Athenian Teachers Are Learners, Too: Working with Master Teacher Bonnie Mennell

By Lisa Haney, Dean of Upper School Faculty and Humanities Teacher

img_6083Bonnie Mennell, in the midst of her fourth visit to Athenian as a teacher coach, had just observed an 85- minute period of Applied Calculus. As they walked across campus together, Lalitha Kameswaran, the Applied Calculus teacher asked: “Wasn’t that boring?  All that math?” Bonnie laughed, explaining: “The math is not what I am paying attention to. I don’t understand the complexities of calculus. What I am watching is the presentation of the material, students’ engagement with the material, how questions are asked about the material and how they are responded to by the teacher. I am watching the learning.”

Bonnie and Lalitha later sat down to go over the notes she had taken, focusing first on Lalitha’s own assessment of how the class had gone; then Bonnie offered her perspective on what had gone well, and what could have gone better.

img_6077In talking with Lalitha about the experience later, she reported being grateful for the opportunity to see her work through the eyes of another and exclaimed: “Bonnie is awesome!”

Indeed. Bonne Mennell has been a teacher, teacher coach, and educational consultant for over 40 years: she brings a wealth of wisdom and expertise about teaching and learning to her work with our faculty, staying on campus for a full week, and in the last two years has come in the fall and the spring.  While she spends the bulk of her time with first-year Athenian teachers, she also visits other teachers’ classes as time allows.  She is also happy to simply meet with individuals to talk over teaching conundrums or share her knowledge of practices in other schools. Her work with teachers is outside of the more formal professional development and evaluation process; her observations and conversations with teachers are completely confidential.

img_6068As one faculty member put it, “having someone from outside of Athenian with Bonnie’s experience is an amazing way to get valuable feedback. Bonnie’s awareness of the big picture and the concept that less is more is really refreshing. She is ultimately concerned with what serves the students but her feedback is so well tailored to the individual teacher.”