Why Teaching Foundations Matters to Me: A Personal Reflection

We’re in the process of preparing for one of my favorite professional development workshops, Teaching Foundations. Each year around this time, we start our planning, and I already can’t wait to meet the participants and begin an inspiring week together.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about teacher preparation for those who are new to independent schools or who are in their first years in this profession, and I’ve been reflecting on why this work, in particular, is so important to me. I can’t help but think back to my first years in independent schools and what a world of difference a program like Teaching Foundations would have made for me, especially in understanding the culture of independent schools and ensuring that I would have a successful entry into this milieu.

Like many independent school teachers, I got my start in public schools, and my initial experience teaching independent schools was quite exciting; it was comprised of lots of creative curricular freedom, deep collaboration with colleagues (and time to do so), smaller class sizes, which in turn meant more devotion to each individual student. And yet, I felt like I was missing something like I was struggling to understand some sort of unspoken language or series of agreements about what it meant to work in an independent school.

I also noticed that I felt extremely siloed, that while I was working with some of the most inspiring and intelligent colleagues of my career, that our school was isolated from our peers, even those right up the street from us. That felt weird, and I found myself craving a community in addition to my school.

Enter the BATDC (which would soon become the CATDC).

In 2010, the first workshop I attended was the nascent–and now thriving–TALL Change program. In that program, I was introduced to colleagues and facilitators who shared my values for professional learning and growth, and I realized I wasn’t alone. I was able to ask questions about independent school life and culture, and I was able to develop projects that would have an impact on my professional growth and development–and eventually, have an impact on my school as well. It was through that program that I realized how passionate I was about teacher preparation, and eventually, I was able to develop and oversee a Teaching Fellows program at my school. Yet I still was seeking that collaboration across communities that TALL Change allowed for.<

In 2012, I was invited to facilitate a session at Teaching Foundations, and it was affirming to be surrounded by facilitators who were as passionate about teacher preparation as I was. I felt inspired by the cohort of participants, and I realized that the CATDC was on a powerful path to support early-career teachers.

When I was invited to join the facilitation team in 2013, I was beyond thrilled, and I have remained committed to this work ever since. Now, every spring I have the honor of collaborating with talented and dedicated facilitators from across the state, as we ask the big questions related to teacher development: What are the must-haves for independent school teachers? What do those who are new to independent schools most need to know and do? How can we ensure we are being responsive to the larger trends and topics in education without losing sight of what remains true about the profession?

In short, each year of this program, I get to be a part of a collaborative, community-building endeavor that serves K-12 teachers across California. And this program fuels me as much as I hope to provide teachers with the tools, habits, and skills they need to be successful educators. Together, we build community in support of one another; we acknowledge that first years are hard but that it does get better; we support those who have questions ranging from the particular (How do I plan a strong lesson?) to the philosophical (What does it mean to teach who I am? How do I sustain a career in teaching?).

If I think back to 12 years ago when I first got my start in independent schools, it feels incredible to know that I have a way of giving back– to let teachers know that we are not alone, that we have ways of learning about school culture and values, that whether we are a Lower School Music Specialist or a Calculus teacher, that we share a common bond of supporting students in their learning, identity-formation, and growth. I can’t wait to get started for this summer!

Lori Cohen: Lori Cohen is the Dean of Faculty at the Bay School of San Francisco. Prior to her current position, Lori taught Humanities, Literature, and Religion/Philosophy at Bay for many years. Lori also coordinates Teacher Development seminars, in-house professional development, for Bay faculty and has begun a Teaching Fellows program that will be entering its third year. This will be Lori’s fifth year as a co-facilitator/teacher leader in Teaching Foundations, a program that brings her joy and professional rejuvenation.