Community of Learners: Professional Development at Alzar School

Teaching Fellows and Staff discuss their educational practice.

Every Tuesday, sometime between lunch and biology, Faculty and Teaching Fellows sit down at a small table on the patio, beneath the whitebark pine, in view of Snowbank Mountain. We gather because for a brief window each week, we cease to be teachers: we desert our lesson plans and relish in the opportunity to be learners again.

It’s called PD30--Professional Development, 30 minutes--a brief moment to step away from teaching to think critically about how we can best educate our students. We hear from teachers across disciplines, each with distinct background and educational philosophy; we discuss rubrics, differentiation, assessment tools, and each others’ growth as educators. Whatever the topic, PD30 is a chance to improve our instruction together.

Jack, our Biology Teaching Fellow, enjoys “looking at things in a different way--similar topics, with a new perspective.” Laura, our Director of Studies, is PD30 host and instructor extraordinaire: “every teacher is going to have their own take, their own style, their own approach. I find it refreshing to keep learning from one another.” As instructors, we came to the Alzar School to be a part of a community of continual learners: for our students, and for each other.

Chilean Flavor – Making Pebre in Choshuenco

While in Choshuenco, we eat at a wonderful local restaurant called El Rucapillán. Though the meals are filling and flavorful, my favorite part of dinner in Choshuenco is always the pebre. Pebre is a traditional Chilean salsa, often spicy and always delicious. Each night in Choshuenco, we find a different pebre on the table. Sometimes it’s mild and bright red; other nights, garlic-filled and salmon-colored, others still, spicy and pale pink. It complements every meal wonderfully, from simple bread and butter to sausage and bean stew. Since we first arrived in Choshuenco, I’ve been determined to learn how to make it. A stilted but successful conversation with the owners of the restaurant settled the plan for Sunday evening, just before dinner.

After a sun-filled afternoon on the beach of Lago Panguipulli, Emily and Allison decided to join me on my culinary adventure. We eagerly made our way to the restaurant, where Veronica ushered us into the kitchen. She was delighted to have three new American pupils, and immediately washed and organized the ingredients: seven or eight plump tomatoes, a handful of yellow ají peppers, a couple small green hot peppers, and two bell peppers. As Veronica sliced up the vegetables, she chatted with Emily, Allison, and I about our hometowns. We discovered that Veronica has a childhood friend who lives in Emily’s home state of New Jersey, and that TV shows have led Veronica to some strange assumptions about Allison’s home state of Texas. As we learned about each others’ hometowns, Veronica tossed the ingredients into a blender with half a cup of water, and pulsed the veggies into the rose-hued salsa that we all adore. She poured the fresh salsa into a large glass jar, and as our conversation drew to a close, we thought our simple lesson might be over.

But we still needed to add salt and the critically important ingredient, cilantro. Veronica hurried off, and I assumed she would return with a handful of cilantro from the fridge. Instead, she beckoned for us to follow her. Out of the kitchen and through the laundry room, we followed her into an alcove behind the restaurant, where we found ourselves surrounded by raised beds. She bent down and plucked a few leaves off of a plant, brought them to her nose, then ours – fresh oregano!

We proceeded to follow her on a tour of the garden. Inside a small greenhouse, cucumbers and tomatoes climbed towards the ceiling and basil grew steadily; beside the greenhouse, squash and zucchini plants flowered. Veronica pointed out the herbs in the raised beds lining the restaurant wall: cilantro, oregano, a local variety of rosemary, and many more. She picked a handful of cilantro and a pinch of rosemary. We munched on a freshly plucked cucumber as she told us that the restaurant uses herbs and vegetables from their garden as much as possible – especially when they make fresh pebre.

Back in the kitchen, Veronica briskly chopped up the herbs and added them to jar. After a heaping spoonful of salt, the pebre was complete. We each tasted a small spoonful, oohing and aahing over the perfect freshness and spiciness. Veronica was delighted, and we left the restaurant a small bowl of pebre all for ourselves – as well as a great new friend!

