Last school year, students in our schools observed and experienced deep divisions as a result of a difficult election season and aftermath, and increased global uncertainty. Angry rhetoric and exchanges have been part of our students’ world, leading many educators to question (and re-question and re-question) what they can do to best support our students as they process complexities and help students engage constructively and effectively as global citizens?
We’ve been asking ourselves this question over and over at One Schoolhouse, especially in light of the unique role that we play in the independent school community and for independent schools. As many of you know and as I have documented in my blog over the last year, we have created a personalized pedagogical framework for courses at the school. This framework allows us to build competencies at the school level and at the class level, and allows students to create individualized goals. School-wide competencies at One Schoolhouse become so embedded into the framework of our courses that they are really the promise that we make to schools that sign up students for our courses. Beginning this fall, all One Schoolhouse courses will embed a new school-wide competency:
Engaging Constructively in a Diverse and Changing World
Students develop an inclusive world view when they encounter people and ideas that are different from their own, practice empathy, work collaboratively, defend their position with facts respectfully, and demonstrate mastery through real-world application. By engaging in activities that make learning relevant, students practice intellectual curiosity as they assimilate facts to solve an interdisciplinary problem, analyze a new situation, create meaning from a range of sources, or build a tool.
In addition, we are offering three courses that are built to provide additional course specific competencies for students to be civic leaders, critical thinkers, problem solvers, and culturally competent citizens.
In Civics, Culture, and Intersectionality, students explore citizenship and justice through the lenses of civics, culture, race, class, religion, and art. As students define what they believe, they uncover their own biases, practice empathy, and learn to voice their own perspectives without silencing those of others.
Gender and Sexual Identity in America focuses on the changing nature of identities over time, including efforts to expand and restrict identities in cultural, religious, and political form. Students develop cultural competency around gender and sexual identity and explore their own interests on a wide range of related topics.
And, in AP® Comparative Government and Politics, students gain enhanced comprehension of how our world evolves and functions and thorough understanding of some of the major political systems across the world. Students analyze how these different states function, both as independent states and as part of the global community.
By embedding the school-wide competency and creating opportunities for increased competency in constructive engagement for students, we hope to inspire students to create a more compassionate future and give them the skills, tools, and mindsets to get there.
At the end of May, Independent School magazine published an article by my colleague Joanne Mamenta and me about our work at One Schoolhouse to transform our pedagogy to personalized learning. As you know, I've been writing about this topic in our newsletter and in my blog all year -- it is our commitment to honor the understanding that every student learns differently.
What is different about the Independent School article, it is the first time that we have publicly shared the journey that our faculty went on in order to move to personalized learning. Increasingly, there is a groundswell of support for personalized, competency based teaching and learning in independent schools (look at the quick success of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, of which One Schoolhouse is a part). And yet, the "how" -- how do you move? -- is a key sticking point. It is our hope that the journey that One Schoolhouse faculty went on (themselves great teachers at independent schools) can be instructive.
In addition to the article, we've developed discussion questions for educators to consider after they read the article, as a starting point for thinking about personalized learning at the department, division, or whole school level. We hope that these are helpful:
I often speak about how One Schoolhouse values the understanding that every student learns differently and uses a personalized learning approach to accomplish this mission. The end of the school year gives us an opportunity to reflect on one way we personalize learning and give students more voice and choice in the learning process: student goal setting.
Goal setting at One Schoolhouse is an intentional process that is consistent across all classes. Students begin by creating their own learning profile, using their choice of tools, and they share this in conversation with their teachers (reinforcing the understanding that teachers work with students as unique learners). From there, students are guided through a mindset training in order to understand the power of “yet.” And finally, students set “SMART” goals for the year and then refine these goals through conferencing with their teachers. Teachers and students reflect quarterly with each other on progress towards goals.
Many schools follow similar steps for student goal setting, if not in each class then in an advisory setting. What is different – and what we have found powerful at One Schoolhouse – is that the goals form the basis for reflection throughout the year. There also are two side benefits. First, goal setting and at least quarterly reflection on goals help students focus more on building competencies and learning new skills and less on grades. And second, quarterly teacher comments reflect student goals and thus are better and more personal (something our parents and schools comment on often).
Let me give you a couple of examples of student goals to illustrate their value. A number of students in our math courses set goals this year to gain for the first time or re-gain confidence in mathematics before going to college. This is an interesting goal for the teacher to scaffold for the student, and the primary pathways are very much rooted in two of our core teaching practices: empowering self-assessment and the student-teacher relationship. Knowing that a student is working on math confidence, our math teachers help students know what to do when they don’t know how to tackle a problem or how to tack when they get something wrong. And then they leverage these moments during unit reflections. Not only have students developed mathematical persistence, but they’ve also gained the courage to keep trying. These growth moments were made possible by the teacher’s deep understanding of the student’s growth goal.
