Penn Fellow Iris Williamson spent a week at the Bard Institute for Writing and Thinking last summer, and was eager to share that experience with her colleagues at Taft. She did so this week through a workshop entitled, "Writing as a Residue of Thought," part of Taft's PEG Winter Workshop program.
"The Winter Workshop program is something we have done every other year for the past six years," says Dean of Faculty Edie Traina. "It is the brainchild of the Professional Education and Growth (PEG) Committee, a group of faculty members who look for ways to encourage professional development, both in-house and through other opportunities like travel, conferences, or grad school."
The committee invited faculty members to develop and lead a series of one-hour workshops. Topics ranged from stereotype threat and enhancing student feedback, to using technology in the classroom and deep dives into Taft's culture.
"The big piece is that it is self-driven professional development," Traina sys, "developed for the community, by the community."
It is the "for the community" piece that resonated with Williamson, who invited those attending her workshop to "sink into the role of student, access your love of learning, and radically care for yourself, spending time here, reading and writing in a community of scholars."
Williamson led her peers through a series of exercises and experiences, built on the pedagogical framework employed at Bard. In the culminating exercise, workshop participants explored the themes and context of a written passage through shared "dialectical response" notebooks. It is an approach, she says, that has informed her teaching at Taft, and that embraces writing as critical thinking, and as an essential mode of thoughtful communication in the classroom.
"The way that you write is the way that you think—writing is, truly, the residue of thought," says Williamson. "What students share in writing is often less guarded—more thoughtful—than what they would have shared in a class discussion."
Emily Li, a Penn Fellow in English and workshop attendee, looks forward to using Williamson's approach in her own classroom.
"I'm particularly excited about this idea of writing as the residue of thought, and some of the instructional strategies Iris demonstrated," says Li. "I personally found writing to be so valuable throughout my own high school experience—it helped me to understand what I thought, why I thought what I thought, and how that informed the way I navigated the world around me. I'd really like my students to engage in that same kind of growth. I'm looking forward to being more deliberate about how I can give my students more opportunities to refine their thinking through writing."
Though participation in the PEG Winter Workshop program was voluntary, Traina notes that more than 100 faculty members took advantage of the opportunity to think about their own professional growth.
"I feel a responsibility as a teacher to be constantly learning and developing," adds Li. "I really relish the opportunity to continue to improve by learning from educators I look up to at Taft."
The Professional Education and Growth Committee is one of Taft's 17 standing committees, comprised of both faculty and staff, which meet regularly to enhance and expand all aspects of our school community. Other committees include Academic Technology, Global Leadership and Service, Gender, Spiritual Life, and Summer Reading. The charge of the PEG Committee is, "to assist in the development of the faculty through programing for professional growth and providing oversight for the Professional Education Grant (PEG) program. " The PEG charge is realized through programming such as the Winter Workshops, sponsoring outside speakers like Dr. Michael Thompson and the Stanley King Institute, as well as reviewing the 80+ summer grant applications that are submitted each spring.