How Your Teachers Grow

Most students would be surprised to learn about Professional Growth funds. Every year, Miami Country Day School teachers are given access to a thousand dollars plus any unused money from previous years to spend on improving their teaching or exploring new ideas.

Though many apply to allocate their funds on conferences that deal specifically with their subject, some use it for educational travel, developing new programs, or to pursue graduate level coursework. To use their Professional Growth money, teachers are asked to submit a proposal that clearly outlines their career goals and how this experience would better their teaching at Country Day. Mr. Culbertson is the Dean of Faculty for the first semester, and Ms. Maxwell will take over in January. All requests for Professional Growth money go through them. “The beauty of it,” said Ms. Maxwell, “is that it’s individualized, and based off the goals of the teacher.” Mr Culbertson could not remember ever denying a request, though unorthodox or unclearly presented ideas often require a longer conversation on how exactly the project will benefit the community.

Ms. Dorn had an unorthodox proposal last year. Though she teaches Julius Caesar to the ninth graders in her classes every year, she had never visited London, or seen the English places Shakespeare references in his plays. Last February it came to her attention that for the first time since 1999, Julius Caesar would be performed live at a modern replica of Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre on the River Thames. Ms. Dorn had some money left from previous years, and submitted a full itinerary to Mr. Culbertson for approval. Though the cost of the trip was not covered completely by Professional Growth dollars, the money made it much easier. She brought back as many posters, pictures, and souvenirs as she could carry and intends to use them all in her class. She took as many videos as she could of the actual performance, and has video of her talking to some of the actors. “It’s very cool,” said Ms. Dorn. “It’s really going to come alive for the students. Otherwise teachers are just talking to students… The Globe Theatre, Shakespeare, different places that he visited — that’s what I want to bring to my classroom. And it’s something that I will be able to use not only in ninth grade but whenever and wherever I talk about Shakespeare. So there’s your growth.”

But most teachers spend this money on workshops and conferences that educate them about new teaching methods or advancements in their fields. “It’s sort of like the teachers getting to go back to school for the week,” said Mr. Bronish, Director of the Upper School math and science departments. Over the the summer, the departments occasionally send groups of teachers to workshops across the country on TInspire calculators. Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire hosts a conference each summer where they teach educators about their method for learning math, which focuses on “discussion and inquiry” over lecturing and rote memorization. Some of the principles learned during that conference and ones like it helped the math department in its move toward the integrative math program a few years ago.

Mr. Brown, the new World Literature teacher at Country Day, had never worked at a school with Professional Growth before, but is excited to use his funds. “It’s very nice to be able to direct how you grow as a teacher by using these funds to go to conferences or subscribe to publications, or to attend specific workshops that relate to your subject.” He plans to use his thousand dollars on a few books, and a possible trip to the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for a critique of Amused.

Originally, Professional Growth funds were presented as a lump fund that faculty applied to on a first come, first serve basis. But eventually it was decided to change to a bank account format to allow for rollover for bigger projects. At this point, every teacher uses their funds in some way, though many save up over years to fund larger projects.

Professional Growth money has effects on students in both large and small ways.  Entire programs have been founded based off of ideas teachers learned at conferences, but the small tricks that help a student understand a complex concept can also be traced back to summer workshops. In addition, many teachers bring back the skills they learn and share them with their colleagues. Said Mr. Culbertson, “It’s a very individualized approach. Teachers are very creative in how they use their funds.”