Tag Archive for schooldesign

Academic Leaders Retreat

Curriculum is the main dish in a school, the substance of what students are attempting to learn. Why, then, do most professional development programs focus on pedagogy, assessment, and classroom climate? Without addressing course content, attempts to improve engagement and learning will fall flat. Students are highly attuned to the objectives of their learning activities.

SMALLICGLOGONOV14The Independent Curriculum Group is one of the only organizations through which independent schools directly address school curriculum focus. Originally founded to support schools seeking to drop Advanced Placement tests, ICG now attracts schools that are thinking creatively about the content and learning objectives of the instructional program. At this event, we met a school that has formed an academic department for topics in human development, another that offers eight world languages (see p. 36), a third that schedules athletics in the morning, and a fourth that provides students with “20% time” for independent projects. Nothing provides confidence in program change better than meeting the schools that have already done it!

The Academic Leaders Retreat West was the second of two personalized, interactive conferences. The location, Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico, encouraged participants to engage with each other, reflect about what’s important in schools, and imagine innovative potential school programs.


Peter Gow and Jonathan Martin facilitated the group sessions. Among the highlights: Martin guided us through a systems approach to school change, elegantly blending theory with practice. In one activity, we used fishbone diagrams to identify the key institutional factors underlying the student outcomes we wish to change. For example, our group looked at student reluctance to take risks and identified factors such as teacher-defined learning objectives, grading practices, program fragmentation, and high student workload as key systems factors that inhibit student risk-taking.


ICG knows how to empower conference participants to personalize and maximize their experience. The retreat included three “unconference” sessions, in which we all proposed topics and led discussions. This allowed us to hone in on questions that were particularly on our minds and learn more about practices in other schools.

UnConference Board

The evening events were just as significant as those in the daytime. The first evening, we watched Beyond Measure, the follow-up to Race to Nowhere. The film profiles a handful of schools, and specific students within them, who have succeeded in creating instructional program with meaning and purpose. I was struck by the stories of students who were dutifully attempting to meet their school’s expectations, but without passion. Their learning really took off when their schools launched new learning environments that featured student-defined learning objectives and authentic purpose. The second evening, Gow led a storytelling conversation about schools that have succeeded in shifting faculty culture toward program innovation.

Team professional development typically leads to program change much more than individual experiences. Three U Prep department heads joined me at this retreat, allowing us all directly feel inspired by the conference, meet all of the other participants, and then huddle with each other to discuss implications for our school. The momentum continued after the retreat, as we plugged lessons learned from the retreat directly into our ongoing strategic planning work on next generation learning.


Read the #ALRWest15 Twitter feed for more detail about the work of our three days.

The Met / The Big Picture Company

I spent the day at The Met, an internship-based school in Providence that has become a national model for a network of 50 “Big Picture” schools. I was so pleased to witness the program, teachers, and students first-hand after having heard about the school for years. Every time I heard something notable, I Twittered it. Here are my notes:

Waiting to board a bus to The MET in Providence. Excited to see the program first-hand!
I haven’t been on a charter bus in ages. Reminds me of college.
4 Met Schools are fully booked today with PD and community activities.

The Met: connecting internships with learning goals and assessment.

The Met: 98% students accepted into college, all required to apply
62% attend college, 40% complete two or four years

Three R’s: relationships, relevance, rigor

No Met schools in MA – because of high stakes testing? Yet their New York school is making it work.

The Met doctor can be a student’s primary care physician. Part of teaching the whole child.

15-20 social work interns practice at the Met, providing that service to the students.

50 Big Picture schools nationwide. I had no idea.
Rhode Island funds schools at $12,000 per ADA per year. That’s twice the rate in CA!

Assessment: employee evaluations, school work products, exhibitions
Pedagogy: knowing student learning styles; active, authentic, hands-on learning; reflection

The Met: online database of resources. Any member can contribute. An example of structure making an online environment more effective?
Al student work maintained online. Mentioned in passing, but so revolutionary.

Open Office concept. Using school resources independently to get things done. about 11 hours ago from web

Students are in internships 10-12 hours per week.

Internships last 3 months to a year.

Most Met schools are contained within larger schools or other organizations. A surprise for me.

Campus design: retained walkways, kept neighborhood roof lines, open facilities to community, red brick not cinderblock.

I bet these graduates are extremely independent and directed in college.

About to start student walk through the school.

Big Picture Soda: a science project turned commercial success!
Incredible media studio: recording, editing, film studios, control room.

Math needs are poorly met through internships. Why is there so little algebra naturally happening in the workplace?

South Carolina district superintendent at this preconference at The Met. Cool.

Students required to complete 75 page autobiography for graduation!

Curricular areas defined by skills, not content. “The Met Learning Goals”

Quantitative reasoning, social reasoning, communication, empirical reasoning, personal qualities

New digital portfolio system will track content competencies in addition to aforementioned skills (The Met)

The Met unapologetic about preparing kids for a successful career (and why not?)

Big Picture Online: I would like to learn more about the portal that these 50 schools use.