by Anne Mayes, Third Grade Teacher
“Say, who are the people in your neighborhood; the people that you meet each day?” Far more than a familiar refrain in the Sesame Street theme song, this broad question sparked an in-depth survey to explore some things you may be wondering about the educators at The Wilson School. After all, “it takes a village” to raise children, and they belong to and are shaped by their community. Due to its profound role in a child’s development, it makes sense to take a thorough look at the people who contribute to the Wilson community and influence your children’s daily experiences.
Educators at Wilson are committed to creating a vibrant and dependable atmosphere, both within and beyond the school. Most of the educators are from the region; these individuals know St. Louis well and are personally invested in its success. More significantly, educators at Wilson are devoted to the achievement of the school and its members. While there are a few newcomers, many of the faculty have taught here for more than a decade. Quite a few have taught at Wilson more than 20, even 30, years! Wilson teachers cannot deny their love for the school, and the consistency of their presence strengthens it immeasurably.
Not only are the teachers in each classroom confident and competent in their current roles, many of them have worked in other educational capacities as well, and these experiences allow them to see situations from a variety of perspectives. Several teachers have taught an array of grade levels, including at the secondary level and beyond. Additional experiences such as substitute teaching, camp counseling, tutoring, working as a gifted enrichment specialist or as a parent educator, have challenged the teachers to develop “big picture” views that are dynamic and realistic. In yet another way the educators expand their views of the Wilson experience, several currently have or have previously had children at Wilson, and this helps them relate to the experiences of their students and families.
The educators at Wilson are inspired, and they seek to inspire others accordingly. Several grew up with mothers who taught and motivated them to pursue careers in teaching. Other sources of inspiration included being passionate about learning, wanting to see that “aha” moment, and a genuine love for children. Wilson educators were fortunate to have great teachers and mentors who left lasting impressions. Their favorite teachers, collectively, were those who took an interest in, encouraged, and supported them. These individuals served to guide them to become lifelong students and self-advocates. They were caring, gentle, and positive; firm and fair; lively, full of humor, and authentic. They modeled excellent work ethics and habits and are credited for helping the educators at Wilson tap into their own potential and creativity, feel confident, and develop their inner voices. Uniqueness was celebrated and championed, and the Wilson educators teach each day with these role models and lessons in mind.
To promote the success of the community as a whole, there are myriad ways Wilson teachers share their talents, develop their passions, and perfect their crafts. They have experience instructing watersports, including kayaking, rowing, and canoeing. They coach and play sports such as water polo, soccer, volleyball, softball, bowling, and even ultimate frisbee. They are leaders of school activities such as Girls on the Run, Let Me Run, and Destination Imagination. They’ve founded professional learning communities; volunteered time with voting leagues; led math clubs and judged debate teams. They are active members in churches, handbell choirs, and local bands. The list herein just scrapes the surface of what educators do during their active time, and it is important to consider how they spend their “free time” as well.
When it comes to downtime, the Wilson crew has many similar interests. They love to be outdoors and feel most alive when they connect with nature, whether through hiking, running, backpacking, or camping. They tend gardens, cook, and spend time with family. They like to be productive and pursue learning even during their spare time. This energy for learning extends to raising chickens, visiting museums and galleries, attending music festivals, reading, and competing in trivia events. Traveling is a common goal or interest, and many educators relate this to their goal to learn about the culture of another area or group of people. They truly seek to experience life through another’s perspective and constantly investigate ways to expand their own mindsets and attitudes.
As a whole, the survey results ultimately prove that this group of educators is active and devoted, both within and outside the classroom. Despite their impressive backgrounds and achievements, they are reluctant to boast about their accomplishments. They are much more comfortable focusing on their goals and continual efforts to reach them. While they are bashful in describing their own strengths, their friends agree that they are interesting, loyal, funny, and delightfully unique.
Fred M. Roger’s 1967 song “Did You Know?” expresses this:
“You can ask a lot of questions about the world… And your place in it.
You can ask about people's feelings; You can learn the sky's the limit.
Did you know when you wonder you’re learning?
Did you know when you marvel you’re learning
About all kinds of… wonderful things?”