In course pre-assessments, teachers often ask students what they are worried about or not looking forward to. Knowing that One Schoolhouse values collaborative learning, some will inevitably say that they “hate group work,” and, moreover, they are worried about group work in the online space. The teacher can then guide them to turn a dreaded activity into a goal: many of these students set the goal of becoming a more effective collaborator and team member. Encouragingly, we find that this goal often has to be adjusted as the year goes along, because with concentration in this area, students become better at managing themselves and others; not surprisingly, group work that goes well turns out to be really fun!
What these examples show is that goal setting helps students feel empowered and reinforces the commonality of purpose for the student and teacher. We know student goal setting increases motivation and helps students move from “having to know” what is taught and external motivations to “wanting to learn” and internal motivations..
Enrollment (and re-enrollment) season is upon us in schools. Families are searching for the right match – the right culture, the right community, and the right opportunities for their children.
What makes a match “right”? Well, that depends on the family, of course. But, when thinking about this question, I often return to a really great report done by the Enrollment Management Association: “The Ride to Independent Schools: 2,300 Families Tell Us About Their Journey.
One helpful data point from this report regards the application process: “When evaluating the private schools to which they would ultimately apply, parents relied on a variety of information and data. Overwhelmingly, the breadth and depth of course offerings were cited as the most important information assessed. Almost three-quarters of the parents (73%) included this among their top choices.” (22) In fact, breadth and depth of academic offerings ranked number one on this list by a lot – a full 23% above the next option (and the one many educators might suspect to be number one): the college list.
For the tuitions our schools charge, families expect a full range of academic opportunities. And yet, no school can offer every opportunity on campus (of course, this is particularly true for smaller schools). That’s why we’ve seen so many schools partner with us to act as a value increasing, flexible department within their school – one that extends the campus across the country and around the world.
Last month, we launched a series of posts that helped schools understand how to use One Schoolhouse strategically – you can see that series here, in case you missed it. Look out this month for a series of posts that explain how One Schoolhouse can add value to your school by expanding offerings in key areas – helping schools meet demands (and expectations) in high quality, cost effective, and flexible ways.
At the beginning of March, many of us are trying to hold onto our New Year’s health and fitness resolutions. Part of my effort in this regard is going to two classes: [solidcore] and Sweatbox. Both offer great workouts. I feel like the coaches challenge me and give me the encouragement I need. But, they are very different from each other, and (in between trying catch my breath during workouts over the past couple of weeks), I’ve been thinking that difference may hold a lesson for educators as we think about our own evolving classrooms.
[solidcore] is highly technical and tough workout that focuses on building up slow-twitch muscles by having participants use a double-ended pilates machine. You lunge, squat, press, plank, and dip as slowly as you can while high energy music plays and the coach yells out cues and encouragement.
Good positioning and form are essential to get the most out of the workout and to make sure that you don’t get hurt. Therefore, there are only nine to twelve participants in each class, and coaches are constantly coming around to adjust for positioning.
[solidcore] reminds me of a traditional classroom where the teacher moves from student to student to make sure tough and complex concepts are understood and mastered. Or perhaps a chemistry lab where the teacher guides students ensuring that safety protocols and processes are being followed.
The other workout I do is Sweatbox, which gets its name from the “box” that you are designated to sweat in. In your box is a set of weights, a sandbag, TRX cables, and a bike. In Sweatbox, you alternate between exercises on the coaches’ instruction, shifting between weight training work and cardio, with very little break in between. The class can accommodate 25 participants.
In the class, everyone wears a heart rate monitor that hooks to screens in the room. The screen give you immediate feedback that helps you figure out if you are working hard enough — and lets the coach know who needs encouragement and help. Feedback from the workout is sent to an app on your phone after class, allowing you to set goals for the next class.
In Sweatbox, I’m reminded of classrooms that are blended and personalized, offering instant feedback and gamification tools such as badging, challenges, and points, as ways to increase student motivation and engagement. And classrooms where collaboration and peer-to-peer feedback provide encouragement and assistance to achieve goals.
One fitness class isn’t better than the other. In fact, both workouts are great because I feel like I have worked hard and received the encouragement, training, and expertise that I need to keep feeling good and get stronger. But mixing it up allows me to achieve different fitness goals and helps me stay motivated.
Is there something we can learn from this for our own classes?
Brad Rathgeber, Head of School & CEO