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On the CAPS Conference and the Importance of Professional Development

Friday, April 19, 2019

Happy Easter and Passover!

Last Friday, we hosted the biannual CAPS (Capital Area Progressive Schools) conference. This was the second time in the past decade we’ve hosted the conference for our regional peer capital area progressive schools. Over 300 educators converged on our campus to participate in nearly 45 workshops, roundtable and panel discussions! This year’s theme was Responsive Practices: Diversity, Equity and Differentiation, and topics ranged from Multicultural Mathematics: Making Sure All Aspects of Culture Count (Lee Bissett, Burgundy math teacher and specialist), Discussions on the Role of Homework in the Middle School (roundtable facilitated by our own MS Head Jared Givarz), Differentiation and Diversity in the LS Classroom to Authentic Representations of Diversity in Children’s Literature (Kimberly Mott, Coopers’ teacher), White Women Who Teach Black Boys (report from a yearlong study at Lowell School) to Indian Kathputli Puppetry to A Discussion of Affinity Groups.

It was a remarkable and satisfying day, as evidenced by some of the comments below from our faculty and staff:

“It [was] engaging and thought-provoking, a wonderful opportunity to share ideas and be inspired by the work of our area colleagues.” - Ali, Caretaker and permanent sub

“I really appreciate doing this, learn a lot every time... We should do it more often!” - Paige, MS Humanities

“I really enjoyed presenting to an appreciative audience! I got to write the score, star in and direct my own tiny little Broadway show!” - Tracy, WonderLab​ 

“We attended the ‘Yes, You Can! Bringing Identity, Activism, and Social Justice to JK-2’ session. It inspired a conversation among colleagues about the potential to develop over time an essential question [eg, about social justice] at a young age, and to build upon the previous year’s work, adding depth of understanding and cohesiveness to our program.” - Kate, Kindergarten; Nicole, Kindergarten; and Andrea, First Grade

“The CAPS conference is a really rare opportunity to talk about things that are actually working in their classrooms...when you’re talking to a teacher who has developed something that they care about and put a lot of thought into, their excitement and passion are contagious.” - Doug, MS Math and Science

Developing and nurturing a culture of learning, reflection, and personal and professional growth among teachers are essential to a having an excellent school with the best program and teaching. Regularly scheduled and purposefully utilized time with our teammates in our school is not easy to create but it must be given priority. And so must the opportunity to learn from peer educators teaching in other schools. Similarly, the chance to present to an audience of peers from our own and like-minded schools is really powerful, and we’re proud that 26 of our teachers and staff presented at this year’s CAPS conference. We come to understand (and hone) our craft even better in sharing it with others. Several of our faculty presenters are planning to share their presentations at national conferences next year!

The CAPS conference was planned by the CAPS steering committee, which is made up of members from each CAPS school. Assistant Head Elizabeth Lener led the onsite conference planning with support from our own CAPS committee members administrative staff Cathy Guertin and Kathleen Hennessey, Kimberly Mott (4/5 Redtails), Mary Akeley (4/5 Coopers), and Joseph Edwards (Middle School Humanities). Our tech and maintenance teams, along with our entire team, most of whom had a volunteer role, also played big roles in making the day successful.

How useful is a day like this? Incalculably. There is nothing like learning from peers. An oft-heard comment has been “Wish we could have more!” And I think we look at that comment as an invitation and challenge. Over the years we have carved out about the equivalent of three professional days across the school year for teacher-staff learning and training, with more days in June after school ends and just before school begins again in September. But many schools do more — a half day of professional development every or every other Friday, for instance, is not uncommon. We’ll continue to examine the question of how we can provide adequate professional development time. Meantime, we have added a day for PD in June, and we know that day will be put to excellent use, particularly as we begin next school year to prepare for our five-year VAIS accreditation.

To see all of Joseph’s CAPS Conference photos, click here.