The best way is for teachers to support other teachers

Welcome to another edition of Teachers of SIS Rocks!

This week we want to highlight Rachael MacMillan, a Pre-K 2 teacher at Mountainside.

She was nominated by her peers for her leadership in fostering a strong grade level team.

In her words, “The best way is for teachers to support other teachers.”

1. What did you want your fellow teachers to know or understand?

We are a team, everyone has a place in a team.

It does not matter if you are a team leader or not, you can always help others.

I remember when I was new you always felt behind trying to balance all the daily things you had to complete. This is where a team can come in and help sort these things out.

This helps them get organized and settled as a teacher. Which in turn, allows them to focus on what is important…improving the student learning in the class. Additionally, this makes it easier for the new teacher to give back to the team.

2. What skills did you want your fellow teachers to gain?

Every new person brings something to the table. The more we are able to make them comfortable, the quicker they will be able to add their unique abilities to the students and to our team.

Essentially it is the idea to “pass the buck” or “pay it forward.”

When you are able to give, it will come back to you!

3. How did you lead in the past?

Well, for me it started out at a very young age.

First, there was babysitting. Then I worked as a manager at Dunkin Doughnuts. Through it all, I always was the person to teach and train new people.

Even when I go home for a break now, my mom waits for me to teach her about the newest technologies.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

I have always been an introspective person, but this has improved as I have gotten older. This growth came because I grew as an adult, which then impacted my leadership abilities.

Leadership centers around being open, asking questions, and making mistakes.

I am consistently asking myself,

How could I have done that better?

Or, collaborating with other teachers and asking,

How would you have handled that, what would you have done differently?

 These questioning coupled with my calm nature help me get to the root of the problem.

Also, I am not afraid to admit when I make a mistake, as this usually leads to a big learning.

Lastly, is the ability to see everyone as equals. Everybody is human.

I still remember what my mom told me when I was a young child,

 “ Who do you think you are.”

That still reminds me to see everyone eye to eye.


Everyone needs a Smart Auntie (a role model who has had more experience, maybe an admin figure).

“I wanted them to explore how effective their model would be as a teaching tool”








Hello #SISRocks ! For this week’s installment of Teachers of SIS, we are pleased to have middle school Math/ Science teacher Riley Laird, here at our bayside campus. Riley walked me through the many ways her students are using models to demonstrate their understanding of human body systems. Here are her responses to the questions regarding her lesson.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

There are all sorts of scientific practices with skills every scientist engages in regardless of discipline (biology, chemistry, etc…  ) And one of those skills is the use of models to represent the real world, which also relates back to the scientific process. We decided to explore models in grade six because its a really good way for students to show what they know, especially for those who don’t always have a way of articulating or providing the details around a topic. It’s also just another way to show your scientific understanding. Most people think of classic models like a skeleton but there are so many different types – they can be artistic, three dimensional, interactive, a mathematical model, a simulation..  So in grade six, students really work on that skill all year long and they try to do with as many different types of models.

So for this one, we’re learning about the human body systems and thats definitely tied in with all of these skills. The first system we studied was the musculoskeletal system and a really good way to represent that is with a scientific illustration.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

So, I wanted to expose the to the different ways of representing science. I also wanted to give them something creative (and artistic) to look at… and so this particular type of scientific model is called a scientific illustration. It’s meant to be used as an effective model – in other words it’s supposed to represent the real structures. There should be a real likeness and proportions should be accurate. It’s also about the fine details and textures but then there are also scientific skills and practices that come in play like the way the illustrations are labeled, which have to follow a particular format. There are also specific artistic techniques students are supposed to use that differs, say, from a diagram, which is another type of model. This was really sparked by former teacher Brittany Morgan, who had that entire class doing scientific illustrations. I have bunch of the work hanging in my classroom and I thought …what better way to kick off models in science.

So students are assessed on the artistic portion of it but also how effective their model is in a scientific context. Could someone who knows nothing about this part of the body and look at it, understand what it is, and see the different parts. Ultimately, I wanted them to explore how effective their model would be as a teaching tool or scientific model for someone else

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

The next type of model illustrates some of the changes that I’ve made to teach this lesson… For example, with modeling the respiratory system, I have some kids building theirs virtually in Minecraft – way more open and allows for creativity. I also added new parameters like there needing to be interactive element. It couldn’t be just a flat or static drawing. That said, some kids are still actually drawing but it’s more like a flip book where viewers can peel the layers away. Other kids are building with lego, some are using clay or making cakes and decorating them with icing to illustrate the functions specific. With these models, for example, they started outlining the general structures, which ties into the science because we’ve been learning about the levels of organization (cells, tissues, organs, system..)

