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Teaching Openings – Update

Upper School Science Teacher

Middle School Math Teacher

Middle and Upper School Spanish and French Teacher

Middle School History and Geography Teacher

Upper School Civics and History Teacher

Middle and Upper School World History Teacher

New Courses Feature Next Generation Learning

University Prep has conducted a strategic planning process for the last year. One of our three focus areas, Next Generation Learning, concerns the design of learning opportunities to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Initiatives in this area include:

  • Further implement a blend of face-to-face and online learning to personalize the educational experience for students and underscore University Prep’s commitment to intellectual courage
  • Extend and deepen instruction for computer science and computational thinking, both as a distinct field of study and integrated across the curriculum
  • Develop and implement a social and emotional learning program to build self-awareness, social awareness and cultural competency so that students may realize their full potential and contribute as socially responsible citizens of the world
  • Design more interdisciplinary opportunities in areas such as research, advocacy, and entrepreneurship in Seattle to promote student agency

A Next Generation Learning leadership team comprised of trustees, faculty, parents, staff, and students worked for a year to develop these initiatives. All parents were invited to provide input in after-school meetings. All faculty members contributed to the ideas during professional development days, and students provided feedback during our meetings period.

The new courses proposed for next year already support these strategic planning initiatives. How did this happen so quickly? We tapped department heads and other teacher leaders to serve on the leadership committee. Therefore, teachers who were likely to revise curriculum also reviewed and synthesized community input together. As a result, we are off to a fast start in the first year of our new strategic plan. Not only will students get to take these courses right away, but we will also get the opportunity to pilot prototype versions of these strategic planning initiatives before making larger scale program changes.

New and Revised Courses for 2016-2017

Middle School
Game Design
The Other Story of Math: Foundations and Social Justice
The Presidential Election: from Convention to Inauguration
Topics in Geometry

Upper School
Computer Science IIB
Digital Music
Environmental Ethics, Civics, and Advocacy (blocked class)
Global Online Academy (new offerings)
History of Cuba
M.A.T.H. – Math in Art, Technology, and History
Mathematical Finance
Science Olympiad
Social Entrepreneurship
Topics in United States History: War
Topics in United States History: Current Events
Topics in United States History: Race, Ethnicity, (Im)migration
Topics in United States History: Women in US History
Topics in United States History: The American Dream
Visual Art 123

How are these courses innovative?

Game Design, Digital Music and Mathematical Finance explore essential concepts in each discipline through relevant, contemporary applications. Students will study real-world topics using core academic concepts. With The Presidential Election, History of Cuba, and Current Events, these topics concern contemporary events. Students who want to devote time in their academic programs to applying disciplinary concepts to the news of the day will find a place in these classes.

Computer Science IIB adds a new course to the Upper School computer science sequence, bringing the program to seven courses total. Students who have completed CS I and IIA (or equivalent) now have a third course to deepen their study. Like our other courses, the emphasis lies on developing understanding of key computer science principles by grappling with well-designed problems and building small applications. Computational thinking (featuring logical and sequential reasoning) is both integrated within required courses in other subject areas and featured in these elective courses.

Global Online Academy has expanded their offerings to 55 courses. In particular, GOA’s new Learning Studios feature student choice and project direction through subjects such as Entrepreneurship in a Global Context, Water: from Inquiry to Action, and Power: Redressing Inequity Through Data. 30 of our students took a GOA course this year. The new offerings will allow our students to pursue their passions, learn with students and teachers from other parts of the world, and develop the skills of independent study and online communication and collaboration.

Interdisciplinary study is strong with these new courses. Two new math courses explore applications of math in history, the arts, social justice, and finance. Environmental Ethics is now a blocked double class that satisfies graduation requirements in English and Civics. Visual Art 123 has merged the study of drawing, painting, and mixed media into a single sequence that will better support advanced study in the visual arts. These courses increasingly address subjects of personal identity, culture, and social justice.

Student agency is alive in these curriculum revisions. An enterprising student wrote the Social Entrepreneurship course proposal. This innovative class will not have a full-time teacher. Rather, students in the class will study social issues in Seattle, design a social venture, and invite parents and teachers to contribute as guest speakers and course consultants. In history, students came to us this year and asked for more opportunities to find their histories in our courses. The new Topics in United States History options provide more options to a student body with diverse backgrounds and interests.

We look forward to offering these new courses to students next year and learning from these experiences in a way that will inform further curriculum development and revision.

