Whenever I get to write or talk about teaching, my heart swells. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time than in a classroom with students, or observing teachers teach, or providing professional development for those across the teaching spectrum, from the newest in our school to our most experienced veterans. In short, teaching is soul work.
While the phrase “soul work” implies a certain level of transcendence or loftiness, I would offer that teaching is soul work because it’s challenging and meaningful, that while the rewards are there, the power is in the doing–the planning, the studying, the tinkering, the community-building, the careful tending that it takes to raise young people in this era.
The holidays are a fun and hectic time, and part of what makes this time of year so joyful is seeing alumni return to share their gratitude with their teachers. Oftentimes, former Bay students will come back and share how well prepared they are for college, how they can communicate verbally and in writing in ways that outpace their peers, that they are the most vocal ones in their seminar classes, that they know how to collaborate and how to access their instructors and self-advocate for what they need. It’s powerful to hear our alumni tell their stories of their first months in college or even their initial forays into the world of work beyond school. Their resounding refrain is that Bay was the place they learned how to navigate the world.
And while our graduates return to Bay as transformed young adults who are making great headway in their lives, that transformation doesn’t happen so magically while they’re here; it’s a gradual and deliberate process that takes four years of care and cultivation. It is the collective effort on the part of all Bay teachers that help shape the inspiring young people who enter into the dynamic world we allude to in our mission.
Teaching is hard work, and the art and science of this profession make it so the lessons feel seamless and that everything was meant to happen as it should. But I’d like to take you behind the curtain of our teaching laboratory and share some of the elements of teaching that are particular to Bay, or in other words, the secret sauce to the craft of teaching in our school.
Teaching at the Bay School is a combination of the following:
Student-Centeredness: The most important part of our role as Bay teachers is ensuring our students feel safe, challenged, and have opportunities to learn and grow in multiple ways. We do this work by ensuring student voice is a part of the curriculum. Whether engaging in project-based learning where student questions drive the experience, Socratic discussions about contemporary issues such as climate change or gene therapy, inquiry-based investigations, or daily opportunities to build resilience (whether in Engineering classes, Conceptual Physics, or determining strategies to manage stress), teachers design and adapt lessons with students in mind. Consequently, we treat our curriculum and pedagogy as dynamic as those who enter our classrooms; we adapt, we shift, we adjust based on who is in the room—all so our students can learn at their best in optimal environments.
Mindfulness: Bay’s foundation as a school is based upon a 2,500-year-old philosophy whose wisdom has significant benefits for today’s student: we know—and the research shows—that taking a moment for quiet at the beginning of the school day and before lessons is not only good exercise for the brain, but that the more we know ourselves, slow down, and pay attention to our thoughts, emotions, and how we are doing, the more prepared we are to take risks in ways that allow us to grow. In other words, instead of students saying, “I can’t do this problem,” or “I’m not a writer,” we invite students to use mindfulness to say, “I can’t do this problem yet…” or “I’m not a writer now, but I’m becoming one.” Mindful practices are a pathway to a growth mindset.
Growth-Orientation: For anyone who follows trends in education and brain research, they surely have heard about growth mindset. With lots of practice, we can train our brains to develop tools to do a whole range of skills we never imagined: singing in the school musical, designing a folding table, understanding the mathematics connected to this summer’s total solar eclipse. Teachers at Bay are not stuck in our ways—we grow alongside our students. We grow through the professional development we offer on-site that focuses on teaching 21st Century skills. We grow through the coaching we receive from our colleagues, teachers who observe one another and give each other feedback on our classroom practice, the feedback we solicit from our students throughout the school year. And we always are in the process of revising our courses to make sure they reflect current trends in education—the role of computer science, the role of collaboration for problem solving, the role of interdisciplinarity in courses like Globalization, Bioethics, and Artist as Activist.
Collaboration: And just as the research has shown that we can change our brains with a growth mindset, the research also demonstrates that learning is more of a social than an individual process, and we’re better teachers when we talk about our work together. To be a teacher at Bay (and in this current moment) means you have to be willing work alongside and learn from others. Our teachers meet in course and discipline teams at least once a week, and just about ¼ of our teachers team teach a course together. In all our collaborative work, no decisions are made alone—making our lessons stronger as a result, and modeling for our students a crucial 21st Century habit that will benefit them as they enter adulthood.
Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI): At Bay we recognize that everyone learns differently. We recognize that our backgrounds, identities, ways we were raised, where we live, have a tremendous impact on who we are in the classroom. We are passionate and committed to teaching all students in multiple ways that ensure everyone has equal access to a quality experience. For our students, it means our teachers strive to understand their own identities so they can best serve the students they teach. It means teachers consider their blind spots and design lessons that take everyone into account; talk about real-world concerns that have a direct impact on who our students are now and the future they will inherit; take part in professional development opportunities (like the People of Color Conference, White Privilege Conference, local equity initiatives, and taking part in on-site adult and student affinity groups) that allow teachers to explore ways to make our classrooms safe spaces that provide opportunities for social justice and social change. None of these other elements matter unless we consider the roles equity and inclusion play in the ways we think about teaching.
Inquiry: Just as we hope our classes are reflective of the changing needs of schools, our teachers also strive to be lifelong learners who recognize that the ways we were taught no longer serve us today. In student-centered teaching practices, we need to be so much more than experts in our subjects. We need to be curious facilitators who understand that learning happens when we ask good questions, or what we call Essential Questions. Through our project-based and experiential courses to the hands-on lessons we provide through arts, science, and mathematics, to the range of course offerings that cater to student interests, you’ll find our teachers begin with the questions they hope students will answer; each day, they design a classroom experience that fosters inquiry, and ultimately, that inspires students to ask new questions with time to explore those answers in depth.
As probably have learned by now, the soul work of teaching at Bay requires the best of
what one finds in our mission and values. I’m grateful for the work we get to do each day, and I’m proud of the young people we teach–confident they will graduate equipped with the right tools, habits, and mindsets that will allow them to do their own soul work that helps change the world.