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Professional Development for Teachers has a Direct Impact on Student Learning in the Classroom

By Andy Knox Faculty

Above: Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), Stanford University

Above: Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), Stanford University

One of my favorite aspects of being a teacher is the requirement of my job to learn new things. Everyone’s interests oscillate and evolve throughout their lives, the world changes, and new technologies emerge. I am not sure how I would be a very good teacher if I rested on what I already knew and taught only what I felt comfortable with. More specifically, as a geography teacher, new travel experiences or a provocative new book often plant seeds for the development of new courses or units at SBA. A constructive approach to education and teaching is central to my teaching practice.


This past July, for the second time, I attended an economics institute at Stanford University. Throughout an intensive week spent at SIEPR (Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research), I was exposed to new perspectives and was afforded a peek into current research in economics taking place at the university level. Lectures on health insurance in America from one of the primary architects of the ACA, the economics of Uber from their Chief Data Scientist, and the future of the E.U. (after Brexit) from a former President of Stanford now consulting in Brussels offered me an exhilarating look into contemporary economic shifts taking place.


For the past two years, Seth Dow and I have piloted the first cross-curricular course at Sugar Bowl Academy that bridges Math and Science with the Humanities. The Global Statistics class is an applied math course that has its roots at the SIEPR Institute. We have devoted each trimester to a single project. One amazing component to the professional development experience of this institute is the ability to walk away with Dropbox access to the presentations as well a pathway to accessing the raw data used by today’s scholars. Seth and I ask our students to tangle with real world problems, using the same data SIEPR scholars use, to develop unique solutions and defend their choices.


Joanne Knox and I have a long time friend, Ben Domingue, who is an Assistant Professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. Ben has been able to provide SBA students with a personal avenue to communicate directly with scholars at Stanford and for our students to compare their results to those of graduate students working on answering the same questions. Student learning at SBA has been directly impacted through the Academy’s teacher professional development program.  


The longer that I am a teacher, the more I see the necessity of embracing an approach of life long learning in order to adapt to a rapidly globalizing world. Taking time to step off Donner Summit, reach out to friends and colleagues to build new relationships, reflect and change my teaching, all underscore the essential aspects of PD and how, when you read the student feedback, these experiences bring the world into our classrooms and engage students, while beginning to erase the age old question posed by teenagers: “How does this matter?”


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