The UPrep blog has been very active in the past week, thanks to the great work of student and staff authors and the Communications team. Check out these recent titles, including one by yours truly.
Archive for Richard
The Engineering Intensive Teacher will join two UPrep teachers to deliver a three-week, full-time, hands-on, introductory engineering course to high school students who have signed up for this January elective course. This is a fantastic opportunity for an engineer interested in working with youth or an aspiring teacher seeking classroom experience.
[I am trying a new, compact format for blog posts so that I share here more often. Let me know what you think.]
I just finished serving for on a NWAIS Accreditation visiting team for four days. These teams perform a vital function in supporting the long-term viability of independent schools. They provide every school with an outside perspective and targeted feedback to help improve their programs. They also represent powerful professional development for visiting team members. Over three and a half days, one dives deeply into the values and functions of a school, touring the campus, interviewing community members, reading the school’s self-study, and poring over supporting documents. The school is asked to provide full transparency into all of its processes, so conversations go deeply quickly.
A Visiting Team is comprised of professionals from peer schools that cover the diverse functions of an independent school. This team included two heads of schools plus experts in academic program, student life, technology, enrollment management, teaching, and experiential programs. NWAIS designs the teams to cover the breadth of school functions and provide the school with feedback targeted to its particular character. Collaboration is strong, as team members work closely to share observations, discuss findings, and review each others’ writing.
Serving this year was intentional, as I am leading our self-study process starting later this year. The new NWAIS Demonstrations of Success and Generative Questions focus much more on values and practices than the old format. This is much improved over the old format, in which the school documented all aspects of its programs, a time-consuming process of questionable, long-term value. Principles and practices are easier to capture and review and arguably better support the long-term success of a school. Since this is a big change from the old format, it is quite helpful to live the new process on a visiting team before leading it at one’s own school.
If you would like to serve on an accreditation visiting team, tell your head of school, who will recommend you to the NWAIS director of accreditation.
UPrep faculty and staff chose from these four selections during our close meetings last Thursday. The books speak to the learning initiatives in our strategic plan, particularly Social Justice and Educational Equity, Social and Emotional Learning, and New Models of Time.
The Self-Driven Child: Neuropsychologist Bill Stixrud and tutoring provider Ned Johnson explore the problem of high stress and low motivation, particularly in high-achieving students. Informed by practical experience and research, they argue that kids need to gain more control over their lives to become more healthy. Directed to parents, this is a good selection if you are interested in student stress or anxiety, would like to better understand parents who worry about their stressed students, or are a parent yourself! As an added bonus, the Parent Education group is planning to schedule Stixrud and Johnson to speak with our parents next year.
The Gender Creative Child: Diane Ehrensaft, developmental and clinical psychologist at the University of California–San Francisco guides us through the spectrum of gender identity and expression, using a gender affirmation model. This is a good selection if you are interested in better understanding our students who are expressing fluid gender identity.
For White Folks Who Teach In the Hood: 2015 Multicultural Educator of the Year Christopher Emdin, from Teachers College Columbia University, begins by exploring why some teachers connect with urban youth, and others don’t. He explains his theory of Reality Pedagogy, built on respect for urban youths’ culture, students as experts in their own learning, and communities in the classroom. This is a good selection for teachers seeking to shift their minds about our students of color who come from urban backgrounds.
A More Beautiful Question: Nationally recognized journalist Warren Berger discovers a common trend among successful leaders of big companies: they ask great questions. This book examines the types of questions that prompt inquiry, creativity, and innovation. This is a good selection if you are interested in a business perspective on the overarching questions that organize your course, as well as the questions you ask every day.
One book only! Clipboard if we run out.
The communication plan for our rollout of Intensives has attempted to balance the internal work to develop the new term structure and courses as well as the need for students and families to stay informed in a timely manner. Publish too early, and the plan could change significantly. Publish too late, and families and students would feel late to the party.
In January 2017, we announced the new school schedule in two parts, the new day schedule to launch in August 2017 and the new term schedule to launch in August 2018. The new day schedule stole the headlines due to its immediacy, and when school started, we hosted Denise Pope and shared more blog posts to reinforce the principles that supported the new day schedule.
In October, we revisited Intensives by publishing a blog post and holding three parent meetings to reinforce the program overview. Concurrently, teachers worked hard to wrote new course proposals, and department heads and program directors coordinated course approval and program scope and sequence. As that process drew to a close, we published the Intensives overview to a static web page and published on the blog an interview about Intensives with two UPrep parents who are also education specialists.
It is currently March, and later this month, we will take the next step toward course requests by publishing the full Course of Study, holding a series of advisor, student, and parent meetings, and sharing similar information in a web site video. We do this every year to prepare for course requests but anticipate that these meetings and posts will gain special interest this year due to the launch of Intensives.
The course requests process itself will serve as a vital communication moment, as everyone’s focus will be sharper when they are designing student course plans for next year.
Similar to the September events with Denise Pope, we plan to hold a speaker panel in October to reinforce the principles underlying Intensives and address questions in advance of the first courses in January. The panel will include an instructional leader from Hawken School, a UPrep Intensives teacher, and our director of college counseling.
Communication, one might argue, is equal in importance to design for program innovation to be effective. Messages of thoughtful consideration, planning, and student development must reach as many community members as possible and become part of word-of-mouth dialogue.
This is a desktop version of my PechaKucha presentation at the NWAIS Educators Conference. I discuss how belief inspires purpose, which in turn suggests program change initiatives.
“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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
This Wednesday, we will launch the new structure for the school day, designed through a comprehensive process last school year.
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.
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.
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.
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.