Developing Our Best Ideas

Originally published in the Leadership+Design Monthly Recharge.

“How do we provide students with the most powerful, lasting learning opportunities? Where do we do this well? Where might we do more?” A learning organization is always asking these questions. Today at University Prep, fully half of our faculty and staff voluntarily serve on research and design teams that produce our best new ideas for enhancing the students’ educational experience. How did we get here?

To develop our new strategic plan, we asked the school community to answer these questions and thereby set our course for the upcoming years. We held focus group discussions, conducted internal research and design workshops, administered community surveys, and consulted with national experts. Along the way, we found that the seeds for UPrep’s future had already been laid. We just needed to create the conditions to help them flourish.

This is one example of what Ito and Howe term “emergence” in their book Whiplash. They write, “emergent systems presume that every individual within that system possesses unique intelligence that would benefit the group.” Doesn’t that perfectly suit a school? One of our teachers commented, “I have had ideas for student learning for years. Now, I feel invited to share them, because they actually get adopted!”

The ideas collected during this listening phase coalesced around five themes. We may have predicted some of these in advance, but others were unanticipated. In emergent systems, Ito and Howe write, “decisions aren’t made so much as they emerge from large groups of employees or stakeholders.” As an added benefit, each project started with the advantage of existing community support, because the community had generated the ideas.

Next Generation Learning at University Prep

New Models of Time

Social and Emotional Learning

Social Justice and Educational Equity

Interdisciplinary Learning

U Lab: Student-Directed Learning Connected to Community

We then invited leaders from outside the administrative team to facilitate each team. Ten teacher leaders and program directors stepped into this leadership role. John Kotter describes this as “a dual operating system” in his book XLR8 (Accelerate). The first operating system, hierarchy, is expert at efficiently managing ongoing operations but also tends to maintain the status quo. The second, network operating system, is creative, divergent, and connects ideas across disciplines and departments. In the organization with only the hierarchical operating system, decisions are made at the top and handed down to uninspired employees. With a dual operating system, both the hierarchy and network play to their respective strengths.

Ubox, a product of the student-led Social Entrepreneurship class

By inviting many voices and broadly distributing leadership, we created a dynamic innovation engine that continues to create great ideas, promote involvement, and cultivate its own support. Within the first year, we designed and adopted a new school schedule, added social and emotional learning activities to advisory, ran our first Senior LaunchPad (an enhanced senior project), launched the first two entirely student-led courses (no teacher needed), and committed to design intensives (single courses that run full-time for a three-week term, borrowed from Hawken School). We have also joined other national networks that uphold emergence, such as Independent Curriculum Group, Mastery Transcript Consortium, and Global Online Academy.

How does UPrep prepare students for a world that values emergence over authority? It’s easy when we value the ideas of every individual. Students serve on research and design teams, propose new courses and independent study projects, take risks when designing their Senior LaunchPads. Valuing emergence means supporting student voice, choice, and leadership in the classroom and school life. Community partnerships create opportunities for students to pursue their passions through online study, internships, social activism, and entrepreneurship. The principles that have made Next Generation Learning a successful strategic initiative have also made the school more responsive and celebratory of student needs, wishes, and dreams.

Explore, Question, Develop: Next Generation Learning Initiatives

Originally published in UPrep Magazine

“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” — proverb

This ancient saying admonishes wanderers to settle down and establish themselves. But perhaps some wanderlust is good for you. The Rolling Stones evidently felt so, inspired by a Muddy Waters song of the same name. Wandering is not so aimless when we call it “exploration” and give it purpose: to experience broadly, appreciate difference, and try new ideas.

In 2015, UPrep set out to explore, question, and further develop intellectual courage, global citizenship, and social responsibility. First, the UPrep community identified the most promising opportunities for enhancing the student experience. Then, volunteer Research+Design teams surveyed literature, visited schools, presented at conferences, and wrote proposals. As you can see below, we are well on our way toward implementation of our Next Generation Learning Initiatives, which should be fully in place by 2020.

New Models of Time

Completed: A new daily schedule that is easy to follow, supports deeper learning and independence, and
makes time for social and emotional development.

Upcoming: Intensives (our working title), in which students take a single course for two-and-a half weeks to think deeply across disciplines, study contemporary topics, and learn in the community.

ULab

Completed: Senior LaunchPad, in which all seniors design and engage in an off-campus passion project,  and present it to the community. Social Entrepreneurship and Feminism, two new courses that are entirely student-conceived, designed, and delivered. Global Online Academy, in which students have registered for 50 fully online courses for next year.
Upcoming: Construction of a dynamic new center to support entrepreneurial thinking and connection to community. The building will feature flexible spaces for independent, group, and class work and house global programs, the Makerspace, college counseling, mentorship, and other student leadership programs.

