Teaching Today

Teaching is truly one of the most noble professions in the world. Teachers are the caretakers of hope, and strong schools are committed to the ongoing development, recognition and support of faculty. At Tower Hill, it is our teachers and coaches who deliver the school’s mission each day. Their expertise and passion challenge and nurture our students’ academic and personal growth in extraordinary ways.

In commemoration of our Centennial in 2019, Tower Hill launched Teaching Today at Tower Hill School to celebrate our faculty. These essays illustrate the talent in every division, across many grades and departments. The perspectives and insights shared demonstrate the incredible depth and quality of teaching at Tower Hill.

Please enjoy this digital version of Teaching Today at Tower Hill School and be sure to thank a teacher who has impacted your life!
Elizabeth C. Speers
Head of School

List of 11 news stories.

  • 100 Years Ago ... And Today

    By Andrea Glowatz, Dean of Teaching and Learning

    One hundred years ago, teaching young people involved the transmission of knowledge, and only a fraction of the American population remained in school beyond the elementary level. It is certainly true that society has come a long way in 100 years’ time—and so has Tower Hill School, a place where transmission is less often the modus operandi because another activity more accurately defines behavior in today’s classrooms: facilitation. The evolution of Tower Hill’s robust academic program over the last century can be touted as a move toward the facilitation of critical thinking, a key aspect of which is metacognition, or the understanding of the thought processes involved in learning. Couple this with the research neuroscientists of late can offer us, and we have an entirely separate, and important, academic undertaking. Metacognition and neuroscience alone, however, do not fully substantiate a need for 21st-century institutions to create programmatic changes. The need to evolve a Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) at Tower Hill School, venturing into a new academic subdivision, comes from the individual needs of Tower Hill students and teachers themselves.
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  • Effort, Energy and Enthusiam

    by Drew Keim, Music Department Chair

    Mission statements, mottos, slogans, philosophies … Every great organization has at least one of these in some form or another. Music ensembles are no different, either spoken, written or only in thought and practice. I once worked with a group that desired to create a statement that described what it took to be a successful band. The process started much like one would expect: brainstorming all of the positive attributes of groups that they hoped to emulate. Students began by identifying key characteristics through simple descriptive language that answered our key question, “What makes a band great?” After a plethora of ideas were written on the board, the student leadership focused on three simple words: effort, energy and enthusiasm.
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  • Haunted Minds: Why I Teach Horror Literature

    By Coleen Hubler, Upper School English

    When I first interviewed at Tower Hill, Hugh Atkins, then English Department Chair, asked me the department’s favorite interview question: “If you could develop an elective, what would it be?” I answered enthusiastically, “A course in horror literature.” I think my response surprised him for more than one reason. First, my primary focus in graduate school was Shakespeare’s contemporaries, including John Fletcher, Thomas Middleton and John Ford, playwrights of an era before the rise of Gothic fiction. Second, horror as a genre is often viewed as “non-literary.” A reader might select The October Country for entertainment on a dark, autumnal evening, but rarely do serious students of literature concentrate on horror.
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  • Making a Positive Impact

    By Marina Attix, Lower School Faculty

    A smile in the morning, a genuine wave in the afternoon or a twirl from a little girl passing in the hallway: Making a positive impact on someone’s day is a lot easier than you might think. I went into teaching because I wanted to shape the lives of others. Soon after I began, I learned how much others touched my heart, shaping me. This past June, I was lucky enough to watch seven of my first-ever students graduate. I felt so proud to know that I had a little part in their upbringing. Despite the relatively short time I spent with these students, keeping in touch with them and all my students has brought me years of happiness and influenced the person I have become.
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  • Room for Art

    By John Bartlett, Art Department Chair

    The art rooms at Tower Hill embrace a long tradition of providing environments where kids are empowered to create and learn in a wide spectrum of ways. The art rooms are places where students feel free to experiment and take risks that lead to unforeseen paths of discovery. As we celebrate the past and dream of the future, we teachers talk a lot about how to best prepare our students to reach their potential and to develop tools for successful and fulfilling lives. We are very lucky to pursue such goals as part of a community that values the arts as an integral part of an exceptional education.
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  • Skills to Work at Google

    By Tara Fletcher, History Department Chair

    Each year as our seniors begin to finalize their college decisions and look to their next chapter, the inevitable question arises: What do you want to do with your life? Societal pressures can rear their ugly heads in presuming that certain majors won’t translate to getting a job and being workforce ready. However, according to Cathy N. Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative and author of The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, it is time to rethink these norms, especially if you want to work at Google.
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  • Students Front and Center

    By Megan Cover, Head of Upper School

    I love stories. They tell me the how, what and why of life’s different pathways: It might be a small decision, a career opportunity, a calling from within or a mutual connection that brings people from all over to a common place. Throughout my lifetime, that draw has been school. As both student and educator, my “home” has been consistently within the community where I have studied or worked, and it is community that fuels my passion for and commitment to education.
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  • Success in Chemistry

