Earlier this week, I went with friends to see the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” about the life and influence of Fred Rogers. I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. My mom reports that when Mr. Rogers came on at 5pm on CPTV, I’d sit quietly and listen, transfixed by Make-Believe and the man who made sure that children knew they were special and valued, no matter who they are.
The theater was packed, mainly with people my age, alternately laughing and crying through the movie. It is a beautiful film that reminds you of the good that one person can do and the power of those who speak quietly, listen carefully, and smile effusively. As we left the theater, a friend said to me, “Can’t we just stay in that theater, in Mr. Rogers’ world, for the next couple of years?"
Revisiting the world of Mr. Rogers years later, as an adult and as an educator, his insights struck me in a different way. In his time, Rogers’ belief was groundbreaking: children have feelings and opinions and voices that should be listened to, cared for, and nurtured. His understanding was radical then, but it’s common now. All of us in education today know we do better when we listen to our students, support them, and value them.
Other parts of the movie caused me to pause. As told, Rogers was conflicted later in his life, wondering whether he was making the difference he hoped for, as he saw chaos around him and the medium of television creep farther away from the purpose he held dear. And, whereas Rogers daily reminded each child of their inherent self-worth and power of uniqueness, he actively encouraged a colleague to remain closeted. That’s problematic, and also emblematic of his time.
At One Schoolhouse, we create some of our courses to respond to the issues that are emblematic of our time. This past school year, we ran a new course, “Gender and Sexual Identity in America.” Students explored the changing nature of identities over time, including efforts to expand and restrict identities in cultural, religious, and political forms. Students research initiatives such as gay marriage, gender assignment, reproductive rights, workplace discrimination, HIV/AIDS, heteronormativity, and more.
Near the end of the course, a student reflected upon their journey and brought up an area in which One Schoolhouse could value more the uniqueness of our students’ experiences: “In our ever-changing society, it is important that we be open to and inclusive of all genders, both within and outside of the gender binary. I think it is especially important to foster open-mindedness in a school environment, as this is precisely the place in which we, as students, begin to form our own opinions on the world around us. By changing ‘co-ed’ classes to ‘all genders’ classes, One Schoolhouse would welcome individuality and promote the acceptance necessary to create a supportive community of unique thinkers!
The student is right. We’ll make that change.
It feels like each day, we learn more about the complexities of identities that make each person unique . And, as we learn and grow, we interrogate our understandings and beliefs (and, yes, word-choice) to be more open to differences in experience. That makes the messages of Mr. Rogers -- to listen to children and to value the special qualities we bring to this world -- more important today than ever before.
How well would you do on a short quiz about independent school finances?
• What percentage of independent day school revenue comes from tuition: 59%, 69%, or 79%?
• How about the percentage from gifts and grants: 8%, 12%, or 25%?
• What about other programs and auxiliary services (campus rentals, summer camp, after school, etc.): 5%, 7%, 10%?
Now, let’s switch to the expense side.
• What percentage of independent day school expense comes from faculty and staff salaries and benefits: 48%, 60%, or 72%?
• How about instructional costs: 2%, 4%, or 8%?
• And, finally, how about facilities: 10%, 14%, or 24%?
If you are like the cohort of great educators who just took the course that Jeff Shields and I taught for NBOA & One Schoolhouse, “Budget Meets Mission,” the answers may surprise you.
79% of revenue in independent schools comes from net tuition, with only 8% from gifts and grants, and 7% from other programs and auxiliary services. 72% of that revenue goes to cover faculty and staff costs, with 4% to instructional costs, and 10% to facilities. These numbers often surprise even experienced members of the independent school community. Why? There seem to be a few reasons:
Are there models we should be looking at to get at the these two main drivers? Sure. I’ll explore some of those next month.
* Data accessed for 2017-2018 school year from NAIS DASL
Last month, I offered an on-ramp for understanding the concept of personalized learning -- the idea that personalized learning is about offering students a choice as they move through different pathways to mastery of skills and competencies. This month, let’s explore what that looks like in an academic class.
Let’s take a learning objective that lets us think of many pathways to create: understanding how a bill becomes a law in the United States.
OK. What would the typical process for meeting this objective look like? Probably something like this: in class, the teacher introduces the topic via a short “lecture.” Then, for homework, the students read pages 123-130 in their textbook and answer factual questions. In class the next day, the teacher kicks off the lesson by sharing the famous Schoolhouse Rock segment, "I'm Just a Bill" -- enjoy that flashback to 8th grade! After that, there are a couple of short activities in order to differentiate the instruction, and some opportunity for students to ask questions.
