Teaching & Learning Center: Keeping the Bar High


The Penn Charter Teaching & Learning Center (TLC) is in its fifth year and is now a model for centers across the country. The center allows faculty to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want by providing meaningful and easily accessible professional development on the Penn Charter campus, just steps away from their classrooms.

At lunch and after school, in a space on the second floor of Gummere Library, faculty offer workshops or one-to-one sessions to share their areas of expertise with one another. The sessions are inspired by teachers’ professional interests and needs, as well as by these goals of our Strategic Vision:

• promoting excellence in teaching,

• educating students for global competency,

• collaborating across divisions and disciplines,

• strengthening use of technology,

• and creating a community of lifelong learners—faculty and students—who make a difference.

With 15 to 20 collaborative, interactive workshops each week, the TLC has inspired faculty to model, innovate, coach, research, collaborate, continue to learn—and teach better than ever.

“Better than ever is a high bar at Penn Charter,” Head of School Darryl J. Ford said when he spoke of the success of the TLC at the October 20 kickoff of Penn Charter’s new capital campaign, By the Light of Our Charter, How Far Can We See? “Quality of teaching, yesterday and today, is a hallmark of Penn Charter.

“Since 2013, we have used gifts and income from our endowment to create change now,” Ford said, highlighting the TLC as an early success of Penn Charter’s efforts to implement the Strategic Vision. “We initiated change by focusing on people, the people who are at the heart of the Penn Charter educational experience—our teachers.”

Ruth Aichenbaum, coordinator of the TLC, was inspired to create the center because of the user-friendly learning experience she encountered one summer at her local Apple store. As co-clerk of the Committee on Teaching and Learning, which was charged with promoting professional development, Aichenbaum was aware that faculty wanted to continue to learn, but it was challenging for faculty with busy lives of teaching and coaching to find the time to do this when it required going to workshops outside of school. An in-house Teaching & Learning Center seemed like a perfect solution.

Each year the center has grown in terms of variety of sessions and the number of faculty attending and leading sessions. In year one, Aichenbaum logged 377 faculty visits to the TLC, whereas last year there were 927 visits and the TLC was used by 77 percent of the faculty.

When the center first started, faculty had to be recruited to lead sessions; now faculty regularly volunteer to offer sessions and suggest various affinity groups based around interests, disciplines and divisions. Now there are so many offers to lead TLC sessions Aichenbaum often offers concurrent sessions and would offer even more sessions at the same time if there were more available rooms to use.

The TLC has even inspired parents to create a spinoff, Parent-to-Parent, as well as a student-led version, Student Learning Community.

The TLC has a partnership just across the street with Jefferson University’s East Campus, formerly Philadelphia University. Jefferson University’s weekly workshops and Talking Teaching sessions are open to our faculty, and our TLC sessions welcome their participation.

Aichenbaum said the TLC “has made it the norm for our community to collaborate with one another, share our successes and challenges as we strive for excellence in teaching, and eagerly share our expertise with one another.

“These five years of daily workshops, learning from and with one another,
are nurturing us as a vibrant learning community of lifelong learners who make a difference.”