Supporting professional development at Lab

Supporting professional development at Lab

Just before the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, 900+ Lab community members gathered at the Field Museum for Connections 2020, a lovely gala event that raised $1.6M for professional development and financial aid.

As the pandemic unfolded, professional development gained new meaning. While in the past teachers and counselors might have traveled to Harvard or Italy to meet with colleagues for hands-on learning, the extraordinary circumstances of the past year radically changed the professional development environment.

Connections funding supported a number of virtual trainings and points of reflection for Lab faculty and staff. These included robust programming from the Institute for Social Emotional Learning and talks by dynamic facilitators.

Institute for Social and Emotional Learning
A few years ago, Lab embraced the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework. According to Nicole Neal, director of student services, the CASEL framework maps beautifully to Lab's mission and strategic framework. She notes that Lab teachers and counselors think deeply about social emotional growth for children from nursery through U-High. Lab's educators and counselling staff aim to support children in becoming self-aware, building healthy relationships, and making sound decisions. The Institute for Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL) offered Lab an opportunity to operationalize the CASEL framework and support faculty, counselors, and parents in integrating social emotional learning practices into their roles in children's lives.

In April 2020, Connections funding supported IFSEL workshops for all teachers on integration of social emotional learning into the core curriculum; the intersection of social emotional learning and diversity, equity, and inclusion; and an opportunity for teachers to reflect on their own position relative to social emotional learning. IFSEL also offered a summer training for new faculty on leveraging outdoor spaces to foster social emotional learning.

Throughout 2020-21, IFSEL has also provided additional support to teachers and counselors. Teachers have come together virtually with IFSEL facilitators for "teach meets," opportunities to reflect with other teachers on how things are going and to share strategies for self care. Lab's partnership with IFSEL has also extended to programming for parents in the community, facilitating a workshop series that explored practical strategies for helping children manage emotions and maintaining positive family communication. Having teachers, counselors, and parents working from a common framework has been incredibly beneficial to Lab students.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Applied Attention
In fall 2020, Connections support also made it possible for Lab to bring to its entire faculty and staff two fascinating speakers: Dena Simmons and Dave Mochel. Simmons, who recently left her role at Yale University's Center for Emotional Intelligence, is an advocate for pairing social emotional learning with a larger socio-economic focus to strengthen institutional and individual work against racial injustice, hate, and inequity, especially in the K-12 education sphere. Her inspiring talk resonated with many at Lab and pushed teachers and staff to engage with many dynamics around fostering communities that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Mochel, an educator and life coach, espouses the concept of applied attention, which he identifies as a human-centered and research-based approach to stress, anxiety, distraction, and setbacks. His calming talk gave Lab faculty and staff tools to continue bringing their talents and energy into the classroom, whether their "classroom" was accompanying tiny, brightly clad three-year-olds in Jackson Park, or leading high school students in complex topics via Zoom from their home office.

Reflecting on Lab's past, one cannot help but think that John Dewey would be proud of the innovation and ingenuity with which Lab teachers approached the last year. During the global pandemic, Connections support for professional development offered teachers strategies to advance their own learning so that they could catalyze student learning, even when traditional ways of pedagogy and connection were closed.