Six Ways Faculty Thought Leadership Supports Classroom Excellence

Six Ways Faculty Thought Leadership Supports Classroom Excellence
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Stacy Calfo

Through engagement in professional organizations and learning opportunities, teachers deepen their expertise in their disciplines while bringing best practices and curricular excellence to students.

Ravenscroft faculty aren’t just educators: they’re thought leaders shaping the landscape of education through engagement in professional organizations, deepening their expertise in their respective disciplines while also bringing best practices and curricular excellence to their students.

Here are six ways this ongoing commitment sparks new opportunities and enhances learning in all three of Ravenscroft’s divisions.

1. Fostering World Language Learning Communities

World language teachers Yi-Wen Liu, Rachel Breazeale and Maria Rodriguez engage with professional organizations such as the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina (FLANC) to enrich their teaching methodologies and create modern learning environments for students. That connection has been a beneficial one for the entire department and its many students.

As president of FLANC and past president of the Chinese Language Teachers Association of North Carolina, Liu, the Upper School Mandarin teacher and World Language Department chair, represents North Carolina at national events. “This has helped me identify trending teaching methodologies and learn from peer schools across the country,” she said. “Every conference leaves me with something new to apply in my classroom.”

In the fall of 2023, Breazeale and Rodriguez — Spanish teachers in the Middle School and Upper School, respectively — presented at FLANC’s Annual Conference. Their presentation, “Enhancing World Language Learning with ChatGPT: Creating Activities, Lessons, Rubrics & More,” was named by conference organizers as one of the Top 10 presentations in the state, earning them a spot at the Best of FLANC Spring 2024 Conference — and positioning the teachers as leaders in their discipline.

“Being able to present at FLANC inspired me to research best practices for using AI in my own classroom,” Rodriguez said. “I developed activities relevant to the content that aligned with our curriculum goals.”

“Attending conferences gives me the opportunity to learn in an interactive, in-person model,” Breazeale added. “That has allowed me to be more adept and confident at employing similar activities and lessons in my own classroom.”

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Liu gives a presentation on “Teaching Chinese Food Culture Through the Lens of Social Justice” at the Chinese Language Teaching Association in 2023, where she was recognized and Ravenscroft received the Distinguished K-12 Chinese Program; Breazeale, at left, and Rodriguez present “Enhancing World Language Learning with ChatGPT,” which was named a top presentation at the 2023 FLANC conference.

2. Preparing Students for Real-World Experience

As a member of the 2024-25 cohort of the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association’s 21st Century Leadership Academy (21CLA), Upper School computer science teacher and varsity robotics coach Mariam Elias is on the cutting edge in her already cutting-edge field, integrating innovative teaching methods into her curriculum and preparing students for the demands of the future workforce.

The mission of 21CLA is to empower educators to develop new knowledge and skills and become more effective leaders in the technology and engineering profession. For Elias, who has a master’s degree in technology education and is wrapping up work toward a doctorate in STEM education, applying what she’s learning means giving her students even more opportunities to learn and grow in her classroom.

“Inspired by insights from 21CLA, I have created engaging learning experiences that prepare my students for the demands of the 21st-century workforce,” she explained. “For example, I redesigned units to include hands-on projects, and I’ve noticed a marked improvement in student engagement, critical-thinking skills and problem-solving abilities.”

Elias has hit the ground running since joining the Innovation, Design and Engineering Department at Ravenscroft last fall. As co-coach of the varsity robotics team, she was recognized with the Compass Award for her outstanding coaching at the Feb. 3, 2024, FTC Robotics Competition.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Elias, shown teaching in the Warner Family Innovation Hub in the Keim Center for Innovation and Research, was instrumental in bringing new platforms and tools (such as zyBooks) to the curriculum this year; Elias holds the Compass Award she received for outstanding coaching at a Feburary 2024 varsity robotics competition.

3. Promoting Lifelong Learning

Ever since Upper School history teacher Erin Kate Grady began graduate school in 2014, she has been a member of both the Medieval Academy of America (where she sits on their K-12 Committee, which advocates for curricular standards at the state and federal level) and the International Center of Medieval Art. Both are scholarly organizations in the field of Medieval Studies, her area of academic interest.

She also participated in a program from the National Humanities Center aimed at integrating geographic information systems and storymap technology into humanities lessons, which she used to develop a lesson on the Silk Road that is now available in the NHC’s Humanities in Class lesson-plan database.

She emphasizes that the benefits of these experiences and connections are many.

“Involvement in academic and professional organizations builds connections and professional networks beyond our everyday space, inviting new perspectives and collaborative efforts that enrich the resources we bring to our students,” she explained. “Making my own academic growth a priority is a way I can model lifelong learning for my students.”