This is a good lesson. There is some differentiation. There are many entry points into the topic for students. But, was all of the learning meaningful for all students?
What if we approached the lesson from a learner-driven, personalized perspective? That might look something like this: When students arrive in the classroom, the teacher introduces the learning objective, and then offers students multiple pathways to reach the learning objective. Those pathways are simply the different parts of the previously explained linear lesson, but instead of students having to do each segment, they have choice on which pathway (or, likely, pathways) they need in order to meet the objective. Some students will start by reading the textbook, others will start with videos, others will gather with the teacher at the whiteboard for direct instruction, and so on.
We know that we sometimes need to take different pathways in order to learn a new skill. Think back to the headlight example -- we might start by using the manual as a pathway, and then realize that the visuals from YouTube are needed in order to complete our objective. So when designing for pathway choice, teachers also need to understand that some students will need to take multiple paths in order to reach the learning objective--just like we need to.
With summer approaching, I encourage every teacher to think about a lesson from this perspective. Start small, with just one class. Consider the learning objectives that you have for a day and work backwards to create pathways for your students to meet those objectives. This doesn’t have to be an arduous effort. In fact, it can be a fun afternoon activity. Start by working with what you have already, just organize it so that the students have choice rather than your making the choice for them.
“Personalized learning” can seem like one of those educational buzz-phrases that is difficult to unpack and understand. But, let me offer an entry point into this concept. Personalized learning is about approaching learning from the perspective of the learner, rather than the perspective of the teacher, just as we do as adults in the course of our lives every day.
Consider this everyday challenge: the lightbulb in the headlight of your car burns out. How are you going to fix it? Go ahead, write down your first step. Now, write down your next step.
I’ve done this activity with close to a thousand educators this year. The answers they’ve given span a range: “Finding a YouTube video for my car’s make and model,” “Heading to the car manual first,” “Not messing with it; going to the dealership,” “Easy, I already know how to do this,” “I’m just going to start unscrewing things,” “My spouse takes care of these things.”
As adults, we make personalized choices every day about how we learn new skills and acquire new information. We know there are many viable and good “pathways” to reaching the learning objective.
The choice that we make in terms of what pathway we choose for changing the lightbulb is typically based on three factors: the situation (time, speed needed, challenge level, etc.), our prior experience, and our go-to-problem solving strategies (some of us are more comfortable following directions on YouTube, others of us want the step-by-step from a manual).
As educators, we know that there are many good and viable pathways towards reaching the learning objectives in our classrooms, too. There are many ways to understand how a bill becomes a law, or how to solve a mathematical equation. It’s just that we often choose the pathway for our students, rather than giving students all of the pathway options and giving them agency. Why? What if we gave them choice? I’ll explore that next month.
When I was a classroom teacher, I loved teaching Seniors. They were driven, inquisitive, curious, creative, thoughtful, and articulate… Until about this time of year. That post Spring Break time could be dreadful.
I wish I knew then what I know now about student motivation.
Post Spring Break was dreadful because I kept plowing through content the way that I had throughout the year. And, even though the content got more and more interesting (from my perspective) and even though I had some of the top students in the school in my class, the students became less engaged, less motivated, and less interested.
What I didn’t do then, but would do now, is unleash the energy, motivations, creativity, and passions of my students.
Seniors think that they are finished with high school before high school is actually over. So how do we keep them motivated to learn down the home stretch? Here we rely on the psychology of adolescent development and growth mindset. Student motivation surfaces at the intersection of some of our favorite education researchers - Dweck, Ferlazzo, Hattie, Marzano - who collectively show that students want to learn when they are given the freedom to explore what’s important to them. Appropriately supported by teachers who give targeted and constructive feedback, autonomy not only empowers learning by motivating students to ask deep questions and solve real problems but also to stay engaged and finish what they’ve started.
That’s one of the reasons that we’re launching a new type of course for next year: fall semester courses with an option for a guided research project for the second semester. This fall, we will introduce six fall semester courses: Abnormal Psychology, Business and Entrepreneurship, Civics, Culture, and Intersectionality, Creating Tomorrow: Computer Science by Design, Gender and Sexual Identity in America, and Engineering, Design, and Robotics. All of these courses have an optional second semester guided research project.
What does that project look like? Students are expected to engage in sustained inquiry, authentic and iterative research, critical analysis, and rigorous reflection, revision, and assessment. They’re given choice in terms of what pathway to pursue, with options including:
This student experience builds on what we know about motivation and unleashes student creativity, in a flexible, asynchronous learning environment… banishing (as much as we can) the post Spring Break dread.
Brad Rathgeber, Head of School & CEO