At Seven Hills, our teachers are experts at their craft. Teachers guide students to understanding how their brains inform their emotions in second grade; discover the relationship between teamwork and victory in Middle School; craft complex solutions for real life math problems in Upper; and build a world of their own imagination.
Our teachers create a welcoming environment for students to test the limits, try new things, and achieve more than they ever believed possible.
Lotspeich second grade teacher Danielle Necessary helps students embark on the interpersonal journey of discovering their emotions, and how to navigate them.
“We discuss our brain’s alarm system, the amygdala, and the rest of the feeling brain and how it relates to the parts of our thinking brain. We discuss the science of our brain and how it impacts our emotional behaviors, and the physical reactions behind them. I emphasize we shouldn’t get mad at our feelings, even if they’re uncomfortable, because they’re trying to tell us something,” Necessary said.
Students in Necessary’s class find comfort with trial and error and creating reason-based arguments to express their beliefs. Necessary presents morning analogies to her students every day, and occasionally she’ll present analogies with multiple answers.
“Because of the different ways students can approach the analogy, it generates discussion as students either stand their ground and continue to believe in their arguments, or they adapt when presented with an alternate perspective,” Necessary said.
Necessary also helps students understand what it means to be fair and equitable, and their relation to equality.
Through the Band-Aid Activity, students discuss what it would mean for Necessary to treat everyone fairly vs. equally. The thought experiment goes, during recess the class is playing on the playground. One student falls and skins their knee, so Necessary gives them a bandage for their injury. If Necessary treated everyone equally, every student would receive a bandage regardless if they were injured, however this wouldn’t be the most efficient use of time and resources.
“Students learn that everyone needs a different kind of care depending on their needs or current situation, and it’s fairer to treat people equitably than equally. There are a wide range of learners who all deserve an education fitting uniquely to their needs. Every year, I have a beautifully different group of kids I have the opportunity to teach, and the dynamics between them are always changing. I have to be open and get to know them, to know what they gravitate toward. I can’t be the same teacher to every student because every student deserves to have a teacher that helps them be their best, wherever they are,” Necessary said.
Using the power of building relationships with students, Middle School physical education teacher Hannah Hanley creates a warm environment of adventure and endless possibilities for her students.
“They’re learning how to create strategies, assemble and maintain a team, how to give directions and follow them, and other invaluable life lessons. They’re using their brains in a different way, and it helps create a rich and multi-directional educational environment for the students,” Hanley said.
For example, when students play capture the flag, they must work in large groups to accomplish multiple goals while presenting a united front. As a team, students must secure the other teams’ flags, defend their own, and rescue their peers if they’re captured.
“They can have a great strategy, and still not win. Part of my role is to teach students how to win and lose with grace and empathy. Students put immense pressure on themselves to succeed, and to me, success is also defined as personal growth. How can I encourage them through their struggles, how can I help them leave my class a little more joyful than when they started it?” Hanley said.
Every available Middle School sport is part of the regular Middle School curriculum so every student has the chance to try a sport they might not originally gravitate toward.
“It’s a fantastic way of introducing our students to all we have to offer them. The other day, two students ran up to me and told me they signed up for track and field because they loved it during gym class. Helping students push past their initial reservations opens the door wide for their potential, and introducing the activities in a non-judgmental environment like class enables them to keep being secure in themselves, even if things don’t work out. The emphasis during my PE class is trust, learning to trust your teammates, me, and, most importantly, themselves,” Hanley said.
Doherty world languages teacher Kristen Diersing captures the warmth and care of a home within her classroom so students feel at ease with the hurdles of learning a new language.
Through the beloved mascota project, Diersing enables students to create their pet, from its environment to its personality to eating habits. Students pick a miniature animal eraser, and over a couple of weeks, name their pet, build a shoebox habitat with five different rooms, and decide its characteristics and how to prepare its food.
“The students absolutely love it. The project creates an emotional bond to the language because it’s how they’re building a connection with their pet. There’s a lot of vocabulary word repetition as well as high-frequency words. Without even realizing it, students are forming sentences and paragraphs out of love for their pets. It’s one of the best ways to practice their output of Spanish because it’s not only fun but also deeply meaningful to them,” Diersing said.
One of Diersing’s main goals for her classroom is for students to learn and emulate a love for appreciating new languages and cultures and sharing them among students.
“Learning Spanish is only step one to broadening their horizons and stepping outside of their comfort zones. It’s one of the many things I love about Seven Hills, knowing my current students will keep growing and have the opportunity to learn Spanish, Chinese, French, or even Latin during Middle School and Upper School. I’m helping them build foundational skills for their future world language classes,” Diersing said.
