by Jill Thompson, Assistant Head of School
The teachers and specialists at Stephen Gaynor School are exemplary special educators. The question posed during the strategic planning process in 2017 was, how do we establish a community of veteran educators dedicated to continuing at the highest level in their field who are also explicitly trained to mentor faculty members new to Gaynor? Assistant Head of School Jill Thompson describes the inspiration behind, and elements of, the Senior Educator Program.
The Senior Educator Program was conceived through Gaynor’s most recent strategic plan, which highlighted a need to focus on retaining great educators and developing long-term career paths that support the school’s overall curriculum goals. The three-year Senior Educator Program, currently taught by myself and Director of Lower Division Donna Logue, covers three areas of study: understanding individual learning differences, curriculum development, and organizational citizenship.
At the start of each school year, a cohort of qualified candidates is selected to enroll in the program, which involves two multi-week courses per year. We currently have two cohorts moving through the program – one in their first year, and one in their second.
The first year focuses on the individual student through an analysis of students’ readiness, interests, and learning profiles, and how to prescribe a differentiated plan for each unique learner. This concentration on the individual student directly supports the highly individualized educational program in Gaynor’s mission.
The second year focuses on curriculum design principles rooted in essential understandings through a “backwards design” approach, as well as how to create a curriculum accessible to all students using a Universal Design for Learning framework. The participants learn to develop instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessment through multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. The participants are moving beyond the individual student or classroom, and discovering broader strategies that can be used throughout the school.
The third year of the program focuses on the development of a mentoring program in support of the school’s mission and curriculum goals. Rooted in a reflective inquiry approach, in which participants ask questions to develop deeper understanding, the third year underscores mentoring practices and leadership experiences. Participants may undertake individual or group mentorships, facilitate workshops, or participate on curriculum committees. This year is dedicated to helping our veteran educators spread their knowledge and experience across the institution.
The benefits of the Senior Educator Program are threefold. First, Gaynor students benefit from educators who are in pursuit of educational excellence – faculty members who are well-informed of cognitive neuroscience and the implications on education practices. Second, the program serves as a recruitment and retention tool that benefits the faculty by offering financial incentives and master-level coursework connected to professional growth opportunities. And third, the entire organization benefits because the program facilitates distributive leadership, maintains our role as leaders in specialized education, and creates a mentoring program that eternalizes the Gaynor mission.
This article appears in the Winter 2020 edition of the Gaynor Gazette.