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Our Inspired Teachers: Lisa Ellenberg

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

 From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Lisa Ellenberg, BS & LS librarian

Bachelor's and master's in education, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. At CGS since 1991.

During storytime at the library, the satisfying language and structure of folktales can create an enchanting bond between the children and me, lingering deliciously in the air at a story’s close. During such a moment, a kindergartener once remarked, “You’re really old, aren’t you.” At that point, I was actually a relatively young teacher. Curious, I responded, “Well, I’m a lot older than you are. How old do you think I am?” After a studied pause, she ventured a guess, “Seven?” This would be one of many opportunities over the years for the words of a child to swiftly transmit unexpected perspective, surprise, and delight.
Teaching requires grappling with questions, both crafting and responding thoughtfully to them. The process keeps me fascinated with my work. Every day children come to the library with questions that require me to listen and interview to discover what is really being asked. “Lisa, where is the robbing section?” I say, “Tell me more about that.” Response: “You know, like a sneak-around book, that would help you find things.” Further investigation revealed some possibilities, including that the child has an interest in techniques of espionage, or is looking to design a recess game involving capture.
Back to the folktales. The text of one traditional tale includes the refrain, “and the dog leaped that hedge in a single bound!” A 2nd grader with wrinkled brow quipped dryly, “Well, how else could you do it?,” instantly illuminating the truth that either you get over the hedge in a single bound or crash into it. For me, it was impossible to not add that question to the refrain as we completed the story. As their fresh eyes and minds absorb experiences, children’s questions fill me with wonder about their potential for invention. I recently heard it said, “Creation is evolution.” I am grateful to witness this every day.  



Our Inspired Teachers: Herb Jahncke

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Herb Jahncke, 3rd grade

Bachelor's in biology, Rollins College. Master's in teaching, Lewis & Clark College. At CGS since 2007.

 A course at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Maine, during the summer of my junior year of college, inspired me to work with kids in experiential education. One of the challenge course elements at my first job was a zip-line across a ravine. My role was to encourage and support the kids, sit them down on the edge of the platform with feet dangling in the open space above the ravine, and strap them safely to the zip-line. When they were ready to slide across the ravine, they would scoot closer to the edge of the platform, grip the line with both hands, drop off the edge and careen down the wire to the other side. One day, a camp director said to me, “Do you feel that sudden lurch in your stomach when they drop off the edge?” I replied that I certainly did. He said, “When you don’t have that feeling anymore, it’s time to find a different job.”

His main focus was on students’ physical safety, but I recognize that this simple rule still applies today. In outdoor education, the perceived and actual risks are what make the experiences so powerful. In indoor education, the risks are just as real and the stakes higher. We, as teachers, expect the students to take risks every day by sharing their thoughts, ideas, strengths, challenges, hopes, and dreams. We encourage them to seek out their developmental “edge” and reach a safe level of discomfort to learn and grow. As they do, I am right beside them, providing a safety line, and watching them take the risks and reap the rewards. If it ever comes to be that I don’t feel that visceral concern for each student as he or she pushes off on their own, it’ll be time to get another job. 


Our Inspired Teachers: Mariam Higgins

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

 From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Mariam Higgins, 4th grade

Bachelor’s in medical illustration, Ohio State University School of Medicine. Master’s in teaching, Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling. At CGS since 2006.


