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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

 

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.

 

 

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

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.

When Inspiration Catches On

Darren Donaldson, math teacher at Tuxedo Park School, is visiting Maru-a-Pula School this summer to teach for six weeks and experience Botswana. For many visitors, the story would pause there, but Darren decided to make a remarkable contribution to the school as part of his visit. Darren started an appeal to support orphan scholars at Maru-a-Pula, and this effort has raised over $6,000 so far! The school has for years provided scholarships to Orphans and Vulnerable Children, with over 30 enrolled at any given time.

What inspired Darren to take this step? Maru-a-Pula students and staff visited the school last year as part of a United States marimba band tour. This included a concert at Tuxedo Park School, an event for both sharing music and cultural exchange. It is rare not to find inspiration in the uplifting rhythms and melodies, energetic performers, and cultural story of Maru-a-Pula and its marimba band.

Maru-a-Pula Marimba Band visits Tuxedo Park School
Source: Tuxedo Park School

How did a music group from a small school in Botswana find its way to Tuxedo Park? Sue Heywood, resident of Tuxedo Park, organized the concert. A former resident of Botswana, she and her husband found the school through longtime Tuxedo resident Andy Jackson. Andy supported the school by serving and running the American Friends of Maru-a-Pula for several decades. Andy discovered the school through associate Ned Hall, who founded AFMAP in 1974. It was a true gift that Andy got to welcome the school to Tuxedo Park before passing away last year.

This is how inspiration catches on. From 1974 to 2017, one person after the next experienced the school, felt inspired to learn more, and created opportunities for others. We wish Darren the best for his upcoming trip to Maru-a-Pula and know that his association with the school will inspire others in turn.

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Designing the Next Generation Learning Strategic Plan

Next month will mark the second full year of the development of Next Generation Learning at UPrep, our initiative to identify and design the learning innovations most likely to enhance students’ educational experience.

Next Gen Learning timeline

For the whole of 2015, a single Student’s Educational Experience team conducted open focus groups and workshops with families, students and teachers. We asked people to identify the greatest strengths of the UPrep educational program and the best opportunities to make it stronger. Our small team included a broad range of roles: trustees, administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Clear themes emerged as we sifted through volumes of community input.

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After further intensive consideration of strategic importance and potential, these ideas were shaped into initiatives. The school announced Strategic Plan 2020 in December 2015 with three pillars: facility, faculty, and future. The third pillar, future, directly addressed educational experience in action-oriented terms approved by the board.

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At the start of 2016, we reconstituted the design team under a name that better reflected its newly identified purpose: Next Generation Learning.

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This committee considered how to best pursue the goals of the strategic plan. Some objectives could carry forward as expressed, whereas others contained multiple objectives that required separate teams. This spawned seven initiatives.

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Five of these initiatives required new development teams. The first two initiatives, Blended and Online Learning and Computer Science and Computational Thinking, had been identified and designed early on and were well into implementation. Social Justice and Educational Equity required its own initiative, lest it be lost amidst the consideration of multiple topics under the umbrella of Social and Emotional Learning. Similarly, Interdisciplinary Learning Opportunities split into two initiatives, one focused on identifying connections among existing disciplines, and the other breaking new ground in student agency and entrepreneurship (U Lab). Finally, New Models of Time was added, as we realized that the school would need to address how we allocate time in order to support the other objectives.

The Research+Design teams then engaged in a repeated cycle of development and engagement. Small teams did the bulk of idea development, sifting through community input, identifying themes, and developing creative proposals. Team membership remained fluid over time, welcoming new interest into the group and cycling out those who wanted a break.

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Like incubators, these teams were given creative autonomy, protected from premature criticism, and supported by instructional leaders and external specialists. Once they developed robust proposals ready for critique, teams broadly shared their ideas with the school community, administration, and trustees in order to receive feedback and endorsement.

Ten department heads, program specialists, and other teacher leaders were invited to chair five Research+Design teams. This act of distributed leadership caused several positive benefits. One design team multiplied into five, allowing us to make huge progress in 2016. 10 colleagues received intensive, experiential, just-in-time leadership development, broadening the school’s collective capacity for institutional leadership. The leaders also brought a diversity of perspectives to bear on Next Generation Learning, developing far more interesting, creative proposals than a single, centralized body would have developed.

The five teams were opened to the full faculty and educational support staff. Fully half of the faculty and educational support staff joined one of the five teams, enhancing the creative capacity of each team and deepening faculty investment in strategic plan implementation. The teams also invited a dozen students to join. The teams demonstrated great passion and persistence, because they represented ideas distilled from community input, volunteered to join initiatives that spoke to them, and included a variety of perspectives and interests.