Social Justice and Educational Equity

Completed: A comprehensive review of justice and equity practices in and beyond the classroom. New courses that include social justice topics or represent many cultures. Coordination among teacher leaders, the Board of Trustees, and the Diversity and Community program.
Upcoming: Further development of culturally responsive classroom practices, course curricula, student leadership opportunities, and enhanced collaborations among different parts of the school.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Completed: A detailed review of SEL programs and UPrep needs, multiple surveys assessing students’ emotional health and social skills.

Upcoming: SEL curriculum built into the new schedule, Advisory for Advisors, and SEL classroom practices.

Intensives/Immersives Design

Upcoming: In 2018-2019, a new school calendar that includes intensive terms in January and June. New courses specially designed for these terms in which students deeply immerse themselves in different ways of thinking, study contemporary topics through multiple lenses, and learn in the community
and through travel.

 

While much of the UPrep program is consistent from year to year, Strategic Plan 2020 allows us to shake off a little moss and develop exciting new opportunities for powerful learning, which will equip our students to wander with purpose into a complex and ever-changing world

 

UPrep’s New School Schedule

This Wednesday, we will launch the new structure for the school day, designed through a comprehensive process last school year.

Schedule Goals

Support greater focus and depth of study
Compared to the previous combination of 45 and 65-minute periods, consistent 70-minute periods allow students to enter, explore, and consolidate a topic each class meeting.

Moderate the pace of the day
During the schedule study last year, we learned that running seven periods in one day and starting classes at 8:00am contributed to feelings of scatterdness and stress.

Support collaboration and social emotional learning
The schedule includes consistent time for faculty to collaborate, students to work on group projects and study teams, and advisors to organize social and emotional learning activities.

Provide enhanced student support
Students have more time to seek out teachers for academic support, build relationships with community members, and receive feedback on their work.

Design Features

A later daily start with a before-class period that allows access to teachers, particularly for students who cannot control what time they arrive to and leave school.

Longer periods that meet less frequently and rotate on a predictable, weekly basis. The periods in the new schedule start and end at the same time every day.

Fewer transitions between academic classes. It takes quite a bit of mental energy and time to change modes from one subject and class environment to another. The new schedule reduces the number of times each day that this happens.

A daily advisory check-in and one longer weekly advisory that strengthens the student-advisor relationship and supports our social and emotional learning activities.

A daily, 60-minute community time block for assemblies, long advisory, clubs, meetings, special events, study skills workshops, and Community Conversations (Upper School).

A lunch period reserved exclusively for lunch. Students and staff members will be able to slow down, get their lunch in plenty of time, and sit down to eat it with others instead of rushing off to a meeting or event.

Practical Considerations

How many classes may students take?
Seven classes per semester, the same as last year. In a fully rotating schedule, periods 1, 2, 3, and 4 meet on the first day, 5, 6, 7 and 1 on the second day, and so on.

When are students expected to arrive to school?
Middle School students are required to attend advisory check-in at 8:15. Upper School students must be present for A block at 8:25.

What will students who arrive early do?
Students choose how to spend this time, and the school makes many educational and social opportunities available starting at 7:45 AM. These include Open Gym, Library and Makerspace activities, seeking academic support from a teacher, or developing math and writing skills in department offices.

Will conflicts occur between B block and Community Time?
Yes, those who teach or study in cross-divisional (Middle and Upper School) classes will sometimes experience schedule conflicts from 9:50 – 11:45. They will receive information from teachers or advisors about which activities take priority during these times.

How have teachers prepared to design 70-minute lessons?
These new time blocks are similar to the 65-minute periods in our old schedule, so our teachers have much experience designing a high quality, 70-minute lesson. Since all class periods are now 70 minutes in length, teachers have adjusted the plan for the semester to reduce the total number of learning objectives and study them at greater depth. Teachers have also practiced developing 70-minute lesson plans that follow an arc from introduction to immersion, practice, assessment, and reflection.

Conclusion

Schedule change is a bit like moving furniture. It takes a while to get used to, you make adjustments here and then, and soon it begins to feel like home. If you have further questions, please post them to the comments field below, and I will answer them. Thank you to everyone who was involved in the schedule design process last year, including committee chairs, department heads, families, and students.

