On Feb. 25, 2014 science instructor Minna Leigh became the first recipient of the newly established Anne-Marie Jenks Excellence in Teaching Award. As a result, Leigh traveled to Florence, Italy in July to participate in The Creativity Workshop.
The Jenks Award was created by Head of School Barbara Wagner and the Board of Trustees and was named in honor of former foreign language instructor Anne-Marie Jenks, who retired in 2013 after 45 years of teaching at Marlborough, longer than any other teacher in the School’s history.
The $5,000 endowed award supports one faculty member per year in the pursuit of a professional growth opportunity, with the option of doing so overseas in honor of Jenks’s passion for international travel. In order to apply for the Award, faculty members must submit a written request to Wagner; the request must includes the teacher’s objectives, the ways that she hopes the experience will enhance her work at the School and a budget. After receiving about five or six applications last spring, Wagner sat down with Dean of Faculty Sandra O’Connor. Together they evaluated the applications and chose the most deserving faculty member.
“They were all really interesting, and we could’ve supported any of them,” Wagner reflected.
She said that they were looking for teachers who were not only looking to professionally enhance themselves but who were also looking for personal renewal outside of their jobs.
“For Ms. Leigh, we loved the idea that, here’s a science teacher, she’d never been to Europe, except for she grew up in Finland,” Wagner explained. “It was this opportunity for travel for her, which was really exciting, and the opportunity [to attend] the workshop [that] was about creativity.”
According to Wagner, Leigh had written that The Creativity Workshop was something that she believed would help her in her teaching and her personal development.
“The whole thought here is that everyone, no matter how much they deny it, can be creative. The thing that matters is that we are in the right place and in the right mindset. And these activities helped us do that,” Leigh explained.
She said that the workshop encouraged her to visit museums in Florence. The highlight of her trip was when she saw Michelangelo’s David and other great masterpieces in person.
“To be able to see paintings that you’ve seen in books or in movies, and to actually stand there and observe them was, somehow, very emotional,” she reflected. “I had not expected to almost fall in love so much with Italy as I did.”
After the five-day workshop ended, Leigh took the time to visit Siena and Rome with her husband before flying home. When Leigh returned from Italy, she said that her love for writing had been catapulted by the Creativity Workshop, and as a result she spent a lot of time writing fiction.
“That might be something that not everyone knows about me, but that’s something I enjoy very much,” she commented.
Leigh also said that she believes that her outlook on life, both in and outside of the School, has changed for the better, but it is hard for her to pinpoint exactly what has changed.
“Maybe it has made me realize that I have areas in my creative persona that can still be retrieved, and I just don’t know about them,” Leigh explained. “It might have added a sense of calm to me, as a person and a teacher. Kind of a funny side effect.”
O’Connor believes that the opportunities that the Jenks Award can offer to a faculty member can be transformative.
“I think [the Award] strengthens you as a teacher. It strengthens you as a person,” she said.
O’Connor also mentioned that Leigh’s newfound knowledge could potentially be passed on to other faculty members, allowing them to also get a feeling of her adventures in Italy and benefitting from her experience with The Creativity Workshop.
“I just feel that it gave me an educational experience, a personal experience, but also a cultural experience. And all those three somehow combined into something that I think that I wish everyone would have an opportunity to do something like that,” Leigh said.
Leigh hopes to host a sort of creativity workshop of her own, which students and faculty members could take part in. She has also been thinking of ways that she can incorporate creativity into her teaching methods.
“I think that science and creativity go hand in hand. A lot of great inventions have been born by creative minds,” she explained. “I’ve always thought of myself as a creative person, but I wanted to see if there were another corner of that creative mind that could be sort of lurched out a bit, and I think it has.”
The impact that the Award has had on Leigh was exactly what Wagner and O’Connor had in mind when they were looking through the applications last spring.
“[The Award] makes people who work at the School feel like their own growth is really valued. Their own renewal is really valued. Not just becoming a better teacher or not just meeting the needs of students, but also thinking about how their own renewal impacts their students,” Wagner said.
“I hope [the Award] gives them a sense of, you know, maybe looking at the world a little differently,” Wagner said. “I suspect that subtle kind of thing makes a difference in terms of how you feel about where you work.”
For Leigh, the Award was a tremendous opportunity.
“It was probably one of the most meaningful trips I’ve taken in my entire life,” she commented. “Thanks to Marlborough, I feel very, very lucky.”