From spring 2016 to present, the Research+Design teams have met during professional development days, lunch periods, after school, and during the summer to deeply explore the school dynamics in their initiative areas and design thoughtful, detailed proposals for school change.

The teams were asked to develop short-, medium- and long-term goals in their area, as well as to write specific proposals for immediate program changes. A number of opportunities had already presented themselves and were achievable, so we decided to improve the educational program and demonstrate progress right away.

As of today, some teams have delivered specific proposals to our approving bodies, whereas others continue to frame large, abstract areas of the educational program.

Here is an update on the current status of the five initiatives.

blended and online learning

Implemented from 2013, this initiative is currently in a growth and evaluation phase. Inclusion in the strategic plan recognized the importance of this new work to the student’s educational experience and Next Generation Learning. UPrep adopted Schoology in fall 2013. Teachers and students use the system in all classes and as a private social network. One may say that our entire program has become partially blended (face-to-face/online) over that time, as interactive, differentiated, and personalized learning takes place through Schoology.

We adopted Global Online Academy in the fall of 2015, with 30 enrollments last school year and 15 this school year. GOA instantly added 60 new courses to our elective program, in subjects that exemplify contemporary topics, inquiry learning, interdisciplinary study, global perspectives, and rich relationships among teachers and students. Students have explored their passions and interests, valued the independence of online work, enjoyed interacting with students from across the country and around the world, and created outstanding project exhibitions. The school has also benefited from professional connections with GOA staff, faculty development opportunities, and the opportunity to provide teachers to GOA.

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In spring 2013, we conducted a study of computer science programs and decided that computational thinking, foundational principles of computer science, and connections to other disciplines would drive our new program. We hired our first full-time computer science teacher in fall 2014, and she has developed the program into five semester courses, with 51 semester enrollments, three student clubs, and support for physical computing in the Maker Space. We continue to maintain the capacity to respond to student interest in the subject and will eventually consider the possibility of a graduation requirement in the subject.

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This team started by creating an inventory of existing SEL practices in the school, since it already gained momentum as a grassroots initiative as well as received the attention of administrative leadership. The group selected the CASEL SEL framework out of many possibilities and partnered with consultants Janice Tobin and Rush Sabiston Frank to begin to develop an implementation plan. At the same time, training for mindfulness, empathetic listening, gender diversity, and suicide prevention continued apace.

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Over the past couple of years, the number of teachers integrating cultural competency and social justice topics into their courses has increased considerably. This group, therefore, conducted an inventory of current and emerging classroom practices, studied institutional supports and barriers to equitable educational experiences, consulted with Wayne Au from the University of Washington, Bothell, and began to draft a set of program recommendations and suggestions for the school.

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Disciplinary thinking has great value, as it represents long-developed, deeply held ways of making meaning of the world. However, organizing a school exclusively by discipline has some negative consequences, as the world is not neatly organized into seven academic categories. Contemporary challenges require hybrid thinking, the application of multiple disciplines to complex problems. This also prepares students better for university, where interdisciplinary departments are burgeoning, and schools offer up to 100 majors. This team has asked the school community to suggest opportunities for interdisciplinary courses, both in the required and elective parts of the program.

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U Lab is the team that organized around student agency, connections with the city, and entrepreneurship. This group tackled the longstanding question of the culminating senior experience at UPrep. We have now approved the UPrep Launchpad, an individual, student-designed, two-week senior project in the Seattle area. The U Lab has also supported the student-led Social Entrepreneurship class, which has designed a social venture called U Box, a “give one, get one” care package program that serves families of college students and the homeless population.

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This group has undertaken to redesign the school schedule and calendar in order to reduce student stress, support deeper learning, and use time more effectively. Our current schedule does not fully support the way we teach today, never mind the aspirations of our Next Generation Learning initiatives. The team collected masses of input from families, students, teachers, and staff members, examined the schedules of 25 peer schools locally and nationally, and received a customized analysis and report from Roxanne Higgins of Independent School Management. 30 teachers, staff members, and students serve on this team. We plan to announce schedule finalists for community consideration in the first week of December.

 

As we reach the end of the first year of Strategic Plan 2020, we are proud of accomplishments realized to date, anticipate the closing reports of Year 1 Research+Design teams, and look forward to kicking off Year 2. The teams have been designed to last for one year at a time, providing the opportunity to retire, reconstitute, replace, or divide teams at the new year. Team leaders have the opportunity to continue or cycle out, so that others may assume and exercise leadership. We also look forward to fleshing out the five-year plan for each initiative, determining a sequence for major rollouts, and developing evaluation metrics in collaboration with the board. It’s been a fulfilling journey so far, and we anticipate equally significant steps in the future.