Progressive Education and Democracy

I appreciated reading the title of the summer edition of Catlin Gabel’s school magazine The Caller. “Educating for Democracy” was splashed across the front cover. Although John Dewey identified participation in civic society as a goal of progressive education in 1916, progressive schools have tended to focus more on experiential learning and school community and rarely enshrined democracy as a core value.

In four articles, Catlin Gabel staff explore the history of Dewey and educating for democracy, the requisite skills, knowledge, experiences, and dispositions, and examples of the work in action. This issue stands as a clear and detailed expression that teaching young people to participate in society is an essential component of primary and secondary education.

The school is also reacting to contemporary events, another principle of progressive education. Students experience school within the context of their daily lives. Leaning into the political upheaval taking place at all levels better equips students to navigate and ultimately shape the future of American democracy. Head of School Tim Bazemore write, “Our goal is not to educate students to be Republicans, Democrats, or Libertarians; it is to prepare them to be informed political citizens, capable of forming reasoned opinions and acting on their beliefs.”

College prep schools in particular struggle to break the hold of content and skills within their programs. College preparation remains synonymous with college admission preparation, although the two are quite different. When I interviewed a handful of college instructors and program directors, they reported that incoming students largely lacked necessary skills in critical thinking, independence, collaboration, and creativity. Content preparation, they said, was less important for success in college. Yet, college admission is still largely determined by course requirements in traditional subject areas, SAT and ACT scores, and achievement as measured by letter grades.

Educating for democracy is one way to teach critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and empathy within the context of urgent contemporary issues. There are other ways to apply such thinking skills, for example UPrep’s growing focus on research, advocacy, and entrepreneurship. It is vital that school’s consider their purpose in educating students to survive and thrive in today’s world. College preparation is no longer enough.

 

 

Faculty Summer Reading 2017

Each year, our faculty and staff members read from a selection of books and then gather during opening meetings to discuss and connect the themes to our work for the year. This year, we changed the book selection process. Instead of sending book descriptions in advance and collecting orders, we previewed the books with department heads, stood up during closing meetings to describe each title, and distributed books on the spot. We ordered more titles than needed, and people just selected the book that spoke to them. I thought I would have to return extras, but in fact people left nothing behind. Our faculty and staff love to read!

Here are the UPrep faculty reading selections for summer 2017.

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah

This story of Noah’s childhood connects to our work with global programs, diversity and equity, and social and emotional learning.

Publisher’s note:

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Education, by Debbie Thompson Silver

This book speaks to our social and emotional learning initiative, both in terms of teacher and student practice.

Publisher’s note:

In this book, learn to implement the Five Principles of Deliberate Optimism. Research-based strategies, practical examples, and thought-provoking scenarios help you

  • Rediscover motivation
  • Take a positive view of events beyond your control
  • Build an optimistic classroom where students flourish
  • Partner with other stakeholders to create an optimistic learning environment
  • Take the road to new potential and positive outcomes!

With a healthy dose of humor to make it fun, Deliberate Optimism shows you the actual differences a change in attitude can make.

The Devils Highway: A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea

This novel connects to our diversity and equity, multicultural, and social and emotional learning initiatives.

Publisher’s note:

In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, a place called the Devil’s Highway. Fathers and sons, brothers and strangers, entered a desert so harsh and desolate that even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through it. Twelve came back out. Now, Luis Alberto Urrea tells the story of this modern odyssey. The Devil’s Highway is a story of astonishing courage and strength, of an epic battle against circumstance. These twenty-six men would look the Devil in the eyes – and some of them would not blink.

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, by Jesmyn Ward

This title supports our continuing conversation about race, equity, and current events.

Publisher’s note:

In this bestselling, widely lauded collection, Jesmyn Ward gathers our most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers. “An absolutely indispensable anthology” (Booklist, starred review), The Fire This Time shines a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestles with our current predicament, and imagines a better future.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

This young adult novel connects to our diversity and equity initiatives, and well as social and emotional learning.

Publisher’s note:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter navigates between the poverty-stricken neighborhood she has grown up in and the upper-crust suburban prep school she attends. Her life is up-ended when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation – but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two vastly different worlds she inhabits, she also has to contend with speaking her truth and, in the process, trying to stay alive herself.

Teaching in the Fast Lane: How to Create Active Learning Experiences, by Suzy Pepper Rollins

This teaching guide supports our new schedule, in which we have moved from a mixture of 45 and 65 minute periods to consistent 70 minute period.