In closing, Wilson educators articulate they are grateful to have a job that they love and to be part of The Wilson School community. Asking a few questions and wondering about their personal journeys made it possible to discover some of the impressive things they have done and continue to do each day, and these are the experiences that contribute to how they make a significant difference in the lives of the Wilson students.
Wilson’s mission statement begins with these very important words: “To prepare students for success in an ever-changing world.” We take our mission very seriously, so recently we surveyed our recent graduates (7th - 12th grade) and their parents to see how well they felt Wilson prepared them for the next step in their journey.
Our amazing alums and their families gave us great feedback on the role Wilson had played in their formative years, and we are going to be sharing what we learned over the next few weeks. Most importantly, we will use it to continue to improve on the Wilson School experience for years of graduates to come.
Over the next several weeks, we have two ways of sharing this direct feedback about how well Wilson graduates are prepared. There is a bulletin board outside of Thad’s office and Andrea’s office displaying the survey results. We will be including posts about the feedback we received on our social media platforms as well. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so you don’t miss out on this data.
Here’s a preview of what our graduate families have to say:
Teachers make the difference in overall school excellence. And, professional development is a distinguishing factor in the effectiveness of teachers. At Wilson, we put a great deal of attention and resources behind supporting exceptional teachers in a culture of growth. Our Head of School, Thad Falkner, believes Wilson is fulfilling its vision and stands out from other schools in this space. He encouraged us to talk with Andrea Ruth, Assistant Head of School, who is an expert on the specific growth-oriented activities contributing to why Wilson teachers can’t stop learning.
Hi, Andrea, thank you for taking the time to share a about your role and your work with the teachers.
Andrea: Thanks! I'm very happy to share about being Wilson’s Assistant Head of School. I do a lot of work with teachers on professional development, curriculum and planning, faculty meetings, teacher observations and evaluations, teacher goal setting, and more.
Q: That’s quite an encompassing job. What drew you to this role, and how long have you been with The Wilson School?
A: This is my 19th year in education and my 16th year at Wilson. I started out teaching 4th grade before coming to Wilson and partnering with Mara Goldschmidt in 3rd grade. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and to work with younger children. I have my bachelor's in elementary education and my master's in teaching. Really, it was while I was teaching 3rd grade, as well as working as the faculty coordinator that I started to figure out how much I loved educational administration. I love working with the teachers, observing, and seeing what they're doing and how they're solving problems. One of the things I enjoy most is coordinating professional development.
Q: In your experience, how does the leadership encourage and enable teachers to explore new technologies, techniques, and teaching methods?
A: In my opinion, this is something we do very, very well at Wilson. It's truly a part of our culture. Our focus on continued learning and growth here at Wilson, both with teachers and our students, is an attribute that makes us exceptional.
The concept of sending teachers to conferences for professional development is one part, and one many schools do. At Wilson, though, we put the financial resources behind our commitment to make that happen consistently, and that's another meaningful piece of our culture. We put two to three times the amount into our professional development that other schools do. We're incredibly intentional about how we position our teachers for success and are fortunate to have The Excellence Program at Wilson. Not only is the money available for teachers to utilize, but the autonomy our teachers have in the curriculum to improve what they do and the overall experience for the kids is beyond measure.
At Wilson, we change and adapt as we need without the overarching hierarchy that slows progress down. We make things happen when they need to happen and do so in an environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and autonomy. That goes for not only our teachers, buy more importantly, for our students.
Q: What are ways you've seen Wilson School teachers go above and beyond to further their own expertise in their own areas?
A: Saying yes to so many conferences and workshops for our teachers means we can hear what they bring back from those experiences. Wilson teachers ask to attend different events because they know they're supported. These opportunities include observing teachers at other schools to see best practices they implement, attending conferences and workshops with their peers, and so much more. I think people would be surprised to know a lot of our teachers even take their own personal time to make these events happen, because they believe in them that much.
We've had several teachers attend Forest Park Forever’s Voyage of Learning Teachers’ Academy during the summer to continue developing their skills. Forest Park is an amazing resource in Wilson’s backyard, and we make use of the outdoor learning opportunities it offers. Or, with Level Up Village, our kids connect with students in another country and learn about the water crisis, conservation, creating aquifers, and more. The teacher training for this happened over winter break, where Wilson teachers used their own time to plan and coordinate it because they really believe in what they're teaching. They really want their students to have an extraordinary experience.
