At St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, one strategic initiative for us is to enhance curriculum and teaching methods while upholding excellence in academic programs, teaching, and faculty expertise. This commitment is vital in providing outstanding education for our students and aligns with our Episcopal identity, emphasizing the honor and respect for the dignity of every individual, which speaks to both hearts and minds. Achieving this goal is possible through ongoing professional development. An illustrative example of such professional development was when, earlier this school year, our Visual Arts Director took three preschool teachers and three high school teachers on a curated professional development opportunity to see the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence. It is not just a college but also a museum, and it opened our eyes to innovative educational spaces.
A highlight of the college was the Nature Lab, where rooms brimmed with captivating artifacts, from butterflies to intriguing animal bones and even live jellyfish. In the Movement Lab, the director showcased the intersection of human movement with animatronics, puppetry, animation, and gaming. We also spent time with the Maker Space director who shared his insights on how we invest in the diversity of human resources to explore and question the possibilities of a robust maker space.
Yet, the most enriching part of our professional development unfolded during our van rides back and forth between the schools and museums. These moments provided us time for powerful conversations and reflection about our own practices with students. We pondered the question: What is common ground across such a broad age range from crib to college? We discovered it is about valuing the children and fostering an environment where learning is a shared experience rather than a one-sided adult monologue. Initiating such a conversation entails a commitment to honest and open dialogue. Fortunately, the three preschool educators have collaborated for eight years, fostering a relationship characterized by clear, direct conversations that were both truthful and respectful. The Visual Arts Director has always supported the work of our early childhood division and the two new teachers came in with fresh eyes in seeing the important work of children from preschool through college. The conversations in our “van meetings” was a highlight of our professional development time together.
We acknowledged the necessity for a clear curriculum and a time for students to reflect and engage in meaningful conversations with their teachers and be able to unleash their creativity and tackle problems using the resources at their disposal. We discussed the distinction between true ownership of knowledge and rote memorization for a test. This again, speaks to the honor and dignity of every human being, respecting a student’s independence in owning their learning as well as honoring and trusting teachers in their work with learners.
The RISD experience not only broadened our perspectives on education but also reinforced the importance of creating an environment where students are active participants in their learning journey, shaping their understanding of the world and taking ownership of their education. It is a philosophy that affects all ages from preschool through adulthood and is a commitment to the transformative power of education and honoring the dignity of every human being through education, even young learners.
If we truly honor and respect the dignity of every human being, then providing professional development that honors the autonomy of educators and respects the learning of young people is key to the learning and growth of all people.
Dr. Cris Lozon is Director of the Early Childhood Development Center at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, CA.