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As a second grade teacher, Dana Gerendasi discovered that her students learned best when she incorporated the arts into her classroom instruction. She developed an entire arts curriculum for her grade team that explored various genres of art, providing students with opportunities to ask questions, share new ideas, and express themselves creatively.
When the opportunity came for Gerendasi to lead her own school, she envisioned that Waterside Children’s Studio School would echo what she knew best about student learning: inquiry, expression, and project-based learning would be at the core of her students’ experience. Initially, Principal Gerendasi asked her faculty to focus on relationships and the development of
enrichment clusters. Implementing the Renzulli model of schoolwide enrichment, the students and teachers quickly embraced learning by doing and a hands-on learning school was born.
Principal Gerendasi carefully selected faculty who were comfortable with experiential learning strategies. Almost all the teachers began implementing some type of technology and project-based learning, but the range of strategies was limited.
“My teachers were committed to 21st-century learning (21CL) skills but they were fearful about making mistakes,” reported Gerendasi. “I needed a way to encourage them to try new approaches, adopt new software tools, and broaden their hands-on learning skill sets.”
When the chance to become engaged with Learning Innovation Catalyst (LINC) was offered through a district program, Principal Gerendasi saw the opportunity to increase her faculty’s confidence in using hands-on learning and to develop the urgency to do even more with 21CL skills. Faculty were excited by the onsite workshops led by LINC coaches and quickly became invested in online professional development through the LINCspring platform.
To ensure that the online professional learning was transferred to practice, the principal then focused the faculty’s professional learning community (PLC) around the LINCspring cycles. Soon the entire school team was learning about and practicing station rotation, in addition to rolling out new makerspaces and a hands-on science curriculum. Some teachers have started
to experiment with flipped classrooms.
As teachers have embraced this 21CL initiative, additional leadership and support have been essential. The school’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) teacher, Melissa Camuti, who is also the school’s instructional technologist, has played a significant role in helping her colleagues succeed. She pushes into each classroom once each week to work
with students on STEAM projects or use classroom makerspaces. Melissa is also available to co-teach with her peers when requested, supporting them with new teaching strategies and working with student groups at learning stations.
“LINC was great for teachers of all skill levels,” said Ms. Camuti. “They gave us great ideas on how to motivate students and teachers to think about digital tools as a regular part of their day– not just for assessment or enrichment.”
“LINC also suggested that we post badges outside the classroom so you can see what digital tools are at work in the classroom,” added Camuti. “The classrooms can earn badges and it’s become a little bit competitive!”
Principal Gerendasi has implemented LINC’s approach to Transformation Teams, which identifies one teacher from each grade level to be the 21CL skills leader. This keeps the vision and energy alive for 21st-century teaching and learning. “The second grade teachers all know that Sean, the person leading their team, is the go-to person. Each grade is supported in that way.”
“The mindset around here is different now,” said Principal Gerendasi. “When Meredith Lewis, our LINC coach, visited, it really shocked my teachers about the importance of 21st-century skills. Teachers felt compelled to ‘get on it’ and that was very powerful.”
Using LINC’s model of teacher generativity, the faculty built upon their existing skills and are iterating on their new learning through the online platform.
“In my school,” said Gerendasi, “we’ve always said, ‘The answer to our biggest question is always in the room.’ There’s expertise among us if we can identify and tap it. LINC and LINCspring have played a big role in helping us build upon our capacity.”