They call it an “encore career.”
After 15 years as a medical illustrator, I discovered another, consuming, passion: education. While finishing the illustrations for a textbook on managing fractures for primary care providers, I volunteered in my children’s classrooms. I was going to bed every night thinking about the students whose learning I was a small part of every week. I coached soccer, taught art, chaperoned, tutored, and eventually, after an exciting campaign, was elected to the school board.
So approaching 40, I went back to school, earning an MA in teaching with an emphasis in math, science, and technology. I embraced the constructivist, progressive approach, which valued differentiating and problem solving. I’ve had the good fortune to teach in rural, urban, and suburban communities, ages four to adult, from open-air math classes in an impoverished country, to integrating the arts in teaching at a beautiful graduate school.
This is my seventh year teaching 4th grade at Catlin Gabel. What I’ve found is a place where creating curriculum and teaching children is the most fulfilling and creative endeavor possible.
What truly thrills is being part of constant discovery and curiosity. Fourth graders are wide-eyed, empathetic, and very flexible thinkers. Sparks really fly when our particular fascinations cross: biology, art, being active outdoors, and environmental stewardship. I am so thankful to be a part of constant change, positive energy, commitment to intellectual rigor, and a balanced approach to lifelong learning and well being.
My job as an educator keeps me young, gives me grey hair, makes me laugh, scratch my head, try harder, figure it out, and connect. Coming into my classroom each day I feel a sense of peace, purpose, and joy. Teaching fills me up while giving back. What could be better? 


Our Inspired Teachers: Tom Tucker '66

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

 From the Autumn 2012 Caller

Tom Tucker '66, US and MS woodshop

 Bachelor’s in design, Marlboro College. At CGS since 1979.

 What really informed my practice as a teacher was “Faculty Flip Day,” an event invented by then-head of school Schauff (Manvel Schauffler). Each teacher spent that day teaching in an entirely different grade level and discipline. I found myself in Bob Kindley’s Upper School math classes. The idea was not so much to take Bob’s place as it was to see what it was like to be in another teacher’s shoes. I tried to add what little knowledge I had about higher math in the form of an explanation of Pythagoras’s Rule of the 18th (fret positions for stringed instruments) and the trigometric functions that might describe the angles of a podium I had recently built. Mostly what I did was experience Bob’s life as a US math teacher through his students and his room. And the same could be said for whoever replaced me in the shop. What I learned from the experience was simple, and for me, profound.

All of us engaged in the profession of teaching, it seemed to me, are really bent on the same task: engaging students to notice the details and aesthetics of their lives and environments, and the cultures that surround them. I do it through woodworking and the application of tools, wood, and considered thought. Bob did it through the wonders, magic, and discipline of math, and all my colleagues do it through their individual passions and exquisite knowledge of their fields of expertise. But what it basically boiled down to, for me, was that we are all educating our students to be thoughtful, respectful, caring, and aware of this society and planet that we inhabit. Each age will have its challenges in the tools of its time. The important elements are the reasoning, skills, sense of responsibility, and heart that underlie the use and purpose of those tools. 



Our Inspired Teachers: Veronica Ledoux

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Every day Catlin Gabel teachers inspire their students. 16 faculty members talk about how they came to teaching—and what they love about their craft

 From the Autumn 2012 Caller

 Veronica Ledoux, US science

Bachelor’s in biochemistry, Mercyhurst College. Doctorate in neurobiology, Northwestern University. At CGS since 2008. 

When I initially began studying science, I imagined a finish line of sorts, a distant future in which I’d Understand Everything. Naïve, right? Now, I know better. As the years passed and my education continued, I learned a great deal, but each insight uncovered new parts of the scientific puzzle. The more I understood, the more I wondered. This complex spiral can go on forever. I now realize that one of the most exciting parts of studying science is the limitlessness of it.
In my previous life as a science researcher, I used complicated equipment to ask very minute questions in tremendous depth. While I was fascinated by my work, I had only a relatively small community of fellow scientists with whom I could share my discoveries. The taxpayers funding my work didn’t know what I was doing with their money, as my findings were published in expensive scientific journals with limited circulation and dense, jargon-filled text. There was no easy way for me to share my scientific excitement with the public at large.
At times I miss the research lab, but now, as a teacher, I constantly have opportunities to share my curiosity and love of learning with others. Many teachers are the sort of people who would be happy to be eternal students, and our profession lets us get away with this, to a degree. At Catlin Gabel, we have the freedom to innovate, update curriculum, create new courses, and follow the interests of students. This is both exciting and daunting. My colleagues set a high bar for constantly honing their craft, paying attention to individual students, and adapting their approach to better suit the needs of those students. I am privileged to be part of this place, as my own scientific understanding is constantly being challenged, which keeps my enthusiasm high. 


