Educator:

Kathleen Zeiss

District:

Neshaminy School District, where she is the staff development specialist.

Achievement:

Zeiss, of Newtown, has won the annual outstanding leadership award presented by the Bucks County Programs and Services Council of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. Zeiss has had an active role in countywide efforts to enhance staff development programming for school teachers.

Zeiss serves on committees with the intermediate unit that examine leadership and diversity, and she helps make decisions about professional development opportunities offered by the intermediate unit.

She has spent her entire 35-year career in the Neshaminy School District, first as a social studies teacher at the high school and middle school levels, and then as the staff development specialist, a post she has held since 1996.

The calling:

"I think I always wanted to be a teacher," Zeiss says. "I can remember lining up my stuffed animals and dolls in front of a little blackboard when I was little and teaching them. The nuns tried to talk me into being a nun, but I didn't want to do that. I just never remember a time when I didn't want to be a teacher."

Why social studies?:

"I had several inspirational teachers, and they were all in history and I think it was because history had great storytelling and I loved the ones that made it come alive."

Her favorite age group:

"When you talk to teachers, there are stereotypes. Senior high teachers are focused on content and preparing students for college. Elementary school teachers focus on the basics, and everybody thinks that teachers have to be a little off-center to teach in middle school. But eighth graders are my favorite age group. They're real. They wear their emotions on their sleeve. They're always on edge. You can trust them to be honest. There's an excitement there."

Spark of professional development:

"The district would offer workshops during the day, and I was just always so excited to go because I always thought that I can't be stagnant; I have to learn new things. I added them to my toolbox as a way to reach kids. It refueled me. So when the job became available, I was thrilled to put in my application."

Back in the day:

"When I first started teaching, I saw a lot of teachers teach one year, 30 times. They had their old, yellow notes and they'd run off their notes and it was the same thing every year and there wasn't anything out there that encouraged them to be anything different. Kids were different then.

"But now, I think that teachers want to teach different things, and I think these kids need different things."

Why?:

"Nowadays, we have so much more understanding that people learn in different ways. People no longer believe that one size fits all. You've got to know your kids and design lessons that will get them to the place where you want them to be."

Coaching sessions:

"Every time I go in and visit a classroom, I watch the classroom, and then after the class is over, I try to ask questions that get teachers to reflect on the lesson.

"I want them to ask questions of themselves. What worked and what didn't? What could work better? What do I have to do tomorrow to do even better than today? I think in many ways professional development is about self-reflection."

Those who decline:

"I think it's a shame if people don't take advantage of [professional development]. Anyone who thinks 'one and done' or 'I have a degree, don't bother me,' well, you wouldn't want your kids taught by that person, either. It's like other professions - you don't get 100 percent - but I think most teachers take it seriously and always want to improve."

What an intermediate unit official says:

"When I made the presentation [to Zeiss], I had recently read

A Whole New Mind

by Daniel Pink," said Lawrence Martin, assistant executive director of the Intermediate Unit.

"It's about somebody who brings the best of logic, good sense, creativity and artistry to their work, in terms of the design of their work and seeing connections that others might not see. That level of imagination really represents Kathleen Zeiss."

- Kristin E. Holmes