On October 2, Pittsburgh Public Schools shared with its Board of Directors the following definition of an effective teacher:
An effective teacher in Pittsburgh Public Schools is a professional, who knows his or her subject, and teaches it well, inspiring and engaging all students as individuals, and accelerating learning so that all students are Promise-Ready.
This definition was developed through the District’s work with teachers, national experts such as Dr. Pedro Noguera and Battelle for Kids, the Measures of Effective Teaching project, Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, our own Pathways to the Promise, and more. This definition will evolve as we continue our journey to understand effective teaching in PPS.
When we shared this definition with teachers, they were eager to provide feedback. The most consistent theme we heard was, “Bring this definition to life! It doesn’t capture the real power of what we do every day!” With this in mind, we are trying to find shining examples that help tell the complex story of teaching. This month, we’re featuring Cynthia Werner at Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 because she engages her students as individuals.
Mrs. Werner, an English teacher at Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12, approaches her lessons in many different ways, engaging students in learning that extends beyond the pages of a book. Acknowledging that students can sometimes feel disengaged from literature set in different time periods or that covers topics with which students are unfamiliar, Mrs. Werner always tries to supplement her lessons with films, guest speakers, or field trips to ensure her students can connect with the subject matter.
Mrs. Werner’s 9th grade English classes have been studying Elie Wiesel’s Night. Night details Wiesel’s experience in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps at the height of the Holocaust. The book asks students to learn about and grapple with the idea of genocide, a subject to which many students might find difficult to relate.
With this in mind, Mrs. Werner invited Jewish educators into her classroom to conduct workshops that helped students better understand how the genocide that occurred during World War II continues to impact the world in which they live today. Students also took a trip to SouthSide Works to see Nicky’s Family, a documentary about Englishman Sir Nicholas Winton and his efforts to rescue hundreds of Jewish children during the war. Her students also participated in the Jewish Israeli Film Festival.
Students also heard from the International Rooney Visiting Scholar Ms. Getrude Matshe from Zimbabwe, here in the United States for a semester teaching at Robert Morris University. Students were taken aback by her presentation; Ms. Matshe is a present-day example of how fearless perseverance can impact the lives of many others.
The message that it only takes one individual to make a change fully resonated with students as they read about bravery in Night, watched Sir Winton’s heroism in Nicky’s Family, and came face-to-face with a real life example of valor in Ms. Matshe. With new insight, Mrs. Werner’s students are now writing reflection pieces on these experiences.
What do you do in your classroom that makes you an effective teacher? Submit your story to Shannon Plush at firstname.lastname@example.org!