At dinner, with bowls of our freshly prepared pebre on the table, Emily and Allison chatted with their friends about the recipe, making plans to prepare it at home for their families. “We should make it in the cabanas!” said one of their housemates. Everyone was excited to practice the new recipe, in Chile and back at home. It was a fabulous end to our weekend of paddling and roll practice, a wonderful moment of cross-cultural learning to conclude our final weekend in the Lakes District.

Written by: Angelica Calabrese

Semester 9 Staff – the Best Yet

When we arrived back at Cascade, Idaho on August 4th, we were only a little different than when we'd left two months prior; some of us had traveled to Canada for epic whitewater, others had returned to old communities to rediscover big pieces of ourselves. Most spent too many hours in cars listening to innumerable podcasts, and a few backpacked. All of us were tanner. But, the four teachers and their new experiences that returned that day only make up a fraction of the instructors that would have a new and profound effect on Semester 9's kids tomorrow (and many days to follow).

This semester we have Megan Wyllie - she was our Science Teaching Fellow last Fall and has come back for the incredible community she proved so capable of developing then. She's bubbly and passionate and fierce. She's capable and humble and caring. She's our Leadership teacher (among many other things).

We have Reed Wommack who has spent weeks and weeks backpacking and instructing in Alaska. He's taught at Swiss Semester. He's kayaked loads. And, he is incredibly good at any game you try to play with him. He's supportive and playful and pensive. He teaches a little Science, a little English, and a little Phys.Ed. He's a boss.

We got Colin back from last semester, too! Colin just came back from leading a trip in Alaska, as well. He loves being on the water and could probably teach anyone how to roll a kayak. He's great at accents and gets work done. He studied abroad in Spain, and now he teaches Spanish and P.E. Can't stop, won't stop.

And those are only our teachers! Our Teaching Fellows are so incredibly and impressively capable. Melissa traveled abroad to Ecuador, has an Education degree, and leads multi-week expeditions for Deer Hill Academy. We have John who has been to Chile multiple times, was the president of his college's outing club, and taught at Teton Science School. Johanna mountaineers, climbs, and has a degree in Education, as well. She's warm and loves to take photos. Hallie has been a raft guide for some years now, she lived abroad in Spain, and she is rocking it as our Medical Coordinator assistant. And, Dave has been a wilderness instructor for years. He's passionate about teaching leadership and orientation. He's hilarious and kind.

... and those are only are instructors! We have a new Dean of Studies and a new Director of Admissions. Our program is growing, and it's no doubt one might fear what that growth means for them or their student. Being someone who is very directly affected by these changes, I certainly wondered. And my fears have been assuaged. After five days of river-systems training, risk-management scenarios, academic lessons, early mornings, and late nights, I feel more than confident in saying that we have a stellar crew. These people know and care. They are capable and compassionate. They are role models and open to growth.

Semester 9 is bound to be the best yet -I'm sure of it-, and it's only the first day.

My Inspiring Teaching Fellow

I remember last semester when I was told that I would be mentoring a Teaching Fellow in my English class this Spring. It would be my responsibility and privilege to provide a healthy learning environment for not only my English students but also an aspiring educator... I was nervous.

I remember, too, weeks before our Spring semester began, receiving an e-mail from my to-be Teaching Fellow; her name was Megan. She was pumped, passionate, and prepared. (I guess we're going for alliteration in this... account.) She wanted to know if there was any reading material she could get moving on, and she wanted me to know she was stoked to be coming. I remember sitting on my friend's floor over our Winter Break reading her letter and feeling compelled to immediately respond - I wanted Megan to know that I would do everything I could to help her get as much out of this experience as she was willing to put in. I hadn't realized how passionate I would be about that. As we shared later, I may have been a little... overzealous in my response. But, I think that's okay.

As everybody who is at all familiar with our program knows, our schedule is crazy - trying to introduce someone to classroom systems while helping them understand our chores systems, activity systems, faculty-meeting systems, expedition backpacking and river systems, etc... is just more intense than can be described. Megan, in the midst of all of it, figured out how to integrate her own system into it so she could keep track of everything. She made her own calendar to organize personal-recharge time, Teaching Fellow-duty time, and curriculum-planning time. And, during those planning hours, she was engaged, excited, and eager to know more (alliteration, see?!).