Publisher’s note:

Teaching in the Fast Lane offers teachers a way to increase student engagement: an active classroom. The active classroom is about creating learning experiences differently, so that students engage in exploration of the content and take on a good share of the responsibility for their own learning. It’s about students reaching explicit targets in different ways, which can result in increased student effort and a higher quality of work.

Using the strategies in this book, teachers can strategically “let go” in ways that enable students to reach their learning targets, achieve more, be motivated to work, learn to collaborate, and experience a real sense of accomplishment.

Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future, by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe

This book supports the types of contemporary thinking and decision-making behind our Next Generation Learning strategic initiatives.

Publisher’s note:

The world is more complex and volatile today than at any other time in our history. The tools of our modern existence are getting faster, cheaper, and smaller at an exponential rate, just as billions of strangers around the world are suddenly just one click or tweet or post away from each other. When these two revolutions joined, an explosive force was unleashed that is transforming every aspect of society, from business to culture and from the public sphere to our most private moments.

Such periods of dramatic change have always produced winners and losers. The future will run on an entirely new operating system. It’s a major upgrade, but it comes with a steep learning curve. The logic of a faster future oversets the received wisdom of the past, and the people who succeed will be the ones who learn to think differently.

In WHIPLASH, Joi Ito and Jeff Howe distill that logic into nine organizing principles for navigating and surviving this tumultuous period. From strategically embracing risks rather than mitigating them (or preferring “risk over safety”) to drawing inspiration and innovative ideas from your existing networks (or supporting “pull over push”), this dynamic blueprint can help you rethink your approach to all facets of your organization.

Tradition or Innovation?

Tradition and innovation are commonly portrayed as opposites. Tradition is said to inhibit innovation, and innovation replaces traditions. Is this always the case? Here is one school that embraces both tradition and innovation. What do you think of this?

The incredible value of school visits

Our host approach us as we passed the school entrance. “Would you like to come in and put your things down?” “Actually we would very much like to watch students arrive to school,” we replied. Our host gazed at us with a puzzled look. “Why?” she asked. “Some in our community are concerned that students won’t use time before the start of school productively.” “You’re welcome to look around, but all you’ll see is students working, chatting, or having a snack.” Sure enough, students and teachers milled about with little concern.

Visiting other schools is a powerful way to encourage flexible thinking about change. It is human nature to stick with the status quo, as the known feels safer than the unknown. The perfect antidote is seeing a new idea working perfectly well in another school. If they can do it, why can’t we? Staff at other schools have put in the time, thought, and energy to design and implement change. We can benefit from each others’ good work.

Travel is expensive. How may a school fund such visits? One key is to frame them as a form of professional development. A school visit is like a conference minus the registration fee! Schools that demonstrate a commitment to professional learning often have success raising PD funds.

Travel is energizing. One of the benefits of being an education professional is the lifelong pursuit of one’s own learning. Visiting another institution is a rich source of new ideas, perspectives, and feedback. One can gain new contacts and expand one’s professional network.

The institutional value of school visits is tremendous. Schools that conduct visits learn from their hosts successes and mistakes and can implement new programs faster and smarter.

Engineering project at another school

 

Science project at another school

Courage and Accomplishment

In this video, University Prep and Rainier Scholars alumna Jerusalem Hadush tells the remarkable story of how she found success and purpose through leadership programs, college prep programs, experiential learning, and university. This will be the best eight minutes of your day!

Student Directed Learning

Credit: Max Pixel

What is student-directed learning? Academic leaders use the term freely. Do we agree on its meaning? A group of us gathered at the Academic Leaders Retreat to discuss this question. The group included University Prep, Urban School, Christchurch School, York School, Lake Washington Girls Middle School, Evergreen School, Synapse School, One Schoolhouse, and The Berkeley School.

A common principle underlies our interest in this concept. Why does some of the best learning take place in student clubs? Students show greater engagement, work harder, and learn more when they control aspects of their learning environment. Daniel Pink wrote that autonomy, mastery, and purpose fuel motivation. Some students need more control than in the typical teacher-led classroom to feel “drive.” Making learning decisions is a critical skill in our fast-moving world.

Where have schools witnessed students design their own learning? We shared the purest examples from our school. UPrep has two student-led courses, Social Entrepreneurship and Feminism: Effects of Sexism and Advocacy. For each, students propose, design, execute, and evaluate the courses, in consultation with a faculty advisor but with no full-time teacher. When class meets, the students independently decide whether to focus on long-term goals, immediate tasks, or reflections.

