At Dwight, the learning never ends for faculty as well as students. Thanks to professional development grants funded by The Dwight School Foundation, teachers have the opportunity to expand their knowledge and bring the latest thinking back to the classroom to benefit students.
During the 2017-18 academic year, the Foundation awarded a record 174 faculty professional grants, including 41 for teachers to participate in a pilot experiential Dwight program called Frontier Teacher training designed to equip faculty with the same skills and frameworks used by startups, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
This exciting program, which continued over the summer with 19 additional teachers, immerses faculty in a series of workshops with internal and external experts, challenging discussions, and hands-on experiences with tangible classroom applications. Participants take a deep dive into Design Thinking and Lean Start-up methodology, learning how to develop ideas, take risks, build, and measure their innovations. The goal is to equip faculty with the skills, tools, and mindset to become more innovative and effective educators — and to cultivate lasting learning in students in novel and new ways.
During 50 hours of training, faculty launch their own innovation mini-project and collaborate with peers to help them reimagine their teaching. “Going through an entire iteration of the innovation process was invaluable,” reports French teacher Zach Moir, who was among the first cohort of faculty to participate. “In addition, feeling like I was free to make something that could be used in class was a great motivation to be creative, rather than to just ‘get something done.’”
An Empowering Experience
Just as students learn in Spark Tank that they sometimes have to pivot from their original idea and pursue a different path or go through a trial and error phase, so, too, do Frontier Teachers. Izzy Leahy, who teaches second grade, shared, “I learned that it is okay to fail. I think this helped me to take chances, add my thoughts, and try things out that I was uncertain about.”
Bentley Ferraina, English teacher and Dean of Tenth Grade, said, “One of the best lessons I learned was to make ‘small bets.’ That means taking a great idea, like a new way to give feedback or encourage reflection, and asking, ‘What is the smallest, simplest way I can integrate this into my class?’ It's empowering to learn that it’s okay to try something really small or to present an idea before it's perfect. Frontier Teacher training makes a compelling argument for approaching work in this way, and it thankfully moves from theory to practice very quickly, providing instruction on what that approach actually looks like and requires.”
As they go through the program, faculty are encouraged to implement their learning into their classrooms right away. Spanish teacher Rachel Bruttig explains how she did that: “Frontier Teacher training was a fantastic experience that helped me understand the skills students will need to become innovators and entrepreneurs. After learning about design thinking and lean methodology, I was able to be more innovative with my lessons and provide students with the chance to learn in new and exciting ways. For example, students developed games using Design Thinking techniques and game-based learning to help them with a new conjugation in Spanish. During this process, they improved their abilities to become innovators by being empathetic, giving and receiving feedback, and prototyping — just as we had done during Frontier training!”
Upon completion of the program, Frontier teachers are encouraged to mentor colleagues throughout our community, just as Master Teachers do, to foster ongoing dialogue about learning and the application of new skills in the classroom.
The next group of faculty will dive into Frontier Teacher training beginning in October. Dwight looks forward to seeing more and more participants enroll with the ultimate goal of all faculty becoming Frontier Teachers in the years to come.