Teacher Teamwork in Middle School

By Susan Palmer, Head of Middle School

Just in the last month, I have seen a surge in excitement throughout the Middle School. The energy that results from working together towards a shared vision cannot be overemphasized, and I can report countless examples of faculty collaborating to design the optimum learning experience for our students. The best schools are those where collaboration is embedded into the culture – for both students and faculty – and the opportunities for collaboration in the Middle School are yielding exciting and dynamic results.

In the Science Department, close collaboration began over the summer when the fifth grade science team met to review curriculum, refine and adjust learning expectations, and create engaging, hands on lessons. The teachers have forged a new partnership with the Trinity River Audubon Center in support of the theme of “sustainability.” Teachers have also been trained in skills of water quality, and those skills will soon be transferred to their students. Under the guidance of Science Department leaders, project-based learning, design thinking, and data collection and manipulation are becoming everyday terms to both fifth and sixth grade students. From the uninterrupted days of summer to Saturday professional development activities to touching base at the copy machine, these teachers constantly revise and refine their lessons based on each other’s ideas and experiences. They are creating a uniquely age-appropriate science curriculum that calls on students to take on the skills and habits of real scientists.

The eighth grade science faculty spent several weeks in the summer developing their understanding of modeling, a uniquely student-centered method of learning physical science. On the second day of school in August, eighth graders could be observed working in small groups to determine the nature of measurement. New-to-Greenhill students joined right in, and groups used small white boards to explain and illustrate their findings to their classmates. Teachers asked guiding questions and students worked to draw conclusions. Rather than being the recipients of knowledge delivery, eighth grade students discover and own important concepts and theories.

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When teachers take on new responsibilities, they are often energized by the intellectual challenge, newly engaged in the learning process. Teaching across divisions, getting to know a new colleague, or approaching each task as a group problem have all led to interesting and engaging classes. Just this year, a MS teacher is taking on sections of Upper School chemistry and will soon be designing an upper level biochemistry course. An Upper School physics teacher has brought his expertise to eighth grade physical science, and a science teacher new to the Middle School has eagerly grasped both sixth and seventh grade teaching responsibilities. Also exciting, our new Engineering and Problem Solving teacher is promoting design thinking and problem solving in his own classes and across the science curriculum.

To be a great collaborator, all that is required is an open heart and a desire to charge into the unknown. Our teachers model risk taking and accept challenges, just as they hope their students will. The end result of all this willingness, enthusiasm, and passion is great teaching and learning.

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