Q: When the teachers are going through their curriculum, how are they themselves learning in or through the process?
A: First, I think a big way they learn is through the kids asking questions and exploring. Our teachers go back and research, incorporating these questions into what they teach so they can help their students learn more, faster.
Secondly, they work with colleagues anduring plan times and outside of the work day. Through all of this, their own curriculum is made better. They're always improving already great things but are never satisfied. I love seeing how our faculty strives for continued improvement.
Q: What kind of hobbies do Wilson teachers pursue outside the classroom? How do they incorporate those interests and passions into what they teach?
A: A great example is Mara, one of our 3rd grade teachers. She's passionate about the environment. Because she believes so strongly in responsibility and advocacy, she incorporates this into her classroom at different points.
Melika, our Director of Educational Technology and Innovation, has turned her love of tinkering, inventing, and technology into Wilson Think Camp. This is a camp held the first two weeks of the summer for students from all across the area to attend. This came out of her looking at makerspaces and innovative organizations and wanting something more for our students here at Wilson.
Q: Do Wilson teachers continue their formal education?
A: We have a great mix of teachers furthering their education through different resources. Some are taking one-off classes, online courses, workshops, and training as well as working toward a higher-ed degree. For example, Diane wanted to learn about choice-based art and took an online course through the Art of Education to learn more. Some of our teachers are continuing their education by pursuing advanced degrees in education. In addition to teachers furthering their education, we also have two teachers who hold doctorate degrees. Our quality mix of trained and educated faculty is one of the things that sets us apart in the St. Louis area.
Q: What kinds of professional development do the teachers engage in? How has this affected their effectiveness?
A: I think anytime you can go out and learn from other experts, speakers, and colleagues, is important. When you come back and implement it, you become more effective as a teacher, or as a leader. The expectation is for teachers to attend a national or regional conference every other year. In the in-between year, they participate in a local opportunity. Ultimately, they come back and share with colleagues what they learned.
We actually have time devoted to sharing at our faculty meetings. During Show and Tell, faculty who attended the event will give a short presentation on what they learned, new strategies they were exposed to, tools they can implement, and other ideas. If anyone at the meeting wants to learn more, they know they can go to that person for a longer, deeper conversation about it. They bring back the knowledge and experience and share it with others. The effectiveness of this person attending this one event is then multiplied throughout the faculty.
In addition to our faculty attending workshops, they also present at conferences. Laurie, our fifth and sixth grade language arts teacher, was recently published in The Missouri Reader and has presented at NCTE on the importance of accountable talk. Linda presented at a regional math conference on the importance of graphing with young children. These are just two examples of how our teachers and faculty just love learning and teaching!
Q: What is the most interesting learning experience you've seen a Wilson teacher engage in?
A: During the summer, we offer a Wilson Teacher Institute the week before returning for official meetings. This is a time for our staff to learn from outside experts and professionals. For example, in the past, we've had guests present and talk about mindfulness and social-emotional learning. One year we had the zoo come in and present on inquiry-based learning.
This past year, we invited teachers back two days before the regular meetings. This was optional for them to attend, but we had 95% show up for two days! They spent the time collaborating and developing new units around integrated learning. Some teachers took existing units and developed ways to improve them. They'd meet with the different content area teachers and explore ways to integrate subjects and topics throughout the classes and grade levels. They spent time developing and refining the units in very real and tangible ways. These teachers were completely immersed in discussion, and at the end of the two-day session, more than 30 units were shared! When they started the school year, they had high-quality, valuable units they were able to implement and teach right away.
Thanks so much Andrea. Wilson teachers clearly are devoted to being the best educators they can possibly be.
Andrea: They certainly are dedicated to doing the best they can for students. Our teachers can’t stop learning; it’s infectious and makes Wilson’s culture of growth unique.
by Mary McKown, Alum Parent and Board Member
Real Estate is all about: Location, Location, Location.
Education is all about, you guessed it: Teachers, Teachers, Teachers.
In the Spring of ’07, my husband and I embarked upon the elementary school search for our three children. We strongly felt that choosing the right foundational school was key to their education. When we entered the Wilson School building, it felt like home. We immediately connected. Eleven years later, our three children have successfully completed their elementary education at Wilson and are all thriving teenagers in secondary school. As an engaged parent while my children were at Wilson and now as a member of the Board of Trustees, I truly understand that the teachers were the linchpin to my children’s experience.