I remember that while in Chile we tried out block scheduling -which was a pretty huge success. Megan helped me come up with a creative way to present a Unit in six days that was normally taught over the course of fourteen. She observed me teaching the curriculum, and then she got to teach it to another class herself. It was awesome to see how she took my approach and morphed it to suit her style all the while fine-tuning what that style would be. She gracefully accepted feedback and immediately attempted to address it. She was growing intentionally and impressively fast.

I remember, too, that when we returned from Chile, it was her turn to teach an entire Unit. She was passionate about Into the Wild in a way that inspired me. It spoke to her interest in Psychology and Gender Studies. She found complicating questions in a text that could have been so simple. She pushed the kids to ask themselves what 'privilege' means. How many kids do you know that think about that? She incorporated oral history, magazine articles, scholarly articles, and visual art into her lessons. She helped them practice their metacognitive skills of self-assessment through Harkness discussion, in-class timed writes (with the multiple outcome of preparing them for the AP Language & Composition Exam), and peer reviews. Yet, what makes me the most excited about her development is her ability to manage a classroom dynamic in a way that feels playful, supportive, and educational. The students enjoy her class. They look to her for answers. They respect her questions.

I soooooooooooo (Look at all those 'o's!) appreciate contributing to a program that recognizes we all have room to grow. It doesn't matter if we're students, faculty, administrative staff, or Teaching Fellows. We came here for an opportunity to improve ourselves while helping others do so; Megan is both the product and the source of this ideology, and I couldn't be prouder of her.

Block Scheduling and Political Cartoons in Chile

Greetings from Chosuenco, Chile! The weather is warm and it is real treat to be enjoying summertime in early March. We just finished our first set of classes with half the group in Chosuenco, where they participated in math, science, and history classes. Our first group has just departed to the town of Neltume (fifteen minutes up the road), and the group in Neltume will be joining us for this next week and a half. The students in Neltume have been attending English and Spanish classes as well as working on conversational challenges with their newly honed Spanish skills.

For the first time in the school’s history, Alzar has incorporated block scheduling, making each class about one and a half hours long. This system has been positively received by both students and the faculty. For my honors US history course, this has been a fantastic development. My classes have begun to resemble a college seminar-style class, in which we have been able to engage more deeply with the material. In particular, discussions on difficult topics such as cultural relativism and the illusory objectivity that history textbooks often attempt to propagate have been highly engaging. I have been impressed with each students ability to rise to the added of challenge of more readings and a higher degree of discussion in this new system.

From a teaching perspective, here in Chosuenco I lack many of the resources I rely upon in Idaho. Among these obstacles are limited wifi, no access to an electronic display of information (powerpoint and videos), an inability to email back and forth between students, and the typical distractions of teaching in a busy little town. However, with these obstacles comes a new degree of resourcefulness and creativity in designing a curriculum. We have had debates, student-driven harkness discussions, student presentations, discussions on current events, as well as numerous other engaging classroom activities.

A particular highlight for both the students and myself was the opportunity to draw and present a political cartoon. As political cartoons and satire featured prominently throughout the era we are focusing (American Imperialism and Progressive Movement), I thought it would be appropriate have the students immerse themselves in the political, social, and economic discussions of that time as well as share their knowledge in a creative and hilarious way. The results had us dying with laughter. Some highlights included Katie Milligan portraying Teddy Roosevelt as a therapist, acting as the mediator between a miner’s union and mine owners in the 1902 Anthracite Coal Strike, and Daniella Admundson comically depicting the disturbing conditions of the meatpacking industry that inspired the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1904. I felt the activity was highly engaging and I look forward to incorporating similar activities going forward. Ultimately, what makes these activities so successful are the incredibly intelligent and curious students I have the privilege of working with everyday!

Colin Hull
History Teaching Fellow
Spring 2016