Our NAIS Annual Conference Game Plan

Originally published on the NAIS 2016 Annual Conference Online Community

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 12.40.50 PM14 members of the University Prep faculty and staff will attend the NAIS Annual Conference this week. Why bring so many? In recent years, the Annual Conference has shed its old reputation for serving just the needs of administrators. Keynote addresses, workshops, and networking opportunities now satisfy a wide range of teacher leader and program director interests. Themes of innovative teaching, educational equity, and co-curricular programs appear everywhere. As we increasingly distribute leadership responsibilities among our staff, it makes sense for bring more people to the year’s preeminent independent school showcase and networking opportunity.

Here is a sampling of the activities of different members of our team.

  • Present a Speed Innovating session
  • Cosponsor Cultural Competency by Design workshop
  • Attend and discuss big ideas from keynote presentations
  • Attend workshops that connect to our new strategic plan
  • Attend Global Online Academy and Leadership+Design networking events
  • Attend SPARKplaces event on the future of learning spaces
  • Visit with Independent Curriculum Group retreat attendees
  • Visit the Interactive Maker Space
  • Identify potential future professional development workshop facilitators
  • Interview candidates for teaching positions
  • Lead a candidate recruitment roundtable discussion
  • Hold a U Prep team dinner to support our internal connections
  • Meet connections made at previous national conferences
  • Reconnect with former colleagues from other schools
  • Visit Bay Area schools

It’s going to be an enriching couple of days! We look forward to seeing you there.

Say “Yes” As Often As Possible

Yes
Some years ago, I discovered that it’s my job to say “yes” as often as possible. A school administrator is a gatekeeper whose support teachers seek for permission to try a new idea or change a policy. I used to think that my role was to evaluate a new idea and decide whether to support it. Now, I start from the assumption that we can do it and proceed from there. Saying “yes” imbues teacher leaders with confidence and trust and lays the groundwork for school innovation.

Do I shun responsibility by saying “yes?” Hardly. For one, if a teacher or program director brings forth an idea that lies far outside the mission and norms of the school, then I say so. However, the message is not that I personally disapprove of the idea but rather that it does not have a strong chance of success given the nature of the school. Most people take such feedback well. If they persist with their idea despite such feedback, then either they are right, or their idea will ultimately not pass muster with others.

If a person like me does not pass judgment on an idea, then do all ideas get approved, leading to organizational chaos? Not at all. Rather, I fulfill my role to design and lead institutional processes that thoroughly consider, refine, and approve ideas. When groups of people, working from considered norms, review ideas, then the process is higher quality and more inclusive. Groups possess more collective wisdom than individuals, and any one person possesses personal preferences and blind spots.
Two kinds of institutional processes, natural and structured, may be used to consider an idea. Natural processes include trial, error, and correction, similar to what design thinkers call “iteration.” A person with authority can simply say, “Why not? It seems like you have thoughtfully considered this idea. Go ahead and try it, and let’s see what happens.” This works well when the barriers to entry are low. Starting small is another common design thinking strategy, designed to keep barriers low until an idea begins to show value.
Structured institutional processes usually take the form of a committee. Effective committees include thoughtful members committed to the school mission.Clear norms are essential, so that all participants are operating from common principles. Cultivating teacher leaders through training and practice develops a strong pool of candidate committee members. Administrators in the room must share their opinions only sparingly or else risk making decisions de facto by influencing the decisions of teacher leaders.

“Yes” is a powerful motivator and “no” a powerful demotivator. If the success of a school depends on the collective ingenuity and hard work of everyone involved, then collective motivation helps … a lot. It is practically impossible for a single or group of administrators to come up with all of the good ideas that will help an organization succeed. I have seen many good institutions stagnate due to overly directive leadership and faculty discord. On the bright side, a motivated, confident faculty becomes a wellspring of thoughtful, strategic ideas, the foundation for a culture of innovation.
According to a popular refrain, leadership comes in four styles: autocratic, consultative, consensus, and delegation. Saying “yes” means that one makes autocratic decisions only infrequently or for minor matters that may also be defined as tasks. “Yes” means that we are going to use more inclusive decision-making methods when people come to us with ideas. Perhaps we will solicit a lot of input and then decide whether to support the idea. Or perhaps send the idea to a consensus-based decision-making group. Or perhaps the individual who brought the idea will decide how far to pursue it.
The response, “yes, and” has become a popular way to support free and open sharing of ideas in conversation. “Yes, and” is certainly preferable to saying “yes, but.” However, why not just say, “yes” and stop there? Even when well-intentioned, adding “and” to a colleagues’s idea partially appropriates it. The person has only just expressed a thought, and we’re already improving on it? Better to respect the person’s thoughtfulness and trust later peer processes to further develop it. Say “yes,” as often as possible and design systems processes to support school innovation.
Photo credit: Kai Friis on Flickr

A Handbook for Independent School Change

When I learned that Denise Pope had published a new book (with Maureen Brown and Sarah Miles), I immediately thought that it would continue the story of Doing School, exposing the personal trials of high performing students in high performing schools. To my surprise, Overloaded and Underprepared reads more like a handbook for leading change to improve student well-being in high performing schools. It has immediately become an indispensable resource for schools that are engaged in change processes.

