of the process from day one. Another way they foster interpersonal skills is ensuring teachers have smooth transitions in their class from independent work, to group work, to gallery walk type of reflection. The teachers help students understand the role of each type of work and why they need to have the skills to work by themselves and with others.
- Interdisciplinary Teams: When I taught at this school, I found it so exciting to plan with an interdisciplinary team of teachers to create authentic connections for students. Teaming helps teachers work collaboratively, and it also allows teachers to know their students in a wholistic sense. It was cool to hear the teachers talk about the work they do in interdisciplinary teams since I had been there, and what they were doing to continue traditions and expand upon them. In my first couple years, the English and World History teachers decided to combine their classes into a longer block section of WorldEng, and after seeing the success, now today that is the structure of Freshmen, Sophomore, and Junior classes. One of the teachers explained how cool it is “to teach and learn English through the lens of Geography, and vice versa.” They also are continuing in and out of state field trips in which every content is represented, as well as daily projects and assignments incorporating multiple disciplines at once (several are posted on my blog and I loved hearing about new ones). The teachers said students often comment how they see the connections between the subjects because of the work they are doing in every class.
It was awesome to be able to take away these three key aspects of their school that teachers (and students) find so important.
When we went back, we had lunch (which was delicious-Trinity always has the best catered food) and two major speakers to share exciting news.
- The mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg, gave an inspiring and engaging speech about the progress of our city ranging from educational programs, energy, and transportation. One key educational program he spoke about was Alamo Promise, a city program which “ensures that tuition and fees at the Alamo Colleges are covered for students who graduate from participating high schools.” This is an amazing step to make higher education more accessible to all and it was exciting to hear that two of our district schools are in phase one of implementation next year.
- We then had one last speech where they announced that the Trinity MAT program was also going to be much more financially accessible to those wanting to pursue the teaching program by lowering the cost from $54,000 to $15,000. The MAT is a full year program that allows future teachers to be in the classroom observing, co-teaching, and lead teaching while receiving a Masters at completion. The pedagogy and hands on experience I gained through this program is unlike any other, and I am thankful for scholarships I received to allow me to pursue this. I cannot recommend this program enough, and now it will be more attainable for others to attend and benefit from the incredible program. If anyone reading this is interested, I would be happy to tell you more…just reach out!
In closure, our day ended with a tour of the campus and it was so fun to see the many things that had changed and improved around Trinity, but reassuring to see what had stayed the same and still felt like home. (And, I had to take a dip in the fountain as a tradition on my birthday). Thanks to Trinity and the Education department for hosting us and celebrating education this weekend!