December Spotlight: Barbara von Salis, Upper School History Teacher
Sandy Spring Friends School is pleased to share its first faculty/staff spotlight of a new series: Shine a Light. With this feature, SSFS will periodically highlight one member of the faculty and staff who exemplifies the values of our school and helps to create a place of belonging for students and/or colleagues.
So many worthy nominations were received for Shine a Light’s inaugural honoree that the recipient was chosen at random. This notable individual will receive a congratulatory gift card, along with a feature article shared via social media and ssfs.org. Read on to learn what sets the recipient apart in the eyes of their colleagues, as well as a list of the other worthy nominees and a commendation from one of their recommenders.
In her second year of teaching at Sandy Spring Friends School, Barbara von Salis has already made an indelible impression on faculty and students alike. An Upper School history teacher and advisor, Barbara currently teaches World History I and two semester history electives, Knowing Right from Wrong: Ethical Decision Making and Peace and Conflict Studies. Now in her tenth year of teaching, Barbara came to Sandy Spring Friends from Friends Central School in Wynnewood, PA, after a significant tenure at Mary McDowell Friends School in Brooklyn, NY, as well as one year at Moses Brown School in Providence, RI. “I’m really passionate about Friends education—I grew up Quaker, and attended Brooklyn Friends, K-12” Barbara shares. A passionate believer in progressive education, Barbara sought a school with similar values, and has found it in SSFS. “Especially with history, it's common to find traditional classrooms, but I’m interested in a new and integrated approach. After all, history is all about stories and people, so I try to make it relatable, even if we’re studying people from thousands of years ago.”
Recommendations submitted by Barbara’s colleagues highlight her excellence in creating a sense of belonging both through pedagogy and presence.
Mark Ehlers shares, “Barbara brings a sense of belonging to her teaching.” Through her teaching practice, Barbara is praised for incorporating “rigor and more progressive pedagogical tools that are accessible to the variety of students we have here at SSFS.” Amy Isaacson similarly notes, “Her classes are filled with tons of different ways to learn the material.” Continuing the theme, Ebe Behnia highlights the way Barbara “engages her students, provides a caring and enriched classroom environment, and individualizes her instruction. She is a role model in accommodating her students' specific educational needs.” Barbara credits her ability to differentiate instruction to her experience at Mary McDowell Friends, a school dedicated to serving students with learning differences. It was there, when she was fresh out of college and hadn’t even taken her first course in education, that Barbara began learning her craft by starting as an assistant teacher. “I wish that for every teacher: to have the opportunity to watch and learn from someone who is experienced in teaching and have the space to experiment, and be really creative and inventive. I really grew my toolbox this way.”
Although she solely teaches within the History Department, colleagues note that she “collaborates with other faculty as a vibrant part of the community” and that she is “constantly working across departments to connect lessons.” Barbara, for her part, is quick to credit her fellow faculty members, who span a wide breadth of experience levels. ”There’s always something you can learn from people regardless of where they are in their teaching career trajectory,” she reflects. She also credits the culture of Sandy Spring Friends. “Part of the reason I was attracted to SSFS is the freedom the School provides in terms of content experimentation; you don’t have to be perfect, but there’s support to better yourself and develop slowly in the profession, and I appreciate having a supportive department head [Claire Anderson] in order to do that.”
A quick peek at Barbara’s calendar—or a quick walk around campus—would reveal that teaching is only one part of what she does at Sandy Spring Friends. For Barbara, exemplifying SSFS’ values and creating a sense of belonging isn’t limited to pedagogy; she energetically serves the community with her presence. Her colleagues commend her way of including and inspiring students through the thoughtful set-up of her classroom and her availability—both spontaneous and planned—for conversations and support. A visit to her room reveals her self-proclaimed “book problem”—but students and colleagues experience her ample book selection and informal library system (she sometimes loans out books to students) as anything but problematic. More holistically, Mark observes, “She incorporates belonging right down to the physical space” and notes that “everyone has a place in Barbara's room—as evidenced by the fact that there is rarely a time when students are not dropping in to chat with Barbara about their lives, often well past 4:00 pm.” Going above and beyond her assigned teaching and advisory roles, Barbara serves as a faculty advisor to the Equestrian Club, Dungeons and Dragons Club, and the newly-launched Current Events Club, as well as acting as one of three adult sponsors of the LGBTQ+ Affinity Group. And, Mark adds, “She's regularly out cheering on her students at their games, and has motivated me to do the same.”
