Teachers at Park Day remember the role they play in the lives of children; that each moment may be the most memorable or life-influencing moment for a child.
Cognitive scientists tell us that in learning, children construct understanding for themselves by making connections and seeing the interrelationships of new and prior knowledge. In descending order of effectiveness, their knowledge is gained first through direct tactile or other sensory experiences; then through pictorial or representational sensation (non-tactile); and finally, through narrative or other non-participatory experiences. Learning by doing is fundamental.
Our teachers have become experts at understanding the developmental characteristics and needs of children at the grade level they are teaching. To be a kindergarten teacher requires that one know the five and six year-old child “cold." The sixth grade teacher is able to articulate the developmental milestones of the child in early adolescence. Teachers enjoy spending time with children in their grade levels, discern differences in learning styles among their students, and differentiate lessons and activities for each child's deepest learning. Teachers hone their assessment skills, working to deeply understand each student cognitively, socially and emotionally–and work closely with families to best advance each child's intellectual growth and well-being.
The role of a teacher in a progressive school is more complicated than in a traditional school relying on texts, lectures and standardized tests. Indeed, some believe that, as effective as they are, the reason progressive teaching practices are not de rigueur is that they are very difficult to implement. To appreciate the underlying structure of the project-based academic program at Park Day is to see how curriculum emerges from the knowledge and understanding that the teachers have about their students.
Teachers plan an academic curriculum that both meets or exceeds state curriculum guidelines, and is engaging, challenging and directed toward learning outcomes. Teaching materials are often created by the teachers themselves. Each grade level covers major units of study. Within these frameworks, teachers have the freedom to explore a particular sub-theme. Ongoing discussion and collaboration among teachers ensure coordination among the different grade levels.
Park Day School teachers actively share their expert skills outside of the classroom. Our teachers present workshops at national conferences, are consultants for a wide variety of educational programs, and write for online and print publications. They work closely with local public school teachers in the Oakland Learning Community (OLC), formed by Park Day and three local public schools in 2012, to share best practices.
Our teachers continue their individual professional development through yearly training, both as individuals and as a staff cohort. The search for improvement is ongoing, even by our most seasoned staff members. Faculty regularly attend workshops to hear new ideas and to challenge their own methods of teaching. Over the past few years, our teachers have attended professional development workshops and worked with a range of organizations, including UC Berkeley's math department, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Gender Spectrum, People of Color in Independent Schools (POCIS) and Mills College, to hone their skills. In addition, we train many student teachers enrolled in graduate programs throughout the Bay Area. Placement counselors and student teacher supervisors view Park Day School as a dynamic and exciting learning environment.