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St. Andrew’s Praised for Innovative Educational Approach

National education writer and researcher highlight school’s Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.

Teacher John McMillen leads a math class at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac. The school was recognized recently for its innovative approach to teaching students.

Teacher John McMillen leads a math class at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac. The school was recognized recently for its innovative approach to teaching students.

— A national education expert recently recognized a Potomac school for its innovative approach to teaching students.

Author, researcher and education blogger Grant Lichtman visited St. Andrew's Episcopal School’s Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) earlier this month as part of a national tour of schools in search of cutting-edge approaches to education.

Glenn Whitman, dean of studies and CTTL’s director, said CTTL, which is partnered with Johns Hopkins University’s neuroeducation program, is the research and development arm of St. Andrews: “The center’s focus is on bringing the most current research on educational neuroscience — which is cognitive science, developmental psychology and education — to each of our teachers.

“Our teachers are thinking about the brain and the mind of each student as they design their classes and develop their lessons for the whole class,” he added.

Teachers at St. Andrew’s also have on-going dialogues with students about who they are as learners: “We ask students all the time ‘How are you going to approach this test or this research paper?’” he said. “Some of our best examples come around helping kids develop appropriate study strategies for the various types of assessments we give.”

Teachers say the approach is making a difference.

“We very deliberately think about the social and emotional aspects of learning. We talk to the students a lot about who they are as learners.” — Glenn Whitman, director of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac.

“It sounds really obvious, but students aren’t learning if I am not teaching the way their brains work,” said history teacher Amanda Freeman. “We learn more about how they learn, what’s successful and what study strategies they put in place. One of the things I’ve … started doing is taking walks with my students. We’ll go on a short walk and it’s amazing how they come back refreshed and ready to learn.”

Susheela Robinson, head of English at St. Andrew’s, added: “Wherever I look, I see innovative teaching. … Just this week … I witnessed teenage boys wearing suits because they were running a ‘town hall’ meeting, and they took it very seriously. In another room, students are Skyping grandparents in Lebanon for a health project.

“[I]n 7th grade English, we re-examine the structure and purpose of a well-written paragraph: Many of my students are gifted with expressive language, and they inherently know how sentences need to flow together, but purposeful attention to each part of a paragraph — from the topic sentence, to examples for support, to a closing line or clincher, is important to all.”

According to Whitman, CTTL continues to re-evaluate itself and regularly updates teachers on the most current research and ideas about educational neuroscience.

“Our work targets enhancing the instructional practice of great teachers to make them exceptional teachers using brain research,” he said, “but the true beneficiaries of the work are our students.”