Diersing credits Seven Hills’ flexibility and small class sizes with enabling her to get to know her students one-on-one.
“Doherty, and Seven Hills as a whole, empower teachers to teach in the way they see fit. There is not a certain curriculum I have to follow, and in elementary school, there are countless different ways to teach. It’s wonderful to feel that level of respect and community, and it translates into my teaching daily,” Diersing said.
In order for students to understand real life applications of mathematical principles, Upper School math teacher Melissa Khoo uses a variety of techniques for students to harness their potential.
“A lot of students haven’t seen or understood math in real life. They expect math to be beautiful and always result in beautifully solved answers. But, in real life, there’s always variation in data analysis. There’s never going to be a constant exact, and even in machinery there are fluctuations. My passion is to teach them that if there are rules, there must be a reason. If they’ve hit a roadblock when solving a problem, they can refer back to their foundational math skills and work their way to finding a potential solution,” Khoo said.
Khoo’s favorite way of showcasing the unexpected side of math is through a parking lot problem.
“I tell students to imagine they’re traveling with friends over spring break and they need to use the airport’s car park. They take their car and park it in CVG’s economy parking lot for seven and a half days to account for potential delays. They research how much it would cost, and graph it from the first to the last day and discover it’s not a completely straight diagonal line. There’s a curve, and then we discuss how that happens,” Khoo said.
The key to approaching math is developing perseverance and a never give up attitude, according to Khoo.
“I encourage students to keep trying different things, and have faith in themselves. I say it doesn’t matter how anyone else views you, so long as you feel good about the effort you’ve exerted. Math doesn’t have to be your passion. But it’s the process of working through problems in a subject that may not be your passion that defines you. You may not remember a specific problem you solved, but you’ll remember the critical thinking skills you applied and mastered. It’s about the process, and that’s the most important part of my class. It’s not about the end result, it’s about building foundational skills,” Khoo said.
Doherty pre-kindergarten teacher Karen Lawrence is a master of weaving academics into exploratory activities for young learners to discover. With an ever-evolving curriculum to meet and challenge students’ skills, Lawrence brings out the best in her students every year.
“When students change, I change so we can grow together. It’s how I am able to help them grow their skills in the most dynamic way,” Lawrence said.
One of Lawrence’s favorite activities with her students is the year-long leaf study. Throughout the year, students collect and research trees, tree bark, and flowers.
“Students love to bring back collections and share them with their classmates, and everyone learns something new. It’s wonderful to see that, because of this lesson, students develop a deeper appreciation for nature and the importance of a lifecycle. They also learn the basics of how to research, and how to delve further into a topic,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence’s students learn more than academic lessons, they also learn how to build a thriving community with each other.
“In my class, and as they learn how to build friendships with one another, I strive to emphasize the power of kindness, and how it can change someone’s day. We also often discuss how to be an active learner, since the students are the key participant in their own learning process,” Lawrence said.
Every morning, Lawrence gathers the students to participate in a musical moment. Students have the option of requesting a particular song, if they provide sheet music for Lawrence to read.
Soon, the room is filled with the swell of Lawrence’s piano playing, the enthusiastic singing of students excited for the day’s new academic adventure, and of course, the occasional outburst of giggles.
“If my students are willing to try new and difficult things, and not only learn from their mistakes but are willing to make new ones, then they’ve achieved something wonderful,” Lawrence said.
As seventh graders study English with Middle School teacher Mandy Hayes, they embark on a journey to understand their own personal history and how it impacts who they are as people.
“I have crafted my curriculum around the question, ‘How does where we come from shape who we are?’ We use this question throughout the year to dig into our own identities as well as those of the authors and literary characters we encounter. The books we read, the papers we write, the historical context that we study, and the themes we discuss are also designed to cultivate understanding and inspire empathy,” Hayes said.
Hayes’s goal is for her students to go beyond a basic understanding of what they’re reading to understand how it reflects the world around them.
One of her favorite parts of the Middle School English curriculum is the independent reading program. Students have the opportunity to take ownership of their learning by selecting books to read and designing presentations that reflect their unique talents and creativity. A couple of Hayes’ favorite recent student projects include a moving poem about “The Red Bandanna” by Tom Rinaldi, which is a true story about heroism on 9/11, and a commercial about the science fiction book “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins.
“Book reports allow students to celebrate the literature they read while they build upon their talents and interests and also cultivate their communication skills,” Hayes said.
Another recent project in her class was the World War II research presentation students created in conjunction with the novel “Code Talker” by Joseph Bruchac.
