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BANNER, December 2014: Faculty Spotlight, Jen Cunningham Butler

Third grade teacher Jen Cunningham Butler was selected in September as Brookwood’s first-ever participant in the World Leadership School’s Virtual Teacher Institute.  This one-year professional development grant pairs experts in global initiative work with classroom teachers to support curriculum development.  As Brookwood’s 2014-2015 VTI participant, Jen is working with Jennifer Klein, global education consultant with GlobalEdCon and professional development director at the World Leadership School.  

“Jennifer and I meet via Skype every two to three weeks to discuss ideas for global partnerships and project-based learning initiatives that fit with the Brookwood mission,” comments Jen, a 26-year veteran teacher who returned full-time to the classroom three years ago after 20 years as an administrator with teaching responsibilities.  “During the past three years, I’ve focused on finding projects that further Brookwood’s cultural competence and global citizenship priorities, seeking out opportunities for younger students to gain these skills.”  

For Jen, global work is about exposing students to perspectives and experiences beyond their immediate surroundings.  “It’s about exploring similarities and differences.  It’s about finding our commonalities with people around the world,” she explains.  “For example in our Food Around the World unit, we are examining food people eat.  Students have raised questions about access and ideas like importing and exporting, what people grow and how food is prepared, and who prepares it.  ‘How do they get their food?’ is a central question we explore.”

Following last year’s participation in a Global iBook, a collaboration among 18 schools throughout the United States and around the globe, this year’s third grade is involved in the Global Postcard Exchange.  Through this virtual “field trip,” Brookwood third graders are corresponding with students around the world.  This is a kids-to-kids project and students are writing friendly letters, sharing general information about their schools and the areas in which they live.   

While awaiting replies to postcards mailed on November 15, Brookwood third graders are researching the school with which they are corresponding and will share their work with classmates after the reply arrives.  “They are using the KWL chart (what do you Know? What do you Want to know? What have you Learned?). Our card from Tasmania came and is up on the board next to a world map.  Students are having great discussions about commonalities across cultures, gaining perspectives and making connections. And that’s what this is all about.”

Third graders also recently started a classroom Twitter account to connect with classrooms, experts and authors and to further correspond with their Postcard Exchange partners.

Jen has had a long-time interest in the development of cultural competency in children,” comments Head of Lower School Nancy Evans.  “Her excellent work in the Lower School brings one more voice to us, supporting the need to find similarities and differences with children and classrooms around the world.  Jen can lead us forward with new knowledge gained from her work with the World Leadership School’s Virtual Teacher Institute.  Many exciting possibilities lie ahead!”