Colonial Middle School Master Teacher George Hankins shares an innovative way to engage students in research.Colonial School District's annual "Genius Hour" is a showcase that brings together principals, District administrators and teacher leaders from across Colonial to see the body of work accomplished over the past year by the District's "Master Teachers."

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What is the Master Teacher program?

The Master Teacher program is an incentive program unique to Colonial that encourages experienced teachers to explore key areas related to the District goals and share their knowledge and expertise with other teachers. The Genius Hour allows the Master Teachers to show how their work has made an impact in District classrooms.

"We have a great deal of expertise within our teachers," said Gina Nelson, Master Teacher Program Coordinator and Math Curriculum Coordinator for the District. "And if you don't take the time to acknowledge and raise those people up, they're not going to become administrators; they're not going to become professional developers, because they love being in the classroom with kids and are constantly honing in their craft. So it gives them an opportunity to take the spotlight and become that person that others look to."

At the beginning of the year, the Master Teachers select a personal goal to work on to improve themselves and a professional goal that ties into building or District initiatives for the year. As the projects and ideas flow, the teachers make connections across the district that they might not have made otherwise. For example, Becky Duffy, a Master Teacher from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, and Carol Bucci, a Master Teacher from Colonial Elementary School, worked together to bring Differentiated Instruction strategies that have proven successful in the secondary grades to the elementary classrooms.

"I think it's important to feel like you're part of a professional learning community that extends beyond just your grade level and just your school to further your craft and become more of an expert in your field," said Mrs. Duffy.

Highlights from Genius Hour

Other topics at this year's Genius Hour included the Responsive Classroom, which is an elementary program that promotes social and emotional growth, the District's innovative "Growth and Intervention Network" known as GAIN, collaborating using Google Apps for Education, engaging students in math and world language at the secondary level, and tips for helping students become better writers and critical thinkers.

"The fact that we get that opportunity to bring something new to the table for our teachers and also just create new opportunities for them to learn...I think it's fabulous," said Roni Berman, a Master Teacher and Learning Support Teacher at Conshohocken Elementary School.

Applying for the Master Teacher program

Plymouth Whitemarsh High School Master Teacher Rich Madel works with a student in his Spanish class.Master Teachers must have taught in the District for five years and go through an application process that includes an essay, sample lesson plans and "observational evidence."

"The building principal does a walkthrough of their classroom, and then there's an administrative representative and a teacher representative from the District Improvement Team that actually goes out and formally observes the teacher and writes the observation up looking for a distinguished lesson," added Mrs. Nelson. "Because it's always based on effective instruction."

Master Teachers serve a three-year term. During this time, they present during professional development days and faculty meetings, mentor other teachers, and demonstrate what it's like to be a lifelong learner.