Reflection On Past Teaching

By Thomas Trocano, head of Upper School

As I continue to learn and grow in my role as the head of Upper School, I often find myself missing the classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m doing now, but it is very different from what I had done before. I taught high school science (primarily chemistry) for over 25 years before transitioning to my current role. When I remember that privilege and responsibility, I can’t help but reflect on how much I learned and the impact I hope I had on my students.  

In the 14 years I spent at my last school, I was perhaps most well-known for the Honors Chemistry class I developed and implemented after we moved away from AP classes in 2005. The course was taught at the AP level without strictly adhering to the AP curriculum. It provided the opportunity and flexibility to explore chemistry concepts in significantly more depth and in a way that engaged, intrigued and fascinated the students. High expectations for students and the instructor were an inherent and critical part of the course design. 

The class quickly earned the reputation of being one of the most, if not the most, challenging classes in the curriculum. Surprisingly, it also became one of the most popular classes in our department and the school. As much as I’d like to think it was the teacher, it became clear that its popularity had more to do with the opportunity and experience for the students.

I always tried to make my classroom a place where students looked forward to being. That, combined with demonstrating that although we expect a lot of them, we are there to support them as they strive to meet and often exceed those expectations, called to students with a thirst for learning. I found that students were hungry for the opportunity to face a challenge that led to them learning more about their capabilities, creativity and resilience. I wanted to help my students discover more about themselves and what they could accomplish as they learned chemistry. 

True mastery of concepts and skills is measured in an individual’s ability to apply them to unfamiliar problems and situations. Learning how to confidently approach unfamiliar challenges with the ability to read for understanding, identify the skills and concepts that apply, and then formulate a path to a possible solution is an invaluable skill set. Such learning can be stressful and exceptionally difficult to achieve, especially in the early stages. For young learners, the process involves trial and error, failure, learning from one’s mistakes, and then building the confidence that your capabilities and experiences will put you in a position to successfully navigate and engage in what might previously have been a daunting task. Once you believe in your capabilities to that level, being confronted with unfamiliar problems and challenges becomes much less stressful and intimidating. Students left my class understanding that effort and dedication do not always guarantee success, but they are essential if you hope to succeed in almost anything meaningful. There was a measurable shift in focus from outcome to process. 

Ultimately, I hoped my students emerged with the ability to confidently set realistic expectations for themselves without fear of stepping beyond their established comfort zones. To this day, it never ceases to amaze me what young people are capable of when challenged, supported and encouraged.

I have always felt fortunate to have found my best destiny. Education is still a powerful agent for change, perhaps never more important than in our current circumstances. I am constantly grateful for the opportunity to help develop the minds and characters of the students with whom I interact while supporting, encouraging and challenging the amazing faculty with whom I work with and lead. I hope that being part of a community like LJCDS, which provides so many chances to learn, grow, contribute and collaborate, is both invigorating and inspiring to all its members.

Tom Trocano
Tom Trocano

Head of Upper School

Tom Trocano felt an immediate connection to the LJCDS community during his first visit in December 2018. As head of Upper School, he is intimately involved in all aspects of the LJCDS experience. He considers the overarching values of dignity, inclusivity, teamwork and teaching excellence to be essential components of his being. Mr. Trocano has found that LJCDS students are confident, open and willing to engage in conversation; LJCDS faculty are dedicated, creative, knowledgeable and caring; and LJCDS parents are generously supportive of the school and are willing to work as part of a partnership in the best interests of their children.

Competency-based Learning

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