Breaking it down, I reflect on the following factors that endeared me to the value of the teachers and their contribution to my children's stellar outcome:
1) Wilson teachers are significantly long-tenured. That tenure provides invaluable continuity. Just because they have been there a long time, doesn’t equate to a stale “because we’ve always done it that way” approach. To the contrary, the teachers amazed me with meaningful evolution and innovation.
2) The presence of male teachers in the lower, primary, and upper grade levels gives a desirable gender balance frequently unheard of in an elementary school.
3) The two-teacher-per-classroom model is a stunning game-changer. It really adds a great deal to have two different sets of strengths, two different life perspectives, and twice the attention of a traditional single teacher classroom.
4) Professional development is a key marker for quality of education. Wilson invests in professional development at a level that is three times the norm.
My three children, with three distinctly different personalities --as well as strengths and interests -- all received a highly tailored education from a staff of exceptional educators. Those teachers really cared deeply and were enthusiastically dedicated to making the Wilson experience extraordinary. They only have one childhood, and I am so grateful that my children’s primary education was in the capable hands of the Wilson teachers.
by Kate Poss-Morency, Director of Development
What defines success in 21st Century education? What tools and skills do our graduates need to thrive throughout life beyond Wilson’s walls? When one searches for 21st Century skills online, following are descriptors: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical-thinking, Leadership, Responsibility, Cross-Cultural Interaction, Accountability. These are the tools and attributes that Wilson educators work to instill in each of our graduates each and every day.
We enjoy following our Wilson graduates long after their graduation speeches have been made and diplomas distributed – to see how they carry these 21st Century skills beyond Wilson’s walls and into the community. In order to celebrate the successes of our Alumni, three years ago the Wilson Alumni Committee instituted our annual Distinguished Alumni Awards. Each year, the committee seeks nominations for and chooses two Distinguished Alumni Award Winners. These winners are introduced and celebrated at our annual Thistle Auction. February 10th, Wilson honored the 2018 winners – Turner Holthaus (co ‘01) and Rodney DeaVault Fierce (co ‘97).
When Turner Holthaus was six years old, he knew that he wanted to be “an Army man” when he grew up. Turner never lost sight of this vision. After graduating Wilson Turner went on to attend MICDS, and next to West Point where he graduated in the top 15% of his class. His two tours of duty in Afghanistan and assignments in Africa and Cuba saw him rise to the rank of Captain, earning the Bronze Star for battlefield initiatives in the process. During his active duty, Turner studied at the University of Lille in Lille, France. But, his education did not stop there. Today Turner is continuing his studies at the MIT Sloan School of Business, from which he anticipates graduation later this spring. Turner continues the Wilson tradition of Making Your Mark A Good One, most memorably for him as a mentor to a young boy through Big Brothers Big Sisters. As Turner was overseas on February 10th, we were thrilled to have his parents, Marta and Richard join us on his behalf to accept the award.
Rodney DeaVault Fierce was taught early in life to never stop learning new things, a lesson that stays with him today. After leaving Wilson to attend St. Louis Priory School, Rodney went on to Princeton University where he discovered a love of children’s literature. Perhaps it was his grandmother’s lesson - literature will take you all over the world if you let it - that influenced Rodney to leave a job in New York City’s world of corporate law to devote his life to bringing the joy of literature to others as an English professor. His Master’s in Children’s Literature from Simmons College led to Rodney’s Ph.D. in English from the University of Southern Mississippi. A frequent guest speaker and lecturer, Rodney’s work has been presented at WonderCon, The Pop Culture Association, and Children’s Literature Association Conference. We were honored to have Rodney and his parents join us on February 10th.
Turner and Rodney are just two of the many Wilson graduates who have gone on to become leaders in our communities and their respective fields. Businessman Harold S. Geneen stated, “Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitudes and actions.” We believe Rodney and Turner have shown us leadership both in their attitudes and their actions. We look forward to what life has in store for these two Wilson Champions.
If you know of a deserving alumni, look for our 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award nomination forms which will be available later this spring.
Wilson in the News