The UPrep Community Service program encourages students to become “service captains.” They share the inspiration for a new community service activity, and then faculty and staff then step in to identify a community partner, arrange dates, and acquire materials. In the Student Produced Works course, students direct a play, create a painting, compose music, design a dance, and more. In the LaunchPad program, all seniors design an independent, community-based project around a personal interest to end the final year in the school.

During our discussion, academic leaders from other schools shared similar examples such as intensive clubs, internships, independent research, and very project-based courses.

Must students direct all aspects of the learning experience in order to gain the engagement benefits? Not at all! As Larry Rosenstock has said about the school he founded, we do not need more High Tech Highs. We need more different kinds of schools. Only the very rare school is ready to organize entirely around student-directed learning. Many schools want students to lead some aspects of the educational program. Most schools want students to make choices within their educational program.

Students benefit from opportunities to express “choice and voice.” Even a choice between two options is better than no choice at all. Teachers and schools that genuinely listen to student voice and adjust program in response support student engagement. Students may make decisions in discrete parts of the learning process, such as setting learning objectives, designing lesson activities, defining assessment methods, or connecting concepts learned to contemporary topics. Students may have choice at some times and not others. They may share the inspiration for new programs or activities that adults then carry out.

Our schools do not all have to become High Tech High in order to support student-directed learning. Better to start small, learn from experience, respond to local context, and then scale up. Schools are providing different opportunities for students to direct their own learning, creating schools that better inspire and prepare students for the future.

New Courses for 2017-2018

UPrep has a strong tradition of new course development. Each year, teachers consider what could enhance students’ experiences in the academic program. What needs exist, and what concepts and skills have emerged as important? After peer feedback and revision, course proposals are presented to our Academic Council for approval and inclusion in the Course of Study for the following academic year. Here are our the new courses that we will offer in 2017-2018.

Learning Pathways
Language Training, our signature, individualized educational program for students with language-based learning disabilities, has been renamed to better reflect the diversity of needs of students in the program. Students may now take Learning Pathways for one year or two, and instruction may include a broader set of activities in addition to Orton-Gillingham.
Feminism: Effects of Sexism and Advocacy
Proposed and led entirely by Upper School students, this course explores advocacy strategies to combat sexism. Our student-led courses each have a faculty advisor but no full-time teacher. Students enrolled in the class determine the learning objectives and class activities and report to a faculty and staff audience what they accomplished. Last year, another student launched our first student-led course, Social Entrepreneurship. This class enrolled 14 students last semester and met most of its goals, including the design, production, and sale of a product to meet a social need.
Latinx en Los Estados Unidos: Living in Between
Justicia Social en el Mundo Hispano
Introducción al Análisis de Literatura y Cine del Mundo Hispano
We have replaced Spanish 5, 6, and 7 with three topically-focused electives that satisfy language graduation requirements and may be taken in any order. Language learners typically acquire functional fluency by the end of level 4. This change makes existing themes from Spanish 5 and 6 more clear and allows students to study topics of interest to them. It also allows heritage students to take Spanish for language credit, particularly if they are interested in studying Latinx history and culture. With this change, heritage students can now limit their study of French or Chinese to two years and complete their graduation requirement in advanced Spanish classes.
Innovation and Design Studio
A product of the U Lab portion of our Next Generation Learning strategic initiative, this Upper School course provides students the opportunity to design their own semester projects focused on research, advocacy or entrepreneurship. It provides a different option for student-directed learning than student-led courses and independent study, for those students who want to conduct independent projects but need some structure and support to succeed.
An Intentional Media Diet
This course expands our English options in 11th and 12th grades. It focuses on changes in communication technologies over time and critical examination of digital media. Students explore what it means to be a socially responsible media consumer and content creator in a digital, globalized world.
Current Events and Media Literacy
Similar to the previous course but offered by the history department, this seventh and eighth grade elective course examines issues involved in contemporary news production and consumption to empower students to become informed, critical consumers and producers of information.
Digital Storytelling
This course explores the art of storytelling through various digital media projects and provides a second English elective course to seventh and eighth grade students. Students apply knowledge and vocabulary connected to existing digital media analysis to articulate their own design ideas from conception to execution. Project work covers a range of rhetorical modes including personal narrative, informative, and social critique.
Advanced Topics in World History: The FIFA World Cup 2018
This course examines the key issues themes surrounding the FIFA World Cup in Russia to be held in the summer of 2018. Students develop an understanding of the social, economic, and political forces that have shaped the modern world and given rise to this global phenomenon. Through case studies, the course explores how football became a truly global pastime and how this specific international competition became a multibillion dollar event. This elective course is available to Upper School students.