‘Inspired and informed’

Professional development and continuing education/advanced degrees for Academy faculty and staff key to student success.

Jennifer Kendall, assistant head of school for early and lower school education and director of curriculum, is pursuing a doctor of education degree (Ed.D.). She also teaches math at the Academy. In the photo, Kendall is with third grader Madison Cheatham.

According to Learning Forward, a Dallas-based association advocating for educators, when parents of students are asked what they want for their children, there is overwhelming agreement that they want the best teacher possible in every classroom.

“The most important factor contributing to a student’s success in school is the quality of teaching,” the organization said in a report titled “Why Professional Development Matters.”

In a report prepared by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in 2007 for the U.S. Department of Education, research showed that teachers who receive substantial professional development — an average of 49 hours — can boost their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points.

And while professional engineers, designers and architects, etc., routinely congregate in seminars and workshops to share best practices, conduct research, and study trends and issues as part of their continuous career improvement, school teachers are no different. Those charged with educating children get together often for professional improvement, and school-sanctioned professional development (PD) days to stay on top of trends and technology that affect the work they do with students are an important part of that activity.

Kendall first came to The Grosse Pointe Academy in 2008 as principal of the early and lower school.

That is especially true at The Grosse Pointe Academy, where a combination of on-campus and off-site PD days, seminars and classes contributes to making its faculty one of the most well-qualified and innovative teaching staffs in the state.

“Professional development is very important for our school,” said Claudia Leslie, Early School-Grade 8 French teacher and kindergarten-Grade 3 library specialist who also chairs the school’s professional development committee. “It is crucial for the teachers to keep up-to-date with technology for the classroom, new curriculum resources, and new research on how children learn,” she said. “Inspired and informed teachers influence students achievement in many positive ways. And that’s when exceptional learning takes place.”

In any given year, The Grosse Pointe Academy typically sponsors one main PD day in the fall and one in the spring. Teachers also use three days for professional development before the students return in the fall and two after they leave at the end of the year.

Along with professional development days, seminars and conferences, the Academy also encourages its faculty to further their post-grad education whenever and wherever possible.

That applies in spades to Jennifer Kendall, who is a member of GPA’s senior administration as assistant head of school for early and lower school education and director of curriculum. Kendall is in the process of getting her doctor of education degree (Ed.D.), with an expected completion date of May 2021.

“It has always been a goal of mine to get a doctorate degree and I felt now was the time,” said Kendall, whose program is through Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, ranked one of the top education schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. “In fact, I’ve already been able to use my studies to implement change within my role at GPA and I look forward to completing the program and seeing what comes next.”

Kendall first came to GPA in 2008 as principal of the early and lower school. Prior to the Academy, she served in successive roles as district technology coordinator, supervisor of instruction, director of curriculum, and elementary principal in the Midland Park School District in Midland Park, New Jersey. She currently holds a Master of Education degree from Columbia University, Master of Arts degree from Caldwell College and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount Holyoke College.

Kendall also is a strong proponent of professional development.

“Professional development is critical for teachers to stay connected to the latest research and practice in education,” she said. “It is important for teachers to connect with other teachers both from their own school and from others. Working with teachers from other schools, whether they are public or private, offers a different perspective of their own work.”

A recent example, she says, of allowing for such connections was this year’s Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) annual conference, which took place in early November in Detroit.

This conference is a highlight for our school each year and brings together the top speakers who address current issues in independent school education, including some of our teachers who presented at the conference,” Kendall said. “We think closing our school for the day on Friday was well worth it. It allowed everyone on staff at GPA the opportunity to hear from the presenters, which will help us frame conversations at GPA around the latest best practices and how we can continue to offer a strong academic program that also nurtures and inspires our students.”

Meanwhile, Kendall, who also teaches a daily math course in the Academy’s STEAM room, is able to remain focused on both her GPA responsibilities and her pursuit of a doctorate from Vanderbilt, which she says has been going very well.

“I chose Vanderbilt in the first place for the reputation of the university and especially for its Peabody College of Education,” she said. “The professors are some of the best in their field and their focus on research to develop highly trained educators were my main motivating factors. Their program also fits my schedule and allows me to keep working while participating in two live classes per week and one on campus week per year.”