    By Liz Brown, Ph.D., Upper School Science

    I still remember the first day that I set foot in a chemistry classroom my sophomore year of high school. My best friend was my lab partner, I had a brand-new TI-84 calculator—the height of technology at the time—and a deep-rooted fear that this would be the class to bring me down. It didn’t take long for me to fall hopelessly in love with the subject, with its nuanced vision of a sub-microscopic world and with the elegance and absurdity of how perfectly my previous science knowledge nestled into place, the central, illuminating piece to the puzzle. It was also the dynamic and fearless woman, Mrs. Lang, at the helm of this class, who so unapologetically offered herself up as a guide to me and my peers, that drove me to college and then graduate school to soak up every ounce of chemistry I could find. Ultimately, I returned to teach high school chemistry in the hopes that I might, in some small way, pay tribute to her enormous impact on my life.
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  • Teaching Self-Advocacy

    By Jessica Douglass, Learning Specialist

    The world is rapidly changing around us—social media has led to always-connected living, smart speakers answer our questions and predict our needs, and technology allows for immediate access to and manipulation of information from nearly anywhere. Our schools are changing, too. Gone are the days of the teacher-centered classroom, where the students sit as empty vessels waiting to receive knowledge poured in by their teachers. And gone also is the traditional ideal of the model student as one who follows rules and processes, takes good notes and asks the “right” questions.

    In a true student-centered classroom, rather than the student adapting to the structure of the teaching, the teacher and the curriculum respond to the learner. What an exciting time to be an educator! And what an exciting time to be a student, also.
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  • The Art of Theater

    By Matt Kator, Theater Department Chair

    Well-respected arts educator Kelly Pollack said it best: “The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional dancers or artists. [It’s] to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives.”  

    It’s an exciting time in the Theater Department at Tower Hill. Through improv, movement, public speaking, story telling, construction, painting and a whole host of other disciplines, we continue to borrow from many to create something new. Be it in the classroom or after school in rehearsal, the students, through the art of theater, continue to develop skills they will carry with them forever.
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  • The Delight and Power of Mathematics

    By Noreen Jordan, Math Department Chair

    Yahtzee, Monopoly, gin rummy, scat, hearts, dots and boxes, checkers, backgammon, Rubik’s cube, poker and Clue: These games remind me of childhood road trips, weekends and lazy summer nights of family rivalry. In those days, my singular focus may have been defeating my siblings, but I am grateful today because the underlying skills required to be a successful player—strategizing, visualizing, analyzing and making calculations—have stayed with me. As I grew older, my record started to improve incrementally, but little did I realize at the time that my reasoning skills and critical thinking skills were evolving too. I may have lost many more times than I won, but I learned from my experience that in order to get better at these games, I had to take chances, make a lot of mistakes, play a lot of games and surround myself with other skilled players. Sound familiar?
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List of 10 news stories.

  • Breadcrumbs, Clubhouses and Dessert: Student-Centered, Project-Based Learning

    By Kathryn Reese, Middle School Reading

    What do breadcrumbs, clubhouses and dessert have in common? They are all an integral part of fifth and sixth grade reading class, of course! In this day of rapid fire stimulation and instant gratification, getting 11 and 12 year olds to savor well-constructed literature is a challenge to say the least. Thanks to a modified version of Harvey Daniels’ Literature Circles: Student Voice and Choice, today’s reading students are as eager to read as they are to play Fortnite ... Well, almost!
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  • Differentiating Instruction

    Mary Jane Martin, Lower School Faculty

    It is my fundamental belief that every child deserves a great teacher! As an educator, I feel it is our responsibility to provide an environment that is conducive to learning. A warm, nurturing atmosphere built upon mutual trust, acceptance and respect establishes a safe learning community. Additionally, we must be cognizant of our students’ intellectual aptitudes as well as their emotional, social and psychological strengths and weaknesses. A caring classroom where a teacher demonstrates enthusiasm for teaching and confidence in her students’ ability to learn is a place every student can be successful. The most important goal to be achieved daily is that our students leave happy, self-assured and excited about their day’s accomplishments.
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  • Experiential Learning

    By Susan Miller, Head of Lower School

    “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”  — John Dewey

    Learning by doing. That simple definition of “experiential learning” is characteristic of much of the learning that happens in the Lower School here at Tower Hill. We believe that hands-on, active doing that takes place in a broader context is an essential ingredient in meaningful and comprehensive student learning. It is because of this that our teachers intentionally design learning opportunities that encourage students to be exploratory, expressive, creative and communicative—all with the intent of stimulating deeper understanding. At its heart, experiential learning is a very natural and intuitive way to learn.
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  • For the Love of Books

    By Jean Snyder, Middle School Faculty

    As an early childhood educator, sharing books with children is what brings me the most joy. With more than 20 years of attending professional development conferences and reading articles on literacy research, I can effortlessly recite the documented importance of sharing stories with children. The academic benefits of reading supports cognitive development, increases vocabulary, builds phonemic awareness and phonics skills, helps develop longer attention spans and leads to greater reading success—all of which offer parents and educators motivation to read aloud. But truthfully, those are not the reasons why I chose to read to my own children or to the cherubs I have taught. My intention has always been more child-centered: that youngsters will take pleasure in listening to stories, a gift that will light a spark and ignite a love of reading.
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  • Global Engagement Through Mandarin

    By Wendy Liu, Ph.D., Middle and Upper School Mandarin

    Tower Hill has a vision to design programming around curricular innovation and global engagement so that our students can find success locally and globally in the 21st century.

