GREENWICH — Education experts and Greenwich Public School district leaders reminded teachers Monday that developing relationships with students forms the foundation for personal learning.
At the traditional convocation ceremony held just days before the new school year begins, Interim Superintendent Ralph Mayo addressed his full staff of Greenwich educators — which includes more than 70 new teachers — in his new role for the first time.
Mayo told his audience that he still remembers his first grade teacher at Byram School because she took the time to figure out the best way to teach him — a highly competitive student who could not sit still —how to read.
“Make connections with those students so they want to come back every day and see your smiling face,” he said. “You never know: You may have the next superintendent of public schools in your classroom.”
His colleagues greeted him with a standing ovation, and Eastern teachers sported bright green “In Ralph We Trust” shirts.
“Ralph is truly one of us,” said Carol Sutton, president of Greenwich Education Association, the local teachers union.
Keynote speaker Eric Sheninger, an award-winning former principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey and best-selling author, told teachers how using technology can make learning personal and relevant for children.
Teachers laughed and cried during his 60-minute speech, which used recent research, funny clips of his kids and heartwarming stories to encourage educators to make teaching about forming connections first.
He complimented the Greenwich school district’s innovative practices, which include pairing students with their own smart devices and assessing academic progress through self-directed projects.
“It’s awesome to have heard how you really are leading the charge of how you are personalizing learning here in Greenwich,” Sheninger said.
He reminded teachers to examine classroom schedules and structures for ways to personalize learning even more. He also advised teachers to let children use the curriculum to develop their own voices and advocate for causes they care about.
Sheninger co-authored “Learning Transformed” with last year’s convocation speaker, Thomas Murray.
Chief Academic Officer Irene Parisi said she wanted thematic continuity between the speeches this year and last year.
Educators also heard from Board of Education Chairman Peter Bernstein, GHS student body President Alexander Kosyakov and Michele Giorlando DeRosa, the Greenwich representative for the Connecticut Teacher of the Year program.
Kosyakov told former Headmaster Chris Winters he will be missed and welcomed Winters’ interim replacement, Richard Piotrzkowski. The transition was announced in late July as Winters left to head the new Upper School at Greenwich Country Day School.
After warming up the audience with a few jokes about sleeping in during the summer, Kosyakov told teachers and administrators that their efforts, not the wealth of the town, best explain the school district’s successes.
“It’s not easy to make a district this big this good,” he said.
DeRosa said teachers should prioritize their daily interactions with students, from complimenting haircuts to listening to rambling jokes, as much as instructional time.
“What we do is as important as what we teach,” she said.
John Jones, a new physics and chemistry teacher at GHS, said the talks left him enthused.
“I’m ready to get the kids to create and learn through developing their ideas,” Jones said.