“How can I be a better teacher?” It’s not just Branksome Hall students who pursue the “growth mindset” values at the pedagogical core of an International Baccalaureate school. Consider Geography and Design teacher Allison Campbell-Rogers, for example.
For the fifth year, she has been part of the innovative professional development initiative Cohort 21, an annual collaborative journey run through the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario. Initially a participant, she is now part of the coaching team—and in a year of weighty themes that include Pandemic Pedagogies, Leading through Crisis, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Clearly, the opportunity for educators to hone their craft together has never been of greater value.
“It has been an immense source of support as participants share and celebrate challenges, frustrations and wins big and small,” says Campbell-Rogers, “as we test and refine approaches for teaching and leading in [this environment] as well as work DEI into our curriculum and our school culture. In essence, Cohort 21 became a support group for teachers this year.”
Comprising four Zoom sessions, participants have one session to go in this year’s program, using personal blogs and social media to share deep learning and key insights gleaned from one another. With an emphasis on mental health and well-being right now, the group has explored the integration of empathy into school culture through technology, curriculum design and strategic planning. Campbell-Rogers notes that she has also learned how effective it is to gain objectivity on one’s own pedagogical approach by sharing challenges and having other participants collaborate on solutions, using a Design Thinking framework to refine and develop an action plan.
“The biggest insight I've gained from working within Cohort 21 is the value of collaboration in building creative confidence,” she says. “The possibilities are endless when committed, passionate teachers get together and make plans.”
This year, Campbell-Rogers brought her work with Branksome Hall employee book clubs
to the table, part of the school’s work to explore social justice issues and support anti-Black racism education at a systemic level. In her blog post entitled “DEI Book Clubs: A Launch Pad for Deeper Work
,” she reflects candidly on the importance of starting with empathy, which comes from working to learn and understand through, and about, others’ experiences.
“Creating a space over several months for conversations about the themes of the selected books and their broader ties to societal inequities and the role of our own institutional whiteness resulted in a noticeable development in our comfort with using the language of DEI,” says Campbell-Rogers in her blog post, “and having dedicated time to practice these conversations before bringing them to our students served to enhance our confidence as educators.”
Of course, Campbell-Rogers understands the initiative is part of a broader effort, as she also says in the post. “I see this work as a continuum. As my empathy grows, my knowledge expands, my choices change and my confidence propels me to act and invest in ways that dismantle systemic racism. The book club is just the catalyst for the work that needs to be done, it is not an end in itself."
Cohort 21’s final Zoom session this year, on May 1, will take the format of a celebration of learning. Participants will share their progress and next steps for the work within their chosen theme.
“There will be a sense of closure to this unusual year that really highlights and celebrates all that has been accomplished,” she says.