Pope, Brown and Miles stand with one foot in the world of education research and the other in practice, a welcome but uncommon place to be. Education research tends to be inaccessible or impractical to teachers, and teachers lack the time and structural imperative to stay abreast of education research. As a result, much school change happens without the benefit, or in opposition to, education research. Work that actively connects research to practice is therefore invaluable.

As Pope so clearly identified in Doing School, student compliance with school programming may mask severe stress and disengagement. When students meet school expectations, leaders and teachers may feel a general sense of satisfaction with the design of the school program. However, schools are complex organizations that rarely function at their potential in all areas!  High performing schools may unknowingly leave much student potential on the table. Pope et al help schools ask what they can do to keep improving. As the world never stops changing, schools that do not keep pace rapidly fall out of step with the needs of their students.

Overloaded and Underprepared focuses on the pressing issues facing high-performing independent and public schools: the process of school change, schedule, homework, engagement, assessment, Advanced Placement, social and emotional learning, communication, and professional development. Each chapter summarizes education research on that issue, describes school case studies from the authors’ consulting practice, and lists research references. A school practitioner may read a chapter, learn about schools making intentional changes, and find many references for further study. The book therefore serves a vital role in helping school leaders understand the issues that other schools are addressing and the research base that informs the accompanying changes.

While the opportunity gap facing urban and rural public schools has great national importance, dozens of research studies and books address that problem. Pope et al therefore fill a literature gap for independent schools. At the same time, independent and high performing public schools still face issues of social justice and educational equity, and Overloaded and Underprepared does little to address them. Do students of color receive an equally high quality experience as their white counterparts? What stresses do students of color and sexual minorities face every day? How does a school address issues of differential inclusion between majority and minority cultures within its walls? Does the school curriculum reflect mostly dominant culture perspectives, or do teachers teach multicultural and critical content across all subject areas? Pope et al miss an opportunity to address these questions in the book.

What other books inform the individuals and teams seeking to lead change in independent and high performing public schools? We regularly refer to the following.

Future Wise and Playing the Whole Game, two books by David Perkins

#EdJourney, by Grant Lichtman

Raising Race Questions, by Ali Michael

Loving Learning, by Tom Little and Katherine Ellison

What resources have you found most useful in your strategic planning work, particularly when designing new forms and supports for learning?

Leading With a Small Rudder

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First published on Medium

In seventh grade, I began a brief career as a coxswain for our school crew team. I had hardly been on the water in my youth, and yet the spectacle of an endurance sport on a river appealed to me. I was encouraged to coxswain, as I was not particularly endowed with size or musculature. It was an amazing experience. I learned to count strokes, call for surges, and most importantly, steer the boat.

Steering the boat was relatively simple at first. Beginners used the thickest boats, with heavy, wooden hulls and a big rudder. Pull the cord, and the boat would instantly swerve in the desired direction. It was an easy way to get started. I just had to keep the boat on the right side of the river and steer clear of collisions and clashes of oars with the other boats. Occasionally, the boat would run aground due to shallow water, but the team would quickly push oars into the mud and free the boat without much fuss.

The next year, in addition to coxswaining eighth grade boats, we began to sub for the junior varsity when needed. Leading the older boys felt a great honor and responsibility. And the shell! It weighed much less, shone brilliantly in the sunlight, and cut sleekly through the water. However, I gulped when I realized that the rudder was similarly sleek … and small.

The first time I saw a curve coming, I pulled lightly on the rudder as usual. Nothing seemed to happen. I pulled harder, and the boat started to turn, but too gently. Desperate not to hit the bank, I called for a hard left-hand pull from the rowers. When we ran aground, the older boys voices their displeasure, and I was embarrassed. This scene repeated itself over the course of the week, as I struggled to master the tiny rudder. I steered the boat through a series of emergency maneuvers, constantly interrupting the rowers’ efforts to pull us through the water.