“Students worked in groups to research various topics related to the setting of the novel, and then they put together slide presentations to teach their classmates about their topics to provide context for the reading. I designed this project to scaffold their learning through every stage of the process (researching, organizing subtopics, notetaking, slide design, presenting, making citations), and the skills that students practiced collaboratively have prepared them for more independent research projects later on in the year and beyond,” Hayes said.
Throughout the year, Hayes presents students with different projects, challenges, and ideas for them to consider so they can continue to succeed far beyond her classroom. To Hayes, success doesn’t mean earning a particular score or grade, and it isn’t contingent upon whether students can remember specific passages from a novel. She defines success by the growth she sees in students’ academic skills and personal development.
“I love working at a school where I can continue to see students thrive and achieve as they move along on their journey – from Lower all the way through Upper School. It’s great knowing that I played a little role in their progress. Overall, I strive to make my classroom a comfortable place where every student feels valued and gains confidence in their abilities. I hope that students leave my class with a better (but still evolving) sense of who they are and how they can positively impact society. By the end of the year, I encourage students to be thinking about the question, ‘How does who I am today shape where we are headed?’” Hayes said.
Upper School English teacher Marcus Miller’s primary objective for his students is for them to learn and value evidence-based reasoning and self-advocacy.
“It’s important for my students to be able to not only provide an answer to a question they’re asked but explain how they arrived at it. I’m less interested in whether they’ve given the correct answer, but more in their reasoning and evidence for the answer. Especially in an English class, where there’s not always a set correct answer when you’re talking about a passage in a novel, memoir, or short story. Because there’s room for interpretation, students adapt their logic based on evidence they collect over time,” Miller said.
As students learn how to create strong evidence-based arguments, they also grow more confident in self-advocating.
“Self-advocating is a crucial life skill for students to have, as a foundation to stand on during the rest of their life. Frequently in everyday conversation, they’re going to have to persuade someone of their position. It can be something as simple as where to eat for lunch or more serious as holding someone accountable for not fulfilling a promise,” Miller said.
Students study the memoir “Educated” by Tara Westover and read about her challenges to find education, overcome accompanying financial struggles, and grow into becoming a strong advocate for herself.
“In one section of her memoir, Westover has a terrible tooth pain and needs $1,500 to take care of it, but she has rent, food, and other necessities she needs to pay for. She’s unable to focus on grades because of the incredible pain, and they begin to fall. A bishop who knows her situation offers several different options to help and helps Westover apply for a grant. After receiving it, she marvels about how liberating it was to be able to take care of the pain, have food on the table, and money in her bank account,” Miller said.
To better understand how money affects families differently, students are assigned groups, each with a different fictional family set-up.
“They might have two parents, they might have multiple children, they could be living in the Midwest where there’s hardly any public transportation. Regardless of the circumstances, they are tasked with creating a budget and doing their best to make ends meet each month. Students will be on track with their budget when suddenly a ‘life event’ occurs, for example, maybe they need new brakes on their car. Depending on their financial situation, this completely changes their stress levels, their ability to buy food, and so much more. It’s a project relevant to the text while also a good life lesson in budgeting, and understanding how the same series of events has completely different consequences for different people,” Miller said.
Similar to Westover, Miller prioritizes self-advocacy because he wants students to feel proud of their role in their education.
“It’s more than their grades, it’s their learning process. It’s asking questions, crafting arguments, and finding solutions they hadn’t previously considered. It’s a foundation to build the rest of their life on, and I want them to feel confident in their ownership of it,” Miller said.
Using instructional techniques like ingredients, Lotspeich Lower School world language teacher Megan Hayes says teaching a language is like serving a balanced meal. She, the head chef of her kitchen, creates an invigorating experience using a myriad of activities to introduce students to, and capture the magic of, a different language.
“I use Story Listening as my main dish. As I tell students a story, I’m also drawing it on the board and relaying messages through facial expressions as well as gesturing. It’s a method that incorporates hearing, telling, seeing, and reading for students and builds strong literacy skills,” Hayes said.
Hayes frequently uses adapted storybooks, fairytales, Aesop’s fables, and folk tales to capture students’ attention while learning about various cultures.
“One of my favorite sources to include are stories and videos from 68 Voices, 68 Hearts which is a project that aims to bring awareness to and revive Mexico’s 68 linguistic groups. It’s a fantastic project and shows students another example of how incredible and diverse the world is. They also find it fascinating to listen to different indigenous languages, like Tohono, Nahuatl, and Mayan, during the video along with subtitles in Spanish,” Hayes said.
