Thursday March 09, 2017
Visionary change is an inspiring mission; one that finds its match with the talents of Emily Gilmore. A teacher at South Burlington High School (SBHS), Gilmore has recently been named a 2017 Rowland Fellow, an honor bestowed by the organization with a visionary mission, the Rowland Foundation. Located in South Londonderry, Vermont, the foundation provides the state’s secondary school educators with professional development and leadership opportunities along with the resources to positively affect the culture and climate of their respective schools.
“When I look at the Rowland Fellows before me, I am in awe of their creativity, hard work, and devotion to Vermont students and the encouragement of our future generations. To be recognized along with these truly incredible individuals is an honor I have not quite accepted yet,” says Gilmore, adding, “I cannot wait to begin collaborating with and learning from them.”
Gilmore’s department chair, Ryan Navin, SBHS Curriculum Area Supervisor for Social Studies, describes the new Fellow as an invaluable asset to their evolution as a department. “I have been amazed by her passion for teaching and learning, her willingness to take risks in the classroom, and her commitment to growth as an educator.” Navin adds, “What was evident from the outset was that Emily knew how to create authentic and meaningful relationships with her students, many of whom visited her regularly for help and guidance. Emily was ever available for her kids.”
This is Gilmore’s second year at SBHS and she enthusiastically reports, “I’m loving it!” She teaches ninth grade world history and global studies, an upperclassman elective. Gilmore states her favorite part of teaching is interacting with the students, “I have the opportunity to help students realize their role in the world and the actions they can take to improve it. Few things in this world are better than watching a student’s proverbial ‘light bulb’ switch on.”
According to the Rowland Foundation, they seek applicants who are “visionary, willing to lead, motivated and committed to affecting change in an area of concern within their respective schools.” Gilmore describes her application’s project as “centered on South Burlington’s current rollout of proficiency-based learning, personalized learning, and providing teachers the professional development they need and want in order to best support student learning.”
Navin says, “The pedagogical shift required in moving to a proficiency-based system of assessment is a daunting task which requires thoughtful and experienced leadership. Emily possesses the necessary requirements and her work will directly and dramatically impact our school’s efforts in this transition.”
Gilmore learned about the Rowland Foundation at her first teaching job out of college in Rutland. She was a long-term substitute for another teacher, Jen Kravitz, who was awarded a Rowland Fellowship in 2012. Gilmore recalls, “Her project focused on creating a global studies concentration for students at Rutland High School (RHS) and I was fortunate enough to be included in her project implementation the following year.”
Two other RHS teachers, Erica Wallstrom and Marsha Cassell, were also awarded the Rowland Fellowship the next school year. Gilmore adds, “I was able to really see how the fellowship is able to transform a school and its culture. From that point on, I knew, if given the opportunity, I would like to be a part of such a wonderful foundation.”
Gilmore describes herself as lucky to have been a part of the conversations and the trainings as RHS transitioned to proficiency-based learning. “Immediately, I was able to see the powerful shift in the classroom when students stop asking, ‘How can I get an A?’ and start asking, ‘What can I do to improve?’ To the untrained eye, the conversation from grades to proficiencies may seem like a small change, but the opportunities it creates are endless as students become the drivers in their learning, rather than the passengers.”
The new Fellow explains that when she began working at SBHS, the school was at the beginning stages of introducing proficiency-based learning. She says, “I knew I wanted to be a part of the conversation since I had seen its power at RHS.”
Currently, Gilmore is part of the SBHS lead advisory team developing the four-year advisory system to support students’ personalized learning plans (PLPs) as mandated by Act 77. “With the work we started this year, I saw a desire from teachers to have more training in how to make the shift from grade-based instruction to proficiency-based instruction, and I knew the Rowland Foundation would be the perfect place to gain more resources to help our teachers succeed.”
A native of the Chicago area, Gilmore has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. Fourth grade comes to mind in particular as that is when the desire to be a high school social studies teacher first germinated. “My teacher at the time, Mrs. Riehle, believed in a project-based learning classroom, which I know in hindsight was revolutionary for the time. In her classroom, I could see the value of kind, supportive, and creative teachers and wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
Further inspiration to teach followed in high school. Gilmore participated in two introduction to education classes. One of them focused on how to plan and implement lesson plans for preschoolers and the second placed the high schoolers in elementary classrooms. Gilmore remembers, “I loved the experiences, but, boy, are those younger students exhausting!” She eventually went on to study secondary education at the University of Vermont (UVM). There, she says, “I fell in love with the incredible diversity Chittenden County has to offer.” She graduated from UVM in 2012 and went on to earn a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas.
Gilmore’s commitment to education and how students best learn have generated creative learning opportunities for her students. As Navin puts it, “One of Emily’s strongest assets as a teacher is her excitement about experimenting with new methods of instruction.” For example, having been inspired by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of personality, social psychology, and developmental psychology, she says, “I teach my ninth graders about growth mindsets at the beginning of the year as a way to open them up to new opportunities and challenges in their first year in high school.” Gilmore adds her work will also focus on Angela Duckworth’s research on grit. Duckworth, a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, is the author of the bestseller, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Gilmore sees this information as beneficial, “As students take ownership of their learning, teachers will need to know how to facilitate conversations with students to help them identify goals and reflect on their growth.”
According to Gilmore, she will continue her work with the SBHS advisory team next fall, but will spend the rest of that fall on sabbatical. “During this time I will be conducting research, attending conferences, and visiting proficiency-based learning schools locally and across the country.” In the spring semester, Gilmore says she will focus on sharing what she learned with faculty as well as provide professional development opportunities based on staff requests.
Finding herself in a profession where she can create opportunities to make a difference in her students’ education, Gilmore is quick to credit the many teachers who have influenced and mentored her. She notes in particular, her high school AP psychology teacher, who encouraged her to teach, “She held me to a high standard and challenged me to think critically about my role in the world around me.” In college, Gilmore says UVM faculty member Jennifer Prue changed her life. “From the first day of Introduction to Education during the Spring Semester of my first-year, I had found a mentor and friend for life. To this day, she is still in my corner helping me to continuously improve my instruction. The entire faculty at UVM’s Secondary Education department is chock full of inspiring and supportive individuals.”
Gilmore refers to her role models and mentors as inspirational, saying, “I would not be where I am today without them. Period.” A sentiment that is sure to be echoed by Gilmore’s students in the coming years.