As coordinator of the International Diploma program at Ravenscroft since 2022, Grady has taken inspiration from her own passion for learning in expanding the ID’s slate of rigorous interdisciplinary course offerings — giving globally minded students even more opportunities to explore a passion of their own.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Grady dons academic regalia for the conferring of her doctorate in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2020; Grady leafs through a manuscript at the Abbey of Montecassino in Italy, where in December 2019 she conducted research for her dissertation.

4. Supporting and Empowering Diverse Learners

Middle School LEAP (Learning Enrichment and Advancement Program) teachers Kim Ewing and Kristen James enhance their support for neurodiverse learners through involvement in such organizations as the Landmark School Outreach Program and Hill Learning Center. At conferences and workshops, they gain valuable resources, connect and collaborate with peers, and have the opportunity to reflect on their teaching practices as they work to best support their students’ needs.

“Professional organizations provide extensive opportunities to learn from experts and broaden my knowledge,” Ewing said. For example, in a presentation by Emily King on ‘Neurodiversity and How Anxiety Impacts Learning,’ “Dr. King explained that it is important for teachers to understand how anxiety impacts a student’s ability to learn. We need to create a space for students to take risks, make mistakes and try again,” she said.

“These opportunities have influenced all aspects of my teaching,” James added, “including my need to develop a better language for emotions in the classroom, to plan intentional application of skills, and to support the working memory needs of our students who face numerous academic demands.”

Through LEAP, Ewing and James serve students in the Middle School through a variety of educational accommodations and supports, including the Academic Skills elective, with their colleagues doing the same in the Lower School and Upper School — fulfilling Ravenscroft’s mission to “nurture individual potential and prepare students to thrive in a complex and interdependent world.”

Middle School LEAP teachers Kristen James and Kim Ewing make valuable connections with peers and stay current on best practices in their field by attending conferences and workshops.

5. Championing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Sarah Wright, Assistant Head of Lower School for Student Life, brings leadership and commitment to Ravenscroft’s mission-aligned work in DEIB through her consultancy work in the field and involvement in organizations including and EdSurge. Through this work, she helps community and educational leaders create inclusive environments, ensuring every student and teacher feels supported.

“For me, it’s a passion,” she explained. “Through my work with DEIB organizations, I started looking at my own teaching practices — how I can have my own equitable classroom and help students have difficult conversations with each other. This was the springboard for me to become a DEIB practitioner. Now, I work with other schools and organizations to help them be the best they can be.”

Next year, in addition to her work as a member of the Lower School leadership team, Wright will contribute her expertise in this critical area as Ravenscroft’s interim Director of Community, Culture and Belonging.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to use my skill set within a community that has welcomed me with open arms,” Wright said of this new role. “I look forward to supporting our community of belonging as we continue supporting our students as they Lead With Others.”

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Wright speaks at an all-school assembly at Colorado Academy in September 2020; Wright poses with mascot Brutus the Buckeye at the Ohio State University’s National Conference on Diversity, Race and Learning in 2019, where she was a speaker.

6. Guiding Students Through College Admissions

In March 2023, Co-Director of College Counseling Sean Kennedy shared his insights in an Alma Matters podcast episode entitled “College Counseling: Pathway to Developing Students’ Potential.” The appearance on the podcast, which seeks to inspire high school students to fulfill their dreams of higher education, was a nod to Kennedy’s deep experience in the arena of college counseling.

Now, as president of the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling (SACAC), Kennedy is the leader of an organization dedicated to helping educators in this important role stay updated on admission trends and build connections to support students effectively.

Kennedy said serving in this role has helped him in his own work at Ravenscroft.

“It’s helped me gain a new perspective on our work and how our office can improve in the work that we can do,” he said. “Educators by nature are often creatures of routine. We have a particular expertise and skill, and we practice it and hone it. Then, as we get into our work, the curiosity of wondering how others do the same work in other places grows. We don’t have the answer to every situation, so we should surround ourselves with a network of peers so we can continue to grow.”

Kennedy’s work in college counseling gets to the heart of Ravenscroft’s commitment to prepare our students for what comes next in their journey. In an upcoming Summer 2024 Ravenscroft Magazine story, we explore the impact he and his colleagues in the Upper School’s College Counseling Department make on our students — so stay tuned!

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Kennedy, at right, stands with Zaire Lionel, Recent Past President, and Christy Conley, Immediate Past President, at the 2024 SACAC Annual Conference, held earlier this year in Raleigh; Kennedy speaks to members of Ravenscroft’s Class of 2025 during a college-application workshop in April.

Above, Liu (second from right) and fellow FLANC board members represent the organization at the Southern Conference of Language Teaching in March 2024.

Attendees of the October 2023 NCAIS Administrators of Color Conference, organized by Associate Head of School Justin Brandon


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Ravenscroft Hosts First NCAIS Administrators of Color Conference (Nov. 29, 2023)

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Kendra Varnell and Justin Brandon Publish “Work and Wellness” in SAIS (April 7, 2022)