It’s true what they say. Knowledge is power. It’s something those who believe in the value of a good education take for granted. Knowledge takes you where you want to go. But at Notre Dame Prep, knowledge is something far more than that. It’s a source of joy and a gift to be shared. This is the natural inclination of everyone at NDP, particularly the faculty. And to that end they pursue knowledge with gusto. Case in point: More than 85% of the current faculty have or are pursuing their Masters degree. At least 10 of them have or are pursuing their PhD. Each has gone after these advanced degrees in the area of his or her expertise and passion including Math, Theology, Music, Molecular Biology, Literature, Leadership, and more. This puts the NDP faculty head and shoulders above other area faculties: private, public, and independent. When I asked NDP Principal, Laurie Jones, why – if, after all, they are only teaching at a middle or secondary level – so many teachers felt compelled to continue their education she said:
“Well, for starters, they want to. They are all so passionate about their area of content, the subject they teach, that they are excited about going on and learning more. And the girls sense that passion. They tell us that all the time. It makes a real difference in the classroom experience. But also, don’t forget, the teachers know the girls are going to continue on as well. The more the teachers know, the more they can prepare the girls for the next level. We encourage our faculty to pursue continuing education. We think it’s important professionally. It helps to stay current not only on what’s happening in your field but in the broader arena of education and educational trends.”
To that end, in addition to supporting each teacher’s goal of earning an advanced degree or degrees, Notre Dame also makes it possible for faculty members to take advantage of a variety of other professional development opportunities including peer to peer education through “NDP Schoolhouse,” AIMS (Association of Independent Maryland Schools) conferences, national educational conferences, technology seminars, certification programs, and special “in-house” professional development sessions which are funded in the annual budget, just to name a few. Perhaps most exceptional is the fact that Notre Dame offers direct assistance to its faculty through its unique Sister Ellis Denny Faculty Enrichment Fund, established by alumna Pat Kirby ’67. For any teacher who is awarded a Denny grant, it is an opportunity to pursue one’s passion in creative and fulfilling ways. For instance, art teacher, Anne Walker, used the grant she was awarded to spend a summer in Ireland painting. The experience widened her horizons as an artist and sharpened her skills as a teacher and was an invaluable opportunity from which Ms. Walker not only benefitted, but her students did as well.
“It’s important for us and our faculty to take advantage of the best of what’s out there so that we can always remain ahead of the curve and on the cutting edge of education,” explained Ms. Jones. “We monitor national standards and trends and apply what we think is best to our curriculum. Currently, we are stressing the concept of 21st century learning with an emphasis on what we call ‘The 4 C’s: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration. To that we’ve added a 5th ‘C’ of our own: Credibility. It goes to ethics and keeps a focus on our spiritual component, which is so important to NDP and makes us who we are.”
As an example of NDP’s persistent and dedicated effort to keep the girls stimulated and learning in the most efficient, creative, and impactful ways, this spring NDP is offering 7 professional development sessions to its faculty including courses on: “flipping the classroom” (learning online and at one’s own pace while participating in group activities during the class period); Inquiry Method (emphasis on intellectual engagement and deep comprehension); web based programs and technologies, infographics, and Socratic Seminar. Ms. Jones emphasized that these are all options for use in and out of the classroom and it is important to know when and when not to use them.
“But if you don’t know that certain advanced tools and strategies are available, you can get stale as a teacher,” Ms. Jones explained. No one has ever accused any NDP teacher of that. Ms. Jones summed it up this way:
“Our teachers are life long learners. They have a passion for learning and a passion for their subject. Our teachers continually learn and grow and develop professionally. And that’s what makes us the best at what we do.”