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?
Like many independent schools, we are entering hiring season now. We are looking for extraordinarily talented independent school teachers to join our team part-time, to teach one or two sections of courses in our course catalog.
Most times, administrators wouldn’t consider encouraging their teachers to apply for jobs. However, this opportunity is different because of what teachers are able to bring back to their face-to-face classrooms from their experiences teaching with One Schoolhouse.
Through One Schoolhouse, independent school educators participate in a comprehensive training and coaching program to prepare them to teach online. By learning and implementing both our strong, effective course development standards and successful teaching standards, One Schoolhouse teachers are ready for success in an online classroom. By the time new teachers figuratively step into a One Schoolhouse course, they have learned to:
Create Authentic Relationships in Online Spaces
Great teachers in our schools create meaningful relationships with students in their classrooms. The same is true in great online courses. But, those relationships (obviously) look different than they do in face-to-face classrooms. During our professional training, teachers learn how to bring their personality online, how to connect with students when time and space separate them, how to motivate students to find success, and how to use support systems that we have established.
Design Courses That are Learner Driven
One Schoolhouse courses are designed based on the understanding that every student learns differently. Students are given greater autonomy and choice in the learning process. Students are given tools to figure out what they know coming into a given unit or lesson, pathway choice in how to engage with content, and sometimes even choice in assessment method. Teachers learn how to create meaningful formative assessments, build optional pathways, and produce varied assessments.
Teach Courses That are Learner Driven
Teaching a personalized class is also new for many independent school teachers, so we give them support and coaching in this regard, too. They learn how to work with students on individual goal-setting and how to help students make the best pathway choices for themselves as learners. Our teachers are trained in how to help students learn how they learn.
As I reflect back on my history with One Schoolhouse, I have such wonderful memories of my work with colleagues, schools, students, and parents. It has been one of the joys of my life to be an educator and to work as both a board member and an employee of this great organization through the early years and into its maturity. I've made such good friends and developed some strong relationships with many of you, and as I look forward to my retirement, I want to share with you some final thoughts. I hope you will humor me as I offer a few parting suggestions and observations.
First of all, I believe with all my heart that schools owe it to their students to give them at least one opportunity to take an online class in high school. Almost every one of your students will encounter an online course in college, and what they can learn in terms of time management and self-advocacy will prepare them to be successful both in college and in a professional life in the future. What better way to prepare them for the future than to give them a safe place in which to learn and struggle and overcome and hone those important life skills?
In all of my time with One Schoolhouse, I have never met a student who couldn’t succeed in an online course. There is no question that an online course is different in some ways from a face-to-face course and can be more of a challenge to some than to others – but your students can all do it. I simply don't believe it when students say they can't learn online. It really isn't a matter of how they learn online - it more a matter of developing the responsibility of managing their own learning. They may need encouragement and support as they develop this responsibility, but the learning itself is really no different. It isn’t that students can’t learn online – they may not want to or may prefer a face-to-face presence or may struggle some with the differences, but any student can succeed.
I would also encourage you to be careful about overloading students with an online course as an “extra.” A good online course requires time and commitment and should be considered as an integral part of a student's educational program. So consider an online course as a part of your school’s curriculum. If you think it is as important as your students' other courses and treat it as such, so will your students.
And finally, as you enroll students in online courses or encourage colleagues to participate in online professional development, I would urge you to be a partner with One Schoolhouse, not a client or consumer. The One Schoolhouse faculty and staff members are amazing educators who care as much about the success of your students as you do. They do not see themselves as vendors, but instead as partners in providing quality educational opportunities for your students, teachers, and administrators. Give them the chance to work with you, not for you. I was so fortunate to partner with colleagues at schools around the country, and together we helped many a student deal with challenges, find tremendous success, and gain confidence in themselves.
I will forever value the friendships I've made with many of you and with my One Schoolhouse colleagues, and I wish all of you the very best.
With great fondness - Karen
I believe that every student learns differently.
Students learn at different paces. Students learn in different modalities. Students learn from different people.
Some students are introverts. Some are extroverts. Some learn through conversation. Some learn through reflection. Some learn through doing. Some learn through failure. Some learn from repetition. Most students learn in some combination of these ways.
As educators, we know this. Those of us in independent schools are lucky that we often have the resources, small classes and support to honor this understanding. And yet, even with these advantages, we can still get incredibly frustrated knowing that no matter how much we differentiate in our classrooms, it doesn’t seem to be “enough.” No matter how much we try project-based approaches, blended approaches, lecture approaches, discussion approaches — or whatever — it seems we can never reach some of our students. Is that because we are trying approaches from the wrong direction? Should we be approaching learning from the perspective of the student rather than the teacher?
Students know how they learn best — or can be given tools to help figure this out. And yet, the classroom — even a highly differentiated one — is designed by and led by the teacher. What if we changed this to a dynamic where the teacher designs the classroom, but the learning is driven by the students?
That new classroom dynamic will fit with what we know about a changing world: one in which information is abundant, but using that information — applying, analyzing and criticizing it, and experimenting, arguing, convincing and collaborating with, for and about it — is not easy. The role of the teacher changes from purveyor of knowledge to coach of deep learning.
This transition will not be easy for our students. Accustomed to a teacher-led classroom, some students (and their parents) will complain that we should “just tell them what they need to know.” Others will be confounded by choice or consumed by a desire to do everything, thinking they are cheating themselves if they do not go through every resource offered (even if they understand the concept well — “there must be something that I am missing out on”). A learner-driven dynamic is different for them.
Transitioning to a learner-driven classroom will not be easy for teachers either. There is a worry about “losing control” over the learning process. There is also (an often-unspoken) worry about the value of oneself as an educator if one’s role is not that of content expert. A learner-driven dynamic is different for them, too.
Nor will this transition be easy for our buildings and campus infrastructure. Many classrooms are designed for teacher-led work: organized towards the front of a room, with limited space for group work.
The transition to a learner-driven school will take resources. Students and their parents will need to understand new approaches, just as the school will need to actively communicate to prospective families why this approach is effective. Faculty will need extensive professional development, and schools may need to rethink administrative structures to support faculty members in new dynamics (likely away from departmental models). Moreover, building designs and redesigns will need to accommodate and project for this new dynamic. For a school to become learner-driven, the business officer must be a leader in the effort — and must want to be a leader in the effort.
As independent schools we promise (often in our mission statements) to develop a lifelong love of learning in students. We promise students and families that we know and value each child’s uniqueness. We have to ask ourselves the hard question of whether our current models for learning help us accomplish these promises. And, we have to be okay with the uncomfortable and messy answers that may come from asking this question.
This column originally appeared in Net Assets magazine, a publication of the National Business Officers Association.
Brad Rathgeber, Head of School & CEO