    To support the school’s vision, I was privileged to participate in the Harvard Graduate School of Education Learning Think Tank on Global Education (2016), the Art of Leadership (2017) and Deeper Learning for All (2018). Those opportunities were eye-opening and heart-opening experiences that prompted me to bring the same level of inspiration to my students. We are teaching students of the future who are global citizens. Making those connections from local to global—and from self to the world—enables students to situate themselves in the fast-changing world and identify the role that they could play to make the world a better place.
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  • Integrity in the Classroom

    By Lisa Somers, Lower School Faculty

    At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, Head of School Bessie Speers spoke of the school’s founders, who she said, “would be so proud that the mission of the school they created nearly a century ago has such integrity. This means that our mission has stayed true.” She announced further that the school’s word for the year would be “integrity.”

    I had previously observed that the Admission Overview on the Tower Hill website describes Tower Hill as “a community that values and cultivates character, integrity, service and a passion for learning.” Now it would be my mission as a fourth grade teacher at Tower Hill to show my students how integrity could act as a focal point in our own personal classroom.
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  • Language Learning and a Talking Statue

    By Harry Neilson, Ph.D., Middle and Upper School Latin

    The final evening of the 2018 Tower Hill Rome trip, a student asked me to take him to a fragmentary statue called Madama Lucrezia to attach a note he had composed in Latin. I had taught the group earlier that in Rome there are six “talking statues” used by Romans since the Renaissance to post anonymous, often satirical commentary on life and current affairs. As we hurried through the drizzle, squinting against the headlights of the frenetic traffic in Piazza Venezia, the student never saw my tears of joy, for I was profoundly touched by this gesture that was the fruit of his language study at Tower Hill.
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  • Planting Seeds of Pride

    By Paula Hall, Lower School Faculty

    While teaching third graders in Dallas, Texas, we often used the analogy of “seed ideas” for teaching writing. We would play a word game that would associate words by asking, “What do you think of when you think of ice cream? Cone. What do you think of when you think of cone? Snow. What do you think of when you think of snow? Snow day!” All of the responses would then be written down and become instant “seeds” for writing ideas. The day you got an ice cream cone with your grandparents. The waffle cone your uncle always ordered at Katie’s Corner. The excitement of a snow day in Dallas.

    Seeds to me have many meanings, especially because I love to garden. My parents were both teachers, and we always had a garden that my brother and I would help to water, weed and enjoy the abundance of tomatoes, peppers, garlic, eggplants … you name it. That joy of gardening was passed to me from my parents.
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  • The Art of Storytelling

    By Jill Zehner, Middle School English

    When I was in third grade, Mrs. Cassidy gave our class a project titled “My Family’s Journey.” We had been studying the 13 colonies, and she wanted us to begin to make connections with the brave people who came together to build our nation. She might as well have given me a perfectly wrapped present because I could not wait to share all I already knew about the Griffins and the Kinsellas. According to my grandfather and my Uncle Gene, both proud members of the Griffin clan, my sister and I descended from a long line of kings and queens. Our ancestors fought dragons, rescued damsels in distress from tyrants, ruled with an iron fist or with care and a compass (depending upon which side of the family we were discussing at the time), and, ultimately, left Ireland to share their many unique talents with the rest of the world. While my presentation fell a bit short on factual evidence about the harrowing trip my family members actually took across the Atlantic in the early 1800s—and their less-than-regal welcome when they reached the shores of Massachusetts—my faith in the art of storytelling took root.
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  • The Science of Hair

    By Ann Sullivan, Lower School Library Literacy Specialist and Equity and Inclusion Coordinator

    There is something about hair that young children cannot resist—twirling their hair, braiding each other’s hair, tugging on curls, touching a fresh cut—especially when it is different from their own. They are naturally curious, tactile learners, and on any given day in the Lower School, they can be heard making comments to each other like: “Your hair feels so soft today,“ “Why do you have braids like that?” “I love rubbing your head.”
    These types of comments and gestures come primarily from simple observation, but they can be uncomfortable or unwelcome for the recipient. This was sometimes the case at Tower Hill among students of color, and while any specific issues were handled on an individual basis, I discovered that hair presents a meaningful opportunity to open up conversation about diversity among Lower School students.
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