By: Will Dowling
Despite having obtained mastery or near-mastery of a single subject, a high-quality teacher eternally seeks new knowledge, and uses his or her experiences in order to learn and develop. Mr. Sam Willson, this year’s Henry Callard Fellow, Upper School Music History teacher, and assistant Varsity Basketball coach, took advantage of a unique scholarly opportunity in early April: a day solely dedicated to learning and improving himself by observing others.
On April 4th, Mr. Willson and the other Gilman fellows, Mr. Alex Jimenez and Ms. Gaby Davis, participated in this “Learning Walk” experience. Mr. Tye Campbell, Gilman’s Director of Technology, also participated. Mr. Bartley Griffith, Assistant Headmaster, organized the activity, and explained that the Learning Walk was coordinated “as a growth experience for our teaching fellows…[We hoped] that they would be able to improve their own instruction by observing a range of teaching styles and learning environments across the campus.” The day was a busy one for the fellows: Mr. Willson says that during the first part of the day the faculty members “went to...seven or eight lower school classes, and... spent about five to ten minutes in each class.” After completing a thorough examination of the Lower School, the participants then completed the same process in both the Middle and Upper Schools. Mr. Willson and the others “Didn’t say anything...didn’t contribute...just sat there and watched how each class went.”
The intention of the Learning Walk was to help each participant gain a better knowledge of how a class flows and how each individual can most effectively present information to students or peers. By observing the methods of other teachers, Mr. Willson was able to refine his own, comparing different approaches to teaching and synthesizing this learning in order to ultimately gain an improved understanding of the nuances of professional education.
According to Mr. Willson, the part of the Learning Walk from which he gained the most was the opportunity to “judge [himself] in comparison to other master teachers,” contrary to the less beneficial self-evaluation and internal comparison, which happen on a daily basis. This act of comparison let him “learn a lot about who [he is] as an individual and what kind of teacher [he is].” For the future, Willson says that he “[does] plan to use some of the [classroom management] tactics used...there were some really powerful teachers who had a really strong presence in the classroom,” from whom he was able to learn the most.
The future of the Learning Walk activity at Gilman looks bright. Based on the positive results, including the fact that “the fellows learned a lot from seeing so many of their colleagues in action,” Mr. Griffith says that “we hope to open this experience up to members of our full-time faculty in the future.” The Learning Walk was an unqualified success based on its full completion of the goals set out by Mr. Griffith before the event. In the coming years the activity will hopefully have more and greater benefits for many Gilman Faculty members. The idea of the Learning Walk teaches an important lesson: that observing others and acknowledge their positive aspects is the best way to learn about oneself and make personal improvements. Take it from Mr. Willson: “It [is] a valuable experience for sure.”