by Kathleen Dolan
Jennifer McKenzie, a former mentor for student-teachers at Chestnut Hill College, is one of 60 top educators to win the Philadelphia School District’s 2020 Lindback Award for Distinguished Public Teachers.
McKenzie, who has been teaching at Henry H. Houston Elementary School in Mt. Airy as a school-based teacher leader for five years, received the award in May, which is bestowed upon teachers who demonstrate excellence in promoting learning at the highest levels.
McKenzie’s affiliation with Chestnut Hill College began with her participation in the Greater Philadelphia Instructional Coaching Program (GPIC). In the program, she earned an instructional coaching endorsement and served as a mentor for three CHC student-teachers at both the graduate and the undergraduate levels. As for education, she received a Bachelor of Science in elementary and kindergarten education from Penn State University as well as a Master of Education in instructional coaching from La Salle University, and she has also earned additional certifications in middle years English Language Arts (ELA) and middle years math.
The College recently interviewed McKenzie about her career as a teacher. Below is the Q&A.
CHC: What is a school-based teacher leader?
JM: An SBTL is a teacher who is released for part of the day to lead professional development, coach and mentor teachers, support school operations, and carry out administrative duties. In my case, I was an SBTL from 8:05 to 11:30 before teaching 8th grade ELA and social studies from 11:30 to 2:54. The work of an SBTL is meant to improve student outcomes on a broader, school-wide scale.
How would you describe your role as a mentor at Chestnut Hill College?
My role as a mentor is the same as my role as an SBTL. I coach the student, using a variety of strategies such as modeling, co-planning, co-teaching, observation, and feedback. Each week we work together to create a student-improvement goal and identify action steps that will help them reach the goal. This is done in a collaborative manner. The ultimate aim is improved outcomes for students in my classroom and in their future classrooms.
How did your time at CHC prepare you for a career in teaching?
I participated in the Greater Philadelphia Instructional Coaching Program. This experience gave me the skills necessary to be an effective teacher leader. I particularly identify with the coaching philosophy of Elena Aguilar. I was introduced to her model through my GPIC coursework. I believe that GPIC helped me to identify my coaching stance and to move confidently into the SBTL position.
What are some of the challenges you faced as a new teacher?
I did not receive regular observations or feedback as a new teacher. I had to rely mostly on trial and error or suggestions that were offered by colleagues in order to hone my skills.
What are some of the challenges you still face?
A challenge that I still face is balancing the expectations of modern education — standardized testing, being data-driven, etc. — with creating experiences for children that instill a love of learning.
What are some of the techniques you use in a classroom to help students learn?
Universal Design for Learning is extremely helpful in a multi-ability/complex classroom. In terms of my content, close reading, text-dependent questioning, and small-group instruction are particularly helpful.
What is your favorite part of teaching?
My favorite part of teaching is developing relationships with children and supporting them in their goals. I also like the energy of a school. It is very go, go, go! It is perfect for someone like me who likes to be busy.
What are you most excited about doing with your students in the future?
Mentoring my last student-teacher — Ziggy Fisher ’20 — really ignited my passion for U.S. history. His enthusiasm and knowledge were infectious. I am excited to use primary source documents in lessons that are designed for ELA/SS overlap. For example, I've been given some letters written by a World War II soldier who did not make it back from the Pacific Theater of battle. I am very excited to incorporate them as a close-read experience that will help students understand the effects of war in a historical context.