The PEN Is Mightier Than The Sword

PEN LogoAt Wildwood, we’re all learners—it’s as true of our teachers as it is of our students. So this past week when all 120+ Wildwood faculty and administrators joined nearly 900 other educators from around the world at the Progressive Education Network (PEN) National Conference in downtown LA, we came ready to think and learn about our teaching. The goal: to deepen knowledge of progressive educational practices in order to apply them in the classroom with Wildwood students.

Our faculty and administrators listened to internationally known keynote speakers, including DeborahMeier, Angela Davis and Erin Gruwell and many others. Our teachers found inspiration and insight, rounding out their own experiences with ideas and practical applications gleaned from over 100 workshop choices. Members of our Wildwood community also shared their expertise with conference participants: 11 faculty members and a half-dozen students helped to facilitate PEN workshops.

Some of our teachers found takeaways in keynote speakers’ messages.

Stefanie Grutman, 2nd grade head teacher, and upper school humanities teacher and advisor, Ariane White, were particularly moved by a keynote address by noted political activist and scholar, Angela Davis.  Stefanie was “riveted by Davis’s speech, and her vision of shaking up the hierarchy, in order to ensure an equitable education for everyone.” One of Ariane’s insights was Davis’s address. “It was all about teaching students to question everything they might take for granted and for educators to understand the systems of privilege and oppression that function in our world,” Ariane said. Davis’s message also inspired Ariane to make a connection to her own practice: “It felt really inspiring and validated all of the good multicultural work that is happening in our advisory program.”

Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well, challenged conference participants to consider how society’s narrow definitions of success adversely affect children. Susan Chung, Senior Institute literature teacher and advisor, noted how she “enjoyed listening to Madeline Levine and hearing what we (parents, teachers, and schools) are doing to kids and their love of learning.” Susan continued, “What really resonated with me during her speech was how much of our own struggles we do not share.”

For other Wildwood faculty, the various workshop sessions prompted deeper thinking.

Deb Christenson, Senior Institute social studies teacher and advisor, says a key takeaway was embedded in a discussion led by the heads of two small progressive schools here in California. “They found ways to articulate the difference between schools that ‘did’ progressive things and those that actually ‘are’ progressive,” Deb says. “That was very insightful for me.” Middle school humanities teacher and advisor, Becca Hedgepath, reflected on the meaning she took from a session on teaching students with learning differences. “On the one hand,” Becca posits, “progressive schools provide warmth, support and authenticity to students. However, challenges with time management and organizational skills can trip up some students.” Along with other Wildwood colleagues who attended this session, Becca and her colleagues “puzzled this and suggested solutions. It was a good opportunity to slow our pace and think out loud about how to best serve all of our students.”

Third grade head teacher, Roxanne Bergmans, found inspiration in three Wildwood students who took part in a panel discussion at the conference: 11th graders Julian C., Abby L., and Austin W.  Reflecting on their educational experiences at Wildwood, Roxanne recalled, “These students were articulate, honest, and poised. At the end of their session I was able to take a breath of relief knowing that this world may have a chance to become a better place with these students as our future.”

Professional learning experiences like the PEN Conference keep our teaching corps inspired, engaged in the national conversation around progressive education in practice, and offer opportunities to showcase our students’ exceptional experiences for others.

For many schools, these learning days for teachers would be a luxury. At Wildwood, we consider it an essential part of our mission.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

1 Comment »

  1. How progressive education is demonstrated when you are teaching a second language in HS?
    Can you invite teachers from other schools when you have another conference? Can I connect with one language upper school teacher teacher to discuss progressive education?
    Thank you. MGS

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