Learning by observation

Jefferson’s new associate principal, Dr. Ana Cingel, aims to foster interactions between departments to support student learning

Dr. Ana Cingel presents insights on teacher-to-teacher conversations at a staff training meeting.

Photo courtesy of Ana Cingel

Dr. Ana Cingel presents insights on teacher-to-teacher conversations at a staff training meeting.

Lucas Ribeiro, Staff Writer

Whenever new staff comes to the Jefferson community, everyone gets an email with their name and a few sentences about their career, but that is hardly enough to actually know that person. Dr. Ana Cingel, Jefferson’s associate principal, is working to get to know the school and define her new position. 

Cingel chose to work at Jefferson because she resonated with the school’s science-driven focus.

“What I love most about TJ is the focus on science. Science is my passion. Here, we can see the impact [that] rigorous instruction can have on building and sustaining a passion for science and technology in students.” Cingel said. “[Students leave] as researchers, and that’s what attracted me most to Jefferson.”

Cingel reached the position through a mix of science education experience, and administrative work at other schools.

“I started out studying biology and chemistry in college, and wanted to pursue the Health Sciences field, but unfortunately, I am deathly afraid of blood. During that time, I was able to serve as a teaching assistant in some chemistry labs and courses, and I really fell in love with teaching.” Cingel said,  “I’ve taught different science courses in different states of middle school and high school level, and more recently, I was the science coordinator in Virginia Beach overseeing the 6-12 grade science curriculum, professional development and anything science related” 

After some time as science coordinator, a county-level administrative job, Cingel decided to return to a school-level job, and after a few moves, she came to TJ. 

“I really missed being in the building, and being around students and the energy that they bring. So I decided to go back into a building, where I’m able to see that interaction and build relationships on a daily basis with students and teachers.” Cingel said, “I became an assistant principal in Virginia Beach at Cox High School. Then I moved to the Northern Virginia area, where I recently worked as an assistant principal of Administrative Services at Lake Braddock secondary school. And now here I am, at [Jefferson].”

Cingel’s role at Jefferson, associate principal, is new for this year. 

“We are still working on defining what the role looks like,” Cingel said, “Right now, I am mostly supporting the COVID efforts and contact tracing [to ensure] that all of our health protocols are in place. I am also supporting and overseeing the work of assistant principals, and working on some instructional pieces.”

Cingel has only been at Jefferson for less than three months, but so far, her impression of the school has been very positive. The relaxed yet courteous atmosphere at Jefferson is especially striking to Cingel.

“What I find just so mind blowing, is that at TJ, we don’t have bells, which is a standard thing at different high schools. Students have 10 minutes between classes, we only have one lunch. Students have a lot of autonomy and they’re treated with respect and dignity and I love that about [Jefferson]” Cingel said, “Every interaction with students here has been so positive. Students have been welcoming, but also so respectful of all of the different requirements that are imposed on them, specifically with masks, social distancing, and all the different health protocols”

While health protocols make up the bulk of Cingel’s work for now, she has also spent the past few weeks learning more about the TJ community. She has been talking to Jefferson staff and students, searching for ideas she can pursue to make a positive impact.           

“I have been meeting with all of the division leaders and assistant division leaders, and I plan to meet with student representatives to truly understand the culture at [Jefferson],” Cingel said          

Throughout this process, Cingel realized that teachers, even across different divisions (Math & CS; Humanities; Science and Technology; languages, arts, and P.E.), have a lot to learn from each other. She believes that if teachers are given the space to share their ideas and experiences with different teaching styles and strategies, they can help other teachers improve their classes to better engage and educate students.

“Something that has emerged is the idea of teachers learning from other teachers by observation and how powerful that is,” Cingel said “I want to provide a platform for teachers to share their ideas and to collaborate beyond their divisions, [leading to] professional development in others.”

Cingel is still determining how exactly a platform for teachers to share ideas would look like, but she is adamant that once a system for extensive idea-sharing between teachers is implemented, it will lead to a better learning environment for Jefferson students. 

“Once [the sharing of ideas between teachers] becomes ingrained in a school’s culture, we can see innovation taking place, as teachers start to really evaluate their impact and their practice, which happens at the classroom level.” 

Overall, Cingel sees her work as part of a larger network working to further improve an already great school.

“It’s just a matter of how to continue the greatness that’s already happening here,” Cingel said, “We as leaders are here to support and ensure that we remove barriers [for teachers to share ideas with each other] . I think TJ is a perfect place to do that, because we’re already an innovative school.”