Experiential Programs in the Core

An earlier post examined experiential instruction that thrives within co-curricular programs. What about the core classroom program of the school, in which students spend most of each day? What potential exists for teachers to include aspects of experiential programs within discipline-based classes?

At Head-Royce School, some experiential programs have found willing partners within discipline-based classes. Robotics is a full credit class within the science department. Statistics classes examine social behaviors within the school. Sustainability is a common theme.

How did Head-Royce successfully integrate elements of experiential programs within discipline-based classes? Several factors work together to make this a friendly climate for experiential learning.

Structural integration
The technology integration specialist is also the history department chair. The network administrator also teaches gardening to elementary students. Most program specialists — club advisors, coaches, and program directors — are also discipline-based teachers. They integrate experiential activities into their own classes, and serve as role models for colleagues who wish to do the same. They do not need to act as an external lever for change because they are already on the inside.

A culture of innovation and reflective practice
The school has for years identified a specific innovation theme in teaching practice annually. These special initiatives build up over time, causing a gradual trend toward greater innovation throughout the program. Recently, the curriculum committee undertook to better understand 21st century learning — what it meant and what were the implications for their school. This led to the adoption of 10 principles of innovative teaching practice.

Teachers are expected to explore at least three of the 10 principles of innovative teaching practice. They report back to the curriculum committee via department chairs on the progress they have made.

Visionary Leadership
The head of school regularly encourages and expects teachers and staff to innovate in specific areas, such as teaching computer science throughout the instructional program. He took the administrative team to the Stanford Design School to empower them to adopt new teaching practices and structures.

Is this enough?
Despite these superb examples of experiential education in discipline-based classes, the Head-Royce program is still easily recognized as a traditional, discipline-based, content-centered instructional program. Other schools, especially in the public sector, have gone much further in including experiential learning in the core instructional program. A future post will examine public school change initiatives that could work effectively at independent schools.

Photo courtesy of Catlin Gabel School


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