PARTNER PODCAST 7-27-17: Reflective Practice at St. Mark’s School (MA)

July 28, 2017

KBerndtFeatured guest Kimberley Berndt, a science teacher at St. Mark’s School (coed, boarding/day, 364 students, grades 9–12), speaks with host Peter Gow about how the evolving program at the Southborough, Massachusetts, school has inspired her own reflective practice.

Entering her eighth year at St. Mark’s after a career that began with Teach for America in 1993, Kimberley Berndt arrived at the school just as it was entering a period of curricular transformation. She saw the challenge as how to take the good students that enroll at schools like St. Mark’s and turn them into good learners without succumbing to the temptation to “fall back on traditional methods…because we know our students will do [that kind of work].”

Kim speaks about the ambitious St, Mark’s strategic plan, which embraces the synergy among global thinking, STEM (and STEAM) programming, and above all the development and application of innovative teaching and curriculum design to build on this synergy. St. Mark’s has its own Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, and Kim Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 9.55.37 PMsays that independent schools, especially, ought to think of themselves as “incubators” for pushing the educational envelope.

As for her own practice within this transforming academic culture, Kim admits that her own reflective tendencies are “both a blessing and a curse,” but that thinking about what goes on in her classroom from many perspectives has been a powerful impetus to improvement—especially when she is able to share the process with like-minded colleagues and the process becomes part of a culture and not just a set of discrete problems to be solved. She cites the work of Carol Rodgers and Miriam Raider-Roth (see below) as inspirational.

Part of Kim’s approach to the classroom has been to give increasing importance to student voice and student ideas, and she recounts an episode in which she asked the St. Mark’s academic dean to facilitate an open “critical friends”-like session with one of her classes to elicit feedback on the course and on her teaching. As well as being a successful experiment, this is also a demonstration of the power of trust—and of a trusting and trustful community—in furthering the development of teaching. Why fuss with anonymous surveys and agonize over “confidentiality” in a culture where this sort of exchange is possible?

Kim also speaks of her own transformation from a teacher seeking to produce great students to a teacher hoping to inspire and mentor great learners. Many students become “good at school” without knowing how to pursue their own real interests. Citing Carl Wieman (see below), she is excited about expert thinking and the idea of the person “who can be in expert in anything you want to be. The answer, Kim believes, lies in creating more opportunities for self-directed learning.

Kim also lays out her thoughts in response to a question about content and coverage, saying that engaged self-directed learners find themselves learning far more than they had thought possible, though she acknowledges that the realities of school schedules and calendars can impede the bulk acquisition required for certain kinds of standardized assessments. (St. Mark’s, it should be noted, no longer offers Advanced Placement-designated courses.)

Kim speaks of work at St. Mark’s to bring together various kinds of thinking on social-emotional learning, including thinking about concepts like cognitive load, stereotype threat, grit, resilience, and growth mindset. It’s about differentiating students not by As and Bs but by the skills and strategies required to bring out the best in each.

Email Kimberley Berndt

Resources referenced by Kimberley Berndt:.


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