“Teacher-student relationships here are completely different from those in my old school,” says Oshins. “You connect on a personal as well as an intellectual level. Every teacher at Gann brings his or her own style to the classroom and the classes are always engaging and always fun.”
Gann invests tremendous resources in professional development and nurtures its teachers as deliberately and thoughtfully as it does its students. The equivalent of four full-time staff members spend their time on professional development— helping teachers build their instructional skills to improve learning outcomes for students.
Science department chair Mark Wilkins has taught at three of the top private schools in the northeast. At his Gann interview, it quickly became apparent that from a professional growth standpoint, Gann was like no other school he had worked at. “The school has such an innovative, open-minded and intentional mindset around professional learning and growth,” says Wilkins.
For example, Wilkins and two other science teachers traveled to Israel to learn more about the country’s environmental and natural resources struggles— within the context of Israel innovation and politics. Now they are using what they learned to help inform the 10th grade science curriculum. “The learning environment — for teachers and students — is as rigorous as that of the best schools in the country,” continues Wilkins, “set against a backdrop of a moral structure and framework.”
From the moment new teachers step inside the front door, the investment in their professional development begins. No matter what their experience level, they are assigned a mentor, who regularly engages them in discussions about teaching; observes them in the classroom and gives feedback; and sets and tracks goals for improvement. Mentors find that their own teaching practice improves because they’re constantly reflecting on what good teaching looks like.
Teachers also observe each other in “faculty rounds,” work in study groups focusing on particular areas of teaching, and attend professional development activities outside of school. Gann encourages teachers to hone their craft in new environments, offering a travel fellowship that has taken teachers like Wilkins to Israel and others as far away as India.
Gann values its role as a pedagogical leader and as often as possible, spreads its expertise more widely. In fact, Gann is the site of TedxWalthamED, a day of education-themed talks on April 2, which will draw educators from public and independent schools throughout the state. And at the annual Prizmah Jewish Day School conference, Gann led more training sessions than any other school in the country, with six faculty and staff members presenting. This fall, Gann will launch a research program that supports additional studies on teaching practice.
Gann alum Jonathan Gould, a doctoral student in Harvard’s department of government, reflects on his high school teachers: “They made a remarkable difference in my life,” says Gould, who also has a law degree from Harvard. “I got the attention and mentorship that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”