A team of teachers and administrators from Harry S. Truman High School is in its second year of the Think Tank Innovators program, working together to develop innovative solutions that boost community and motivation among ninth grade students. The Truman Think Tank was designed collaboratively by chief learning officer and founder of Professional Learning Partnerships Julia Skolnik, Principal Jon Craig and Assistant Principal Dawn Martesi, with the goal of elevating teacher voice to make meaningful improvements in the school.
Truman High School is one of multiple schools and districts that’s partnering with Professional Learning Partnerships to empower solutions-minded teachers through the Think Tank Innovators program, including Bensalem Township School District and Marple Newtown School District, to identify current needs of students and staff, and design solutions to improve the school experience for all.
On July 20, at the PLP Partner Innovation Summit, which convened nine partner districts working to transform learning and leadership using brain science, Truman presented the work it’s done so far, which revolves around ninth grade, a difficult transition year for students. Skolnik praised Truman’s presenters Craig, teachers Adrienne Lutz and Devon Spiller, and Martesi, who was there via video recording.
“The Truman Think Tank has made amazing progress in such a short time. The teachers are committed to collaboratively improving their students’ experience, and the administrators are motivated to support the direction they want to go, removing any barriers in the way to make that possible,” said Skolnik. “They’ve really embraced the innovator mindset, and are trying things to learn what benefits their students and community.”
Presenters explained the three core needs for ninth grade students that emerged as part of the Think Tank’s professional learning this year: social emotional learning and motivation, setting clear expectations and building a sense of community.
One innovative idea the Think Tank developed to build community was to host a Freshman Fun Night, held this past March. More than 140 freshmen, teachers and family members attended the event to build relationships and have fun together through games, coding and team-building activities.
Freshman Orientation is the next place the Think Tank will revamp in order to focus more on culture and cultivating a welcoming experience for new ninth grade students. More Spirit Days will be added to the calendar in the 2022-23 school year, as well.
Think Tanks meet with Skolnik for professional learning multiple times per year, and teachers and administrators work together on projects to implement their innovative solutions between those meetings. This year, Truman will see if they want to work on the same student needs, or if there are new needs to address as their culture and community evolves.
Truman High School is in the process of rolling out the plan for the School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support program. SWPBIS is a universal, school-wide program that aims to establish a social culture where students expect and support appropriate behavior from one another.
“There is a lot of meaningful overlap between SWPBIS and the work we are doing in the Think Tank,” said Skolnik, who is excited to expand the collaboration between Professional Learning Partnerships and Bristol Township School District in 2022-23. “There will be more opportunities to engage directly with students, teachers and the community this year in understanding the brain and how this impacts students’ learning and development.”
Family Brain Nights will be offered at all Bristol Township K-12 schools this year and a Brain Day for ninth grade students and teachers will feature team-building activities. Science of Learning professional development will also be offered for new staff through new teacher induction and through asynchronous virtual learning for elementary teachers.
“Our newest program that started this summer is the Teacher Leader Fellowship Program,” said Skolnik. “A select group of passionate teachers from districts across our region will have the space to grow as leaders in their schools, districts and in our PLP partner network, demonstrating how to meaningfully incorporate brain science to improve educational practice as classroom teachers and as mentors to their fellow teachers.”
The 2022 cohort features two middle school teachers (Matthew Hayden and Regina Mazzocchi) and one elementary school teacher (Erin Boles) in Bristol Township School District, as well as four educators from Bensalem Township School District.