Continuous Learning for Fenwick Faculty and Staff

In-house Professional Development, which began in earnest during the 2016-17 school year, helps our teachers sharpen their skill sets.

By Mark Vruno

Starting in the fall of 2016, Fenwick’s administration implemented its own Professional Development (PD) program for faculty and staff. The ongoing teacher education program is spearheaded by Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton and Digital Learning Specialist Bryan Boehm.

Ms. Laura Pendleton, Assistant Principal

“At Fenwick, through the Dominican pillar of study, we do an excellent job of instilling the value of life-long learning in our students,” says Ms. Pendleton, who also is the Orchestra Director at school. “The in-house professional development program was created out of the need to provide opportunities for our faculty to spend time in community learning new skills and sharing expertise with each other. It has grown a great deal in its first three years and, in the future, will serve to be a space for our faculty to continue to work together to model life-long learning and exhibit their own love of learning to our students.”

Mr. Bryan Boehm, Digital Learning Specialist

Mr. Boehm adds, “Fenwick students are always being challenged to learn new ways of gathering information and data. Our faculty need to have the same experiences to be our leading force in their fields and subjects. Peer-led courses have been great for teachers to learn from one another and collaborate,” he continues. “Offering new perspectives, new experiences and alternative ways to teach the material that they have so much success with over their career will only benefit the students.”

Math Teacher and sophomore football assistant coach Matt Barabasz is one of four PD faculty leaders. Last year he conducted a session about how teachers can “flip” their classrooms. This technique “allows the students to watch and learn at home, while we then use instructional time to engage in meaningful conversations and applications. This session went into detail on how I use this process within my mathematics course, when applicable,” explains Mr. Barabasz, who came to Fenwick two years ago from St. Patrick High School in Chicago.

Contemplation: Golden Apple-winning Theology Teacher and Fenwick blogger John Paulett (center) inquires about a tech topic at a March 8 break-out PD session.

This school year one of his sessions is how to use Google Forms to facilitate parent communication. “Families are incredibly important within a student’s learning process,” Barabasz acknowledges. “Without the support of families, we as educators cannot fully unlock a student’s potential. This series went into how I communicate regularly with parents using Google Forms and how I keep the parents in the loop, on a weekly basis, on their students’ progress.”

Kudos from faculty participants

Now in its third year of customized PD, the faculty/staff sessions at Fenwick are wide ranging and run all year long on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, either at 7:30 a.m. or during lunch periods. Required to attend at least three sessions per academic year, most teachers seem to be buying into the idea. “I feel that the PD sessions are a great opportunity for a teacher to learn new ideas and strategies on how to become more effective,” says Spanish Instructor and alumnus Jim Reardon ’86. “Fenwick teachers are willing to share their time, knowledge and expertise with other faculty members. The sessions are not very long [about 25 minutes each] but allow you the opportunity to learn and develop new ideas.”

Spanish Teacher and Fenwick alumnus Jim Reardon.

Mr. Reardon add that he has taken PD sessions on Schoology, the learning-management system employed by Fenwick, as well as on EdPuzzle, which is a way to employ video technology in the classroom. “The PD sessions allow a teacher to better understand a topic, and then it is up to him or her to further develop their understanding and usage of the particular topic,” he notes.

English Department co-worker and alumna Theresa Steinmeyer ’12 attended Pendleton’s series on William Bender’s Strategies for Increasing Student Engagement as well as some sessions on ways to further incorporate technology into instruction. “As a new faculty member at Fenwick [2018], I have enjoyed these opportunities to continue growing as an educator while getting to know colleagues from other departments,” Ms. Steinmeyer says.

More than 20 PD sessions have been conducted this school year on topics such as:

  1. Schoology Refreshers – Bryan Boehm
  2. Schoology Gradebook Refreshers – Mickey Collins ’03
  3. Magnus Health System – Donna Pape (School Nurse)
  4. Apple Classroom – Tim Menich
  5. Classroom Management with Technology #1 – Alex Holmberg ’05
  6. Fall Book Club – Laura Pendleton
  7. Individual Educations Plans (IEPs) Level 1 – Grace Lilek David ’08
  8. CleverTouch Interactive Displays – Fr. Mike Winkels
  9. Tips & Tricks in Schoology #1 – Holmberg
  10. Dealing with Difficult Conversations – Pendleton
  11. Google Forms for Parent Communication – Matt Barabasz
  12. Learning Differences – Kyle Kmiecik ’00
  13. iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting – Boehm
  14. Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #1 – Holmberg
  15. IEP Level 2 – David
  16. Writing Across the Curriculum – John Schoeph ’95
  17. Pythonista for iPad & iPhone – Dave Kleinhans
  18. Tips & Tricks in Schoology #2 – Holmberg
  19. Science PD Series
  20. EdPuzzle – Brian Jerger
  21. Classroom Management with Technology #2 – Holmberg
  22. Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #2 – Holmberg
  23. iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting Level 2 – Boehm

In early April, Barabasz led a session on using “Google Forms for Class Data Collection” while Math Dept. colleague Kevin Roche ’05 is coordinating the Spring Book Club. Pendleton and Boehm then wrap up this school year with “Differentiated Instruction” and “Apple Classroom Level 2,” respectively.

PD Leader Mr. Alex Holmberg (at right, Fenwick Class of 2005) helps to “train” social studies colleague Brian Jerger.

“I try to run sessions with practical take-aways for teachers to immediately use in their classrooms, regardless of subject area or grade level,” explains fellow PD leader and Social Studies Dept. Chair Alex Holmberg ’05, who also is Fenwick’s Director of Clubs and Activities. “I’ve also tried to tailor specific PD sessions to address needs brought up from our end-of-year iPad Survey last school year. One of the positive aspects of the model of PD that we use is that it allows teachers to present on topics that they see as learning opportunities in their classrooms throughout the school year.”

“It has changed the way I manage my classroom.” – Brian Jerger

Participant and fellow Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger adds: “The Apple Classroom presentation by Tim Menich has afforded me an easy, hands-off deterrent that has helped curb iPad abuse/distractions in class. It has changed the way I manage my classroom.”

Mr. Brian Jerger teaches U.S. History and Western Civilization at Fenwick.

Mr. Jerger, who joined Fenwick in 2017, also enjoyed Laura Pendleton’s Book Club presentation. “It provided a setting for teachers to come together and discuss the interesting methods, techniques and philosophies we all utilize in our classrooms,” he says. “In that same vein, I think the greatest benefit of the Professional Development series is it exposes the faculty to all the interesting work we are doing in the classroom that we do not normally get to see from each other. Due to all the ways in which teachers are pulled and stressed for time (and our humble natures), it is incredibly easy for us to get trapped in our own individual silos leaving us unaware of the great work our colleagues are doing. The Professional Development series pulls back that curtain, to some degree, and allows us to share some of this great work with one another.”

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Students-Turned-Teachers Help to Advance the Friars’ Mission

Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?

By Mark Vruno

Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 38 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr./Coach Holmberg, who triples as the school’s clubs/activities director and the defensive coordinator of the varsity football team.

Alex Holmberg ’05

“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”

Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”

Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for more than five decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg:  “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Chair.

Roger Finnell in 1968.

“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Black Friars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”

Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012

Kevin Roche ’05

Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 55 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”

Grace Liliek ’08

Grace Lilek ’08, who is in her third year of teaching social studies at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Ms. Lilek, who also is a learning resource coordinator. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.” Lilek continues:

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