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Master Classes for Teachers Robert Lauder,

Principal, Friends Seminary

All educators know that the best teachers remain eager students throughout their lives. Complacency in the classroom probably signals the end of a productive career, or at the very least a classroom full of very bored students and lost opportunities. .T he phrase “professional development” often elicits from teachers groans and rolling of eyes, as they imagine a dingy auditorium and someone droning on in front of them in a Charlie Brown teacher wah wah voice. But thanks to a visionary new opportunity for New York City teachers, both public and private, this no longer needs be the case. The Academy for Teachers The Academy for Teachers springs from the fertile and sprightly mind of Sam Swope, its founder and executive director. The Academy came into existence in 2012 to raise respect for the teaching profession, and “to honor and support great teachers by bringing them together with prominent experts and artists for inspiring master classes and other events.” A critical mission is to convene public and private school teachers, who rarely have an opportunity to work together. .As the organizer of humanities lectures for teachers given by the Fellows at the New York City Public Library’s Cullman Center, Swope—who is primarily a children’s book author, and has spent only a few years as a teacher in a public school classroom—was struck by the eagerness of teachers for professional development that delved deeply into subject matter and content rather than just pedagogy. With modest backing and what has turned out to be a brilliantly successful idea, Swope set out to pair small groups of teachers with scholars, artists and performers of the very highest caliber, all with the thinking that great teachers should be honored while being mentored by and learning from one another simultaneously. .Here’s the formula: create a seminar around a stimulating topic led by the very best talent; cull through applications and put together a cohesive and subject-ready group of 12 public and private teachers; celebrate them as professionals; locate the seminar in a place that is in itself stimulating; and, then, let their minds be guided by each other and the seminar leader

This article first appeared in the 2018 issue of Parents League Review. © 2018 Parents League of New York www.parentsleague.org.


. ince its founding, The Academy has attracted as lecturers such stars in S their fields as Stephen Sondheim, Ta-Nehisi Coates, David McCullough and Shirley Tilghman. Participants, who become Fellows of the Academy after completing a seminar, are treated to programs that make even the most erudite green with envy: “The Changing Arctic,” “The Future of Food,” “African American Folklore” and “The Evolution of Beauty,” among many other intellectually tempting topics. .The Academy also believes that participants should be pampered for the day. Seminars have been held in places such as The New York Historical Society, The Museum of Natural History, the Princeton Club and The U.S. Custom House, among other awe-inspiring settings. Often, the seminars allow participants to “see behind the scenes,” navigating elegant board rooms and art storage vaults. .Further, Swope is continually creating community around the Fellows, by keeping them engaged, asking them to nominate new Fellows and throwing parties for program alumni. He wants there to be an ongoing identity with the Academy, a home if you will, for the City’s great teachers. (He’s even organized an Academy softball team.) One Fellow had this to say: It’s been two years after the Master Class on the “Picture Book” with writer and artist Jon Agee. I recall at the time remarking that I had no idea how inspired and enriched I would feel at the end of the day. I left the room feeling energized. Mr. Agee’s informative research and storytelling of the lives and work of artists Steig, Sendak, and Ungerer confirmed that picture books are an effective tool in challenging societal norms. .T he reactions of all participants are similarly enthusiastic. After years of stultifying professional development centered on report writing and classroom management, the City’s teachers now have an inspiring alternative. Now it’s up to the City’s heads of schools and principals to get them there.

Robert Lauder is Principal at Friends Seminary, a kindergarten through 12th grade school in Manhattan. He is a Fellow of The Academy for Teachers and serves on its Educator Advisory Board. Find out more about the Academy at academyforteachers.org.

This article first appeared in the 2018 issue of Parents League Review. © 2018 Parents League of New York www.parentsleague.org.

Master Classes for Teachers | by Principal Bo Lauder  
Master Classes for Teachers | by Principal Bo Lauder