The Consummate Professionals

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 From the Autumn 2012 Caller

By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School


No matter what study you reference about school reform, the most important element of successful schools is the excellence and effectiveness of the teacher. Teaching involves an intricate, complex, and challenging set of skills. Teachers may make as many as a thousand choices within one school day, including making quick and nuanced adaptations of the lesson plan, figuring out how to communicate best with each individual student (verbally? through body language?), when to pause effectively, and how to pace the lesson and shape activities to sustain the students’ attention.
Given the complexity of teaching and the solitary nature of a classroom, where a regular feedback loop is not available daily, teachers need and seek feedback on their teaching from peers and supervisors. I ponder the reluctance of teachers nationally to trust evaluation systems that are designed to improve their practice, not to weed them out. Their reluctance is complex – and there may be reasons to be distrustful – but, like any other respected profession, teachers undergo yearly reviews. I am saddened by the teacher-bashing that is the substance of much political discourse, but how can we gain stature as a profession if we resist constructively critical commentary?
Catlin Gabel’s professional growth system, instituted in the late nineties, adopted the work of Charlotte Danielson, an economist, teacher, curriculum specialist, and supervisor in schools for many years. When she was charged to help develop a system for professional growth, she conducted a study of thousands of teachers to identify characteristics of the most successful teachers. The result was Enhancing Professional Practice (Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 1996). The elements of highly effective teaching were divided into planning and preparation, class environment, instruction, and professional responsibility. Under each characteristic are numerous behaviors that the teacher and the supervisor reflect on and observe on a continuum, combined with classroom visits and immediate feedback. We adopted her model because the process was sensitive to the diversity of teaching styles, respectful of the complexity of the teaching-learning process, and easily adapted to the mission of our school and our bedrock belief in student-centered, experiential learning. Our goal is to make sure that every teacher at Catlin Gabel is evaluated using this process. The system empowers teachers, in whatever stage in their career, in whatever subject, to move from good to great; great to greater.
We look for teachers from robust national and international candidate pools who have demonstrated the attributes inherent in our professional model. We observe how they teach classes here to our own students, their recommendations from current employers, and through individual reference phone calls. We watch their interactions with our own students very carefully and ask for written evaluations from a committee of older students. They are the best judges. All candidates we select for daylong interviews are experts in their disciplines or grade levels; they are the ones who we can see are magic with students.
We create a superb faculty by starting with superb employees. We give them instructional materials and technology, fund innovation and new team summer planning, and give them freedom and unbridled support to execute innovative ideas. Most importantly, we give these professionals ongoing support at perfecting the art and the craft of teaching.
This issue presents snapshots of teachers who started at Catlin Gabel in four different decades. They share their career development and why they are teachers. They ARE the consummate professionals.


Photo gallery posted: seniors and 1st graders carve pumpkins

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So fun – and it didn't rain!

 Click on any photo to enlarge image and start the slide show.

Homecoming photo gallery

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What could be better than Friday night under the lights? The Murphy Athletic Complex's Gant-Davis field is a thing of beauty when the sun sets on an autumn evening, our athletes play their hearts out, and fans flock together to cheer. Go Eagles!

Click on any photo to enlarge image and start a slide show. Thanks go to Cody Hoyt '13 for the game photos.

Creative Arts Center groundbreaking photo gallery

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A grand celebration!

On a beautiful afternoon in early October, we broke ground for the Creative Arts Center for Middle and Upper School students. The building will open fall 2013. For more information about the project, please visit www.catlin.edu/artscenter.

Click on any photo below to enlarge image and view pictures as a slide show.

Flaming Chickens robotics team on KGW-TV

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KGW-TV news story, September 2012

Members of our Upper School robotics team, 1540 the Flaming Chickens, spent all weekend at OMSI's Mini Maker Faire September 15-16 talking to people about FIRST Robotics and Catlin Gabel. They also got up for a early 4:30 a.m. video shoot at OMSI to promote the faire.  Check it out.