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

I guess wanting to go beyond the classics (the skeleton, the cell, etc…) led to expanding notions of what models can look like and providing my students with as many choices and ays of working – Really just opening it up (creatively) so that I could meet them where they are. So for the kids that didn’t really shine on this model, maybe they’re able to demonstrate  teh real world but do it in the own way.

SIS has been the most collaborative environment I have ever been a part of!

This week we highlight Jaime Bacigalupo and Ceci Gomez-Galvez from Bayside. They have been nominated for their cross-disciplinary and curricular work in bringing about SIS stories.


What is SIS stories you ask?


It is a platform where students are able to build community and connect with others through storytelling.


The inception started when Jaime attended a couple sessions of the famous “Shenzhen Stories” in 2016.


She was floored by the power of storytelling, so she spent the summer reflecting about how she could bring this theme into her 10th-grade class.


Below are there answers to this innovative student learning.


1. What did you want your students to know or understand?


Jaime: Largely the power of storytelling. Stories have the power to connect us on a human level and while also building empathy and compassion.


Ceci: Our students have been writing personal narratives since the third grade and we wanted them to understand writing and telling stories is more than academics. We wanted all students, especially the quiet ones, to understand this could be a vehicle to share their voice.


2. What skills did you want your students to gain? 


Jaime: In terms of the English there were two main components. Frist, the writers’ craft, which consisted of mentor texts, short memoirs, deep reading, and annotations. Also, Stylistic approaches used to reach readers.


Second, was how to express yourself orally. Different mediums require you to express yourself differently. For example, oral presentations are much more casual than formal presentations.


Ceci: We wanted them to show some vulnerability by telling their own story. This, in turn, would allow them to be brave, resilient, and take risks. All things that will help them prepare for their performance tasks in IB Diploma Programme.


3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?


Jaime: There was NO oral piece, it was only written. Additionally, there was no theme to the lesson, it was really quite open.


Essentially it was a narrative snapshot. Although it gave them a lot of flexibility, there was no foundational piece which ran through all of it where we could see same theme branch out in so many different contexts.


Lastly, I was the audience. There was no one else!


4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?


Jaime: One word…collaboration. Not just simply talking about things, but building strong relationships to create systems to improve student learning.


SIS has been the only school where this level of flexibility and autonomy are provided, which make it such a fertile environment for collaboration.


SIS has been the most collaborative environment I have ever been a part of!


Teachers are allotted the time and the flexibility to cultivate this environment. I do not know what I would do if I did not have these elements, it would be like not having air to breathe.


This strong collaboration is a vehicle which has enhanced my teaching more than it has for many years combined.


Furthermore, the collaboration opened up connections even outside of the classroom. Attending Shenzhen Stories had me thinking how I could bring in Trey, founder of Shenzhen Stories.


He came in a ran a workshop and gave strategies on the idea surrounding “page and stage.” Additionally, we created a setting which fostered a sense of community; snacks, signs, and furniture.


Ceci: Yeah, exactly. For me, it was true co-teaching. That Ying to Yang relationship.


Jaime had ideas and I had other ideas and questions. I would ask


How can we make the learning better for our students?

How can we make it more interesting?

How can we share it on a bigger stage?



These questions led us to create SIS stories. Where we combine the power of storytelling, Voice, and interdisciplinary connections.


We already mentioned Trey, but Peter reached out to see how we could incorporate the services to his STEAM students. We started chatting and made the connection that we could use a motherboard which connected letters in the alphabet with buttons that triggered something when touched.


We would record each student’s’ golden lines and take professional pictures. Then we would be able to create posters with sensors where buttons will trigger audio files of the golden lines of the students.


Jaime: It was awesome!


Since the inception of SIS stories, everything has grown organically.


And it keeps growing and everything is falling into place.


We are actually going to collaborate with 5th graders and take our students over to Parkside to mentor them on the experience.


Ceci: What is awesome is the task we started with was for each student had to get up and talk for 5-10 minutes.


That is it!


However, now it has grown into this amazing thing called SIS stories


To think it started with a provocation and text (Persepolis: the story of a childhood) then it connected to the power of storytelling, next student voice, next STEAM, and it continues to grow.


Lastly, I want to mention there are many vehicles for empowerment.


Vulnerability and modeling what you want your students to create are powerful.


Jaime wrote a story herself and told it in front of the students.

This gave them a different perspective and automatically built a sense of community. Students’ were eager to share and also hear the stories of others. It was awesome!


A much different result from reading a mentor text published by an author you do not know or have a relationship with.

Students knew right from the beginning they would have an opportunity to share with an authentic audience of their peers and teachers.


Both: (Sit back and sigh)…Can’t wait to see where this goes next year!




Peters STEAM class: They are looking for new clients to build products for. Contact them if you need anything in terms of design which requires any STEAM elements.