Hayes believes language acquisition is circuitous, meaning there isn’t a straight path to learning and it varies greatly from student to student.
“Every student takes in and gravitates toward something different. I want them to have a solid understanding of the language, patterns, and sound by the time they move on to a different teacher,” Hayes said.
As fifth graders, students engage in weekly independent reading in Spanish and select books from an array of options in the classroom library.
“There are all these moments leading up to students reading a novel completely in Spanish, and the best way to describe them are as a-ha, or lightbulb, moments. It’s when students demonstrate they’re learning and making a connection about the language, and it’s a similar excitement to placing a puzzle piece in a complicated jigsaw puzzle. Once that piece clicks, then there’s another, and another after that. When students notice a pattern in the language, their engagement and enjoyment exponentially increase because they’re beginning to comprehend the language’s bigger picture,” Hayes said.
Students are learning more than mathematical procedures in OGrady’s class, they’re analyzing the best use of their application. OGrady, who teaches both math and social studies, said, “Students develop strong analytical skills to better understand our global, data-driven world. Alongside our math lessons, we also learn how to be analytical thinkers during social studies lessons. Students learn the importance of evidence and considering multiple viewpoints, as different people may not experience the same event in the same way. By analyzing history, we’re building empathy and understanding how the past continues to impact and shape our world. For both math and social studies, I want students to be critical, compassionate thinkers; for students to look for and understand complexity, to seek and value a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, that’s my goal.”
Studying Latin in Middle and Upper School world language and history teacher Katie Swinford’s class is akin to studying the human condition.
“Humanity, like our wants, needs, and goals, hasn’t changed too much in the last couple thousand years. Students learn more about the timelessness of the human condition and everything it means. For example, students research the Roman Empire’s expansion and compare its effects with modern-day immigration and border laws,” Swinford said.
Swinford uses imaginative projects to immerse her students in ancient Rome while showcasing Latin’s beauty and long-lasting impact. During Latin IV Honors, students research senate identities from 63 B.C.E. and live tweet their reactions to the Cicero’s speech as if they were his contemporaries.
In ninth grade world history, students take on ancient Athenian personas from ancient Greece and role-play different political factions while trying to design a democratic system.
“We pretend we don’t know how the history played out, for instance, what works and what doesn’t work. The students make the case for their different proposals and we, as a class, vote for the best plan.
“Students, in both history and Latin classes, are learning and sharpening their analytical skills, how to read a document and figure out its potential bias, form their own opinion, and debate it. They’re reading texts and discussing an author’s intent and how different events may be covered by different authors.
“I love my job because the kids are interested and willing to go the extra mile, and parents want to support their kids however they can. This gives me the freedom to create the best lessons I can and because of that, my curriculum evolves every year to meet the needs and talents of my
students,” Swinford said.
With a self-described “ever-evolving” teaching style, Doherty Unit I teacher Amy Kulhavik fully embraces the concept of adapting to meet the needs of each student. There are two undeniable constants in her class: first, education is an adventure meant to be an enjoyable challenge, and second, students will know they are seen and respected as individuals.
“I believe that once you know your students, you can find creative ways to reach and teach whatever the concept is in a way that makes sense to each of them. For example, in language arts, a workshop approach in both reading and writing allows students to read and write about topics that interest them. I then teach the strategies, skills, and tools within those chosen books or storylines. This way, the students and I are collaborating and conferring about their learning using text and media important to or chosen by them,” Kulhavik said.
Her favorite unit is when Unit I turns their classrooms into Camp Learns-A-Lot, complete with desk tents, a campfire, and twinkling lights so students can read by lantern light under the night stars.
During their stay at Camp Learns-A-Lot, all core curriculum revolves around their camping theme.
“We discuss homophones while reading the book ‘Dear Deer’ by Gene Barretta, research skunks and write about something that ‘stinks’ or has ‘stunk’ in each student’s life, and create small, stable tents using just toothpicks and marshmallows for a STEAM activity. We wrap up the week by bringing in sleeping bags and favorite stuffed animals for reading, enjoying a camp-themed lunch around a real fire, and learning how to leave our camp clean and picked up for the next group of visitors for camping etiquette! It’s a week full of fun, adventurous learning for all,” Kulhavik said.
Her inventive methods create many opportunities for students to achieve their own “aha” moments. Students are comfortable trying new things and testing their academic prowess because Kulhavik takes the time to get to know every single student as an individual.
Students know as soon as they step into Amy’s classroom, they are going to be encouraged, supported, and challenged
“When my students leave first grade, my goal is that they are confident learners who are willing to take risks because they feel comfortable and safe in a classroom environment,” Kulhavik said.