Read more about Jen Cunningham Butler
Elementary/High School Education: Park School; Groton School
Where did you grow up?
New England all the way! I grew up in Needham, MA. Family ties run deep.
Faculty Member since 1989
Previous Roles at Brookwood: Grade Four Teacher, Grade Five Teacher, Interim Head of Middle School, Dean of Students, Taught sections of Grade Six English and geography, Grade Two Literacy Team, Director of After School and Summer Programs, and J.V. girls’ lacrosse coach
Why do you teach your respective age group?
I went back to the classroom full time three years ago after 20+ years in administration and after pursuing numerous passions and interests. The thread that kept me tied to Brookwood was the kids and community, and I wanted to get back to working with students and their parents more directly. The thing I love about third graders is - everything! They are interesting, capable, coachable people with ideas, inspirations and budding passions. It's my job to create the environment in which they can ask questions, take risks, discover new competencies and flourish as people and learners. It's my privilege to be with them each day as they struggle, learn, triumph, grow and do so with their signature personalities and style. Third graders are fun! They are partners in creating our classroom community, and it is because of them that we can have a good time and achieve serious goals in equal measure. Every day with third graders there is opportunity for joy. Each day holds moments to notice and appreciate. My daily life is rich with all of them in it.
What, if any, is your favorite classroom lesson to teach?
My favorite lesson is any lesson or project that integrates multiple skills in real-life ways. Any lesson that provides a spark is fun...I live for the "aha" moments in 3A. We get those daily in math, reading, social studies, writing, homeroom and our social curriculum. Seeing the look on someone's face when they realize that they "get it" is the definition of a favorite lesson! It's whatever inspires the kids most and makes them see their own knowledge, skill and capabilities grow. If I had to pick one unit that brings out the best in every child, I'd pick persuasive speech writing. In the past year, topics were impressive in their relevance to kids' lives. Students picked topics as disparate as sharks, cancer research, and people being treated equally regardless of gender. They wrote bold claims, and backed them up with fact and detail. They did research on topics like why we should protect endangered elephants or why we should appreciate Nurse Paula. They worked to convince people to read a book series, stop littering, or not brag in games. This unit brought out their voices, their strength, their skill in writing, and their ability to make a difference in their communities.
Is there something at Brookwood that makes you a better teacher?
My colleagues make me a better teacher. Their excitement, the ideas we share, openness to learning, their encouragement or their ability to take a good idea and help make it great makes me a better teacher. We rise together. The "community of learners" includes the adults at Brookwood.
Do you have a special memory from elementary school?
For a book report in third grade, I did a skit for Charlotte's Web. I was Fern and her dad, turning back and forth and changing accents to indicate who was speaking. I remember how Fern spoke up for what she believed was right. Even though the book was sad, I remember Fern's strength and the fun of acting out the critical scene where she saves Wilbur from the ax.
What is your community involvement outside of Brookwood?
I grew up in a house where community involvement was expected and doing for others encouraged and modeled by my parents. My mother was the Founding President of the Friends of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I was Co-President for three years and currently serve as Co-VP of Patient Services. An all-volunteer organization, the Friends raises critical seed money for cutting-edge cancer research projects and patient care programs. The result is innovation in cancer care, better outcomes for patients, and increased quality of life during and after diagnosis and treatment. My dad, who is 95, is also a Dana-Farber volunteer. He brings the food cart to patients as they receive chemotherapy infusions. He serves up hope, love and compassion with every sandwich! Working in the cancer community is really important to me, and I'm happy to carry on the family tradition. It's an inspirational place of hope and healing; I'm humbled and honored to be among the volunteers at the Institute.
I used to race road bikes and still love the feel of a solid tempo ride with my husband or friends. Give me fresh pavement, a steady wheel, a winding road and a sunny summer day, and I'm happy! My main passion is kids. Pure and simple. Teaching them, encouraging them, cajoling them, steering them toward their best learning and their best selves is my greatest interest.
Thoughts on taking a risk
Do it. The only true regrets we'll have in this life is when we failed to give something a try. "Woulda, coulda, shoulda...."
Favorite children’s book
Now We Are Six, by A.A. Milne
What do you like about Brookwood that differs from other schools?
The food is really good!
What do you love most about life at Brookwood?
Daily moments. They beauty is there every day if we can only take a moment to see it.