Teaching Teachers: Tools to Help Nurture the Whole Child

In July, The Philadelphia School hosted Developmental Designs (DD), a professional development workshop focused on social-emotional learning for grades 4-8. Educators from several area schools and twenty three TPS teachers spent four days studying developmentally responsive teaching strategies, as well as a personalized relationship-based learning approach aimed to help educators better connect with students and address their needs.

At TPS, our progressive education model teaches children to be critical thinkers, active learners, and engaged citizens—helping them thrive both in the classroom and in their communities. Attending to students’ social-emotional needs is a fundamental pillar of progressive education that helps advance all areas of learning for our children. Research confirms that when children feel safe and connected, they are more focused, more willing to take intellectual risks, and are more productive and invested in their learning. 

Nurturing the complex and ever-changing social-emotional needs of children is challenging work. But TPS educators are provided a cohesive set of tools to nurture the unique needs of each child through an annual investment in professional development, such as DD training. 

“Developmental Designs is a helpful mirror to a lot of things we already do at TPS. It's a way to make sure that children are pushed to grow and be thoughtful about their own behavior. It's also a way to ensure children are treated with respect,” said Roxanne, 6th grade teacher. 

Developmental Designs is a framework for establishing classroom rules and setting expectations while encouraging student ownership. “A main takeaway of mine from the training was the focus on promoting accountability and authenticity—two things I believe in strongly and that I feel are essential when it comes to teaching and building relationships with others,” shared Devin, PE teacher.

This DD approach also influences our school’s advisory program, how our teachers manage conflict resolution, and all other aspects of creating a climate conducive to robust learning and engagement. Attendees learned of the importance of using consistent language to help build community and trust within our classrooms, and teachers are already implementing these practices as we kick off the new school year. 

“We were given the opportunity to create a project outline of our own in which the students are given choice at how they can best demonstrate their learning—an excellent example of differentiated teaching,” music teacher, Chris Gignac, shared. “The four day training was a wonderful opportunity for teachers and administrators to establish a common understanding of how to establish equitable classrooms at TPS.”

With lessons learned from DD training, and through Responsive Classroom practices in grades preschool-3rd, all classrooms and departments at TPS are focusing on deepening their curricular and instructional practices to meet students where they are and how to skillfully nudge them forward both intellectually and socially.

“It is my belief that the most important curriculum for us as educators is one that focuses on relationships, empathy, equity, and social-emotional consideration,” shared Dina, JU-B teacher. “Developmental Designs reminds us all that we must take time for reflection and self care, and in this very busy and often confusing world, children need this even more.”

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