Over time, I began to pay more attention to the shape of the river, anticipate upcoming curves, and plot gentle turns for our shell. I learned that the sleek boat went faster when guided in this more gentle manner. Our rowers’ energy propelled the boat forward efficiently, instead of fighting the lateral resistance of water against a turning hull. I learned to steer with a small rudder, to thoughtfully exert tiny pulls that added up to grand, sweeping curves and a fast boat.


According to legend, strong leaders steer with a large rudder, moving their schools in whatever directions they see fit. The myth of the heroic school leader persists, despite all evidence to the contrary [paid link, also see this]. Authoritative school leaders may hold a big presence in the school community, chairing decision-making meetings, writing for publications, and speaking at events. Authoritative leaders may find success with non-instructional projects, such building and fundraising. However, they rarely improve the student experience in meaningful ways.

Every school has a strong culture, whether intentionally or not. Teachers and student support staff do all of the work that moves the boat forward. Effective school leaders understand that their actions only cause small shifts to school culture as it is felt by students from day to day. They realize that they only have a tiny rudder at their disposal. And yet, they also learn that the consistent application of small shifts can fine-tune a school and lead to a more powerful learning community over time.

What are the signs of a well-tuned school? Teachers express that they feel supported and can realize their full potential as teachers. Students say that they can clearly see a path toward mastery and success. In a high functioning school, teacher support systems and classroom norms are intentionally designed to support progress toward learning. Teachers and students find reinforcement, rather than obstacles, as they strive forward in their work. This is not to say that challenges no longer exist, only that those challenges are naturally part of the learning process rather than artificially caused by poor learning environment design.

From the coxswain’s seat, a school leader may read the race and the river, set timing and tempo, anticipate turns, and pull on the tiny rudder when needed. School leaders play a vital role in successively shaping many small aspects of a school to consistently support a vision for teaching and learning.

Photo credit: “Oncoming Eight” by EightBitTony

Senior Spring and Student Time

3376949154_13eb28eaf8_zAs the pressure of college admissions disappears, those senior who were primarily externally motivated may suddenly find themselves without purpose. It’s understandable! Students who have pursued a demanding schedule of college prep classes for for college admission may lose their will to work with passion. At the same time, educators may be discouraged to see seniors slide out of high school rather than finishing on a high note.

Happily, we also see counterexamples, students who have developed strong internal motivation and see senior spring as an opportunity for exploration and experimentation. By senior year, many students have figured out which topics excite them the most and are interested in designing independent study in these areas.

What obstacles do such students encounter? The typical high school schedule is not so friendly to independent study. In most schools, seniors still attend classes from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. It is difficult to immerse oneself in a meaningful project within 45 to 80 minute pockets of time. If travel time or the setup of complex equipment is required, then it is pretty near impossible.

Some schools run a senior project term, in which students design and pursue independent projects for the last few weeks of the school year. The school excuses these students from regular classes so that they may do this. However, the scope of these projects is limited to that short timeframe. The longer the senior project period, the more such students may accomplish.

One of our students has developed a creative way to create more flexible time within a typical school schedule. He deliberately chose three classes that have flexible time structures: an online class, an independent study, and a projects class. The online class is offered through Global Online Academy, a consortium of independent schools to which we belong. The independent study is on the Great Lakes region of east Africa. Advanced Topics in Math, while a regular course, is built around individual, student-designed projects. On some days, this student may have large blocks of flexible time in order to study topics in depth and work with adult mentors both inside and outside the school.

As we continue our strategic planning work, we are considering what type of school schedule could offer larger chunks of flexible time by design, in order to reduce obstacles to independent, project-based, or off-campus study. How much flexible time is best? What support would students need to make the best use of such time? Can we give classes the option of meeting more or less frequently without overly fragmenting the flexible time available to students? We plan to ask these and other questions about time, research what other schools are doing, and propose changes for the school schedule.

Photo credit: “Broken Clock” by cacophonyx on Flickr

Faculty and Staff Openings for 2016-2017

Middle School Science Teacher – primarily sixth and seventh grades integrated science

Visual Arts Teacher – primarily middle school, to include painting, drawing, sculpture, and possibly photo and video

Counselor – works with individual students, develops school programs for wellness and emotional climate

Our faculty is growing! This is our second year of adding new teaching positions in order to reduce teacher course loads. This is allowing our teachers to devote more time to work with students, collaboratively develop curriculum, and pursue individual teaching improvement projects. We are transitioning our teachers to a standard load of four courses each semester (five each semester in physical education), as well as further reducing the loads of our teacher leaders (department heads and grade level deans).

