Unique to Ursuline, and supported by The Campaign for Ursuline: Act, Move, Believe, Innovative Time Grants are a time set aside for teachers to research and develop a particular innovative idea. They focus on innovative practices and give faculty time to research and implement shifts in education, specifically toward a more student-driven learning model.
Teachers accepted into the program are given a single “release” period for the school year of their grant. Teaching one less class allows grantees to use that release time to pursue a project that will allow research and development of innovative education practices.
“Her Voice at the Table” first began as English teacher Kate Schenck’s Innovation Time Grant project in 2020.
“Having a time in the day set aside for daydreaming and imagining ‘what could be’ is such a gift,” said Kate.
When she started her project, Kate’s goal was to teach writing with student wellbeing competencies. It included researching current conversations about best practices in teaching, working on the layout of posts, designing of graphics, meeting with colleagues to discuss drafts, and thinking about ways to reach out across departments on campus.
In June of 2022, Kate, along with fellow English teacher Megan Griffin and Math teacher Claudia Mathison, presented at the International Coalition of Girls' Schools (ICGS) Conference.
Their presentation, "Her Voice at the Table: Student Well-Being in the Academic Classroom," shared how they have integrated well-being competencies into their English and Math classes.
“The strategies we use range from daily activities like intentional journal writing or self-assessment opportunities to reimagined projects and essays that assess for well-being competencies like empathy, voice, resilience, and growth mindset,” said Megan.
Integrating these competencies requires thoughtful and deliberate curriculum design. Workshop participants practiced the development of well-being competencies for their own classes and shared their ideas, creating a rich portfolio of ideas and strategies to implement this important work.
Personally, Kate, Megan, and Claudia have all integrated the competencies in several ways:
- “After attending a workshop on Design Thinking through the Center for Transformational Leadership, I’ve created design challenges for The Odyssey and Romeo and Juliet,” said Kate. “In these challenges, students solve a messy human or divine problem, focusing on developing their empathy skills.”
- “My junior team has reimagined the junior research unit to foreground the development of voice,” said Megan. “The unit is called Citizen Rhetor Project and students, after reading a contemporary memoir that highlights a significant issue in the American public conversation (environment, race, immigration, education, poverty, healthcare, etc.), develop a research question, explore the various stakeholders, and then ultimately craft an argument for their peers about solutions and direct-action steps.”
- “In my Math class, I’ve focused on ways to develop students’ growth mindset and resilience by incorporating self-assessment, reflection and revision opportunities, and authentic mathematical tasks,” said Claudia.
What’s the biggest impact they’ve seen in their classrooms? Seeing their students take more risks, challenging themselves to tackle a seemingly impossible task, and becoming deeply invested in their work.
Having this professional development opportunity has allowed Kate, Megan, and Claudia to live out the mission they hope to cultivate in their students: the desire to be curious, lifelong learners.
“Thankfully, Ursuline does not take a one-size-fits-all approach to professional development and instead allows teachers to tailor opportunities to align with our individual goals,” they said. “These opportunities not only grow our content and pedagogical knowledge, especially in terms of the latest research on best practices, but they also place us in the shoes of our students, reminding us—at least a little bit—about what it means to be a learner.”
Now that “Her Voice at the Table” is two years old, Kate has started to think about what’s next.
“We have plans to create a podcast to continue the conversations we are having about curriculum and student well-being, and have expanded our management team,” she said. “We also hope to expand by welcoming a student intern and we will continue writing and publishing monthly blog posts, as well as researching student well-being.”
And, thanks to her work with “Her Voice at the Table,” Kate has also begun pursuing a Master’s in Social Work to supplement her research on best practices in curriculum development with more in-depth insights and knowledge regarding student mental health. She also hopes to also pursue counseling to further her understanding of student needs and well-being.
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