When she’s not teaching, advising, or cheering on the ’Beests, you might find Barbara taking part in an Intersession (the Upper School’s immersive, experiential learning program) Committee meeting, contributing to the Quaker Youth Leadership Committee’s discussions, or dropping in to a Torch (US Student Government) meeting. However, she insists that this is the norm at Sandy Spring Friends. “I want to recognize everyone for the amount they take on that’s outside of their job description—that’s independent school culture in general, but it’s especially true here.”
Tenth-grade student Enza F. remarks, “Barbara is one of my favorite teachers—she’s super kind and very supportive.” Barbara, in turn, expresses heartfelt appreciation for her students. “The students at Sandy Spring Friends are kind humans who want to be stewards of their community and want to affect change—who your students are really matters.” Aptly summarizing Barbara’s impact during her short tenure at SSFS, Mark concludes, “She's a positive influence on everyone around her and SSFS is far better for bringing her on board.”
Congratulations, Barbara—it is our privilege to shine a light on your extraordinary efforts both in and out of the classroom!
Join us in recognizing the other outstanding individuals who were nominated this month:
Sara Siegrist, Lower School Faculty–Preschool (Age 3)
“The way that Sara makes a space for our youngest Friends to learn and grow is nothing short of magical. She assures that every 3 year-old on campus is known, loved, and seen. Her work is transformational.” —Sarah Barton Thomas, Head of Lower School
Mary Anne Peacock, Lower School Faculty–First Grade
“Mary Anne is such a lovely teacher and knows how to make children and parents feel welcomed. Her energy is so positive, and I am grateful to have her teach my child, Sofia, who absolutely adores her. Sofia is a very affectionate child, and enjoys starting her day at home and at school with a hug. I am so appreciative that Mary Anne understands this, and helps to make SSFS the kind of place where it is OK to meet a child where they are.” —Amada Lugo, Human Resources Director
Carla Nally, Lower School Faculty–Third Grade
Johnny Williams, Lower School Faculty–Third Grade
“Carla and Johnny lead the way in professionalism as educators, with no solicitation of the spotlight. They are setting the example for data-driven instructional practices, and their work in the classroom is grounded in research on what is best for kids.” —Sarah Barton Thomas, Head of Lower School
Joel Gunzburg, Lower School Staff—LS Counselor
“Joel is so open and affirming. Kids are willing to risk vulnerability because Joel models it with the students. His compassion and love of people (both students and staff) is evident in every interaction. He truly knows people and sees them. He makes connections, gives compliments, sings someone's praises, listens with an open heart and mind, supports fully, gives of his whole self, asks questions, and gives his own time and energy to others. Being in the presence of someone who creates belonging is a beautiful experience.“ —Sharon Bradford, Lower School Faculty–Fifth Grade
Alice Chmil, Middle School Faculty–Science
“Alice is such a gift to the community. She always takes an extra moment to check in and makes sure that anyone who needs help gets the right help for them. She is incredibly dedicated to creating a space where students can be nurtured and challenged and is mindful of the balance of both as it pertains to that specific child.” —Brenna Ryan, Associate Director of Stewardship and Donor Relations
Chris McGrew, Athletic & Middle School Faculty–Physical Education and Coach
“Chris is a warm, gentle soul who is entirely relatable no matter if you’re a student, parent, or colleague. He brings joy and a “glass half full” attitude to everything he does. He is a wonderful person, who people might often miss because he is quiet—preferring to listen rather than talk in order to build connection.” —Bruce Nkala, Athletic Director