Beyond Good vs. Bad

Scissors

Most education debates reduce the question of teaching methods to a good/bad argument. Are lectures good or bad? Technology? Homework? While a common rhetorical tool when attempting to win an argument, overemphasis of a simplified position undermines productive discourse and program development. Educators must move into the space between extremes, into nuances and complexity, in order to have constructive conversations that advance teaching practice. A constructive perspective eschews good/bad arguments and embraces relativism.

Of course, a good lecture can provide students with a terrific cognitive experience. However, the vast majority of direct instruction is not high quality lecture but rather a comparatively low-level summary of facts and conclusions. Emphasizing active learning opportunities for students creates more chances for students to engage in productive modes of thinking during class time. Most schools do not call for a ban on teacher talk but rather include high quality teacher presentation as one teaching method among a handful that should be used in classes. As always, effective teacher coaching depends on individual circumstances, which is why teacher observation and feedback is associated with improvement in teaching practice. With one teacher, we encourage less teacher talk and more student leadership in class. With another teacher, we endorse teacher talk, because it’s high quality and just one part of the learning environment.

The same can be said for other polarizing topics such as technology use, homework, class seating arrangements, and curriculum standards. For each, the practice is neither pariah nor panacea. Visit many schools, and one will see both good and bad educational practice along the spectrum of each topic. It is easy to find both effective and disastrous implementations of educational technology, productive and counterproductive homework practices, and thoughtful and thoughtless implementation of state content standards.

Several factors determine the effectiveness of a particular instructional practice in a particular context. The teacher should understand the key qualities of the instructional technique, what makes it effective in the best circumstances, and how it might exist within and interact with the existing learning environment. The school’s mission and values are critically important. The teacher should know how the instructional technique relates to institutional values or could be shaped to better complement them. Teachers should always be attentive to the student experience with teaching practice, through subtle methods such as accurately reading student engagement and depth of thinking during the activity, as well as more formal methods such as soliciting student feedback and examining student class work and assessments.

Ongoing professional conversations about teaching practices, institutional values, and student experience lead to the development of a recognizable culture of instruction in a school. Collaboration, professional development, and examination of qualitative and quantitative data bolster school identity and practice.

While good/bad arguments make for good headlines, nuanced, complex work leads to better instruction.

(Image by Natesh Ramasamy on Flickr)

Do Students Find Their Cultures In the Curriculum?

Brooklyn DreamsIn Brooklyn Dreams: My Life In Public Education, Sonia Nieto describes her experience at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, where she attended from 1958-1961.

As in elementary and junior high school, there was barely a mention of Puerto Rico or Puerto Ricans in the curriculum. I learned US and European history, American and English literature, French language and literature, art history (of course, primarily European). We learned nothing about Jews, even though Erasmus Hall’s student body was overwhelmingly Jewish, or the other White ethnics who were then the majority of the population in Brooklyn. We heard nothing about African Americans and little about immigration. At Erasmus Hall, I never learned that Puerto Ricans wrote books, created art, or did anything else of public significance. That knowledge took many years for me to discover. No surprise, then, that I felt invisible. I learned that identity was something you didn’t talk about. If you were not completely assimilated, your culture remained behind closed doors; at best, it was a source of embarrassment, and, at worst, a source of shame. This cultural invisibility surely had something to do with my sense of alienation. On the bright side, the invisibility of my culture in those years, and my ultimate acceptance and embrace of it, also had a lot to do with the focus of my chosen profession. [my emphasis]

This lack of representation caused Nieto embarrassment, shame, and alienation. Though she was ultimately stronger for it, Nieto took years to unpack and embrace her cultural identity, and other students might not succeed the way she did.

Although we might ascribe “cultural invisibility” to the era of the late 1950’s, would Nieto have a much better experience today? What attention do contemporary high school curricula give to Puerto Rico, a United States territory, or to the many other countries and cultures from which our students hail? Most schools now teach world history in place of European history, and Nieto’s critique of immigration and Jewish history may no longer apply.

Some schools adopt a critical perspective on United States history, and English novels have diversified. However, our student population continues to evolve at a faster pace than our course content. With a public school population that is already majority minority, instruction in all subject areas continues to lag behind the reality of our classrooms.

All students deserve to see themselves in their school’s curriculum and learn about their culture’s history, literature, luminaries, and accomplishments. Schools should adopt fully multicultural curricula that truly reflect the American student population in all of its diversity and prepares students to understand and participate in the world.