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.
As educators, we have two seasons for rejuvenation. The summer offers us a chance for deep-reflection. And, the New Year offers a chance to re-commit to and reformulate intentions for the remainder of the school year.
Last year, I wrote that my resolution was to honor the understanding that every student learns differently. I’m still working on that resolution. So, this year, I asked a few friends from the One Schoolhouse consortium to share resolutions that either they have for the coming year or that educators generally should consider for resolutions.
I have two resolutions for the New Year for educators to consider. First, to incorporate more mindfulness strategies and physical activities for students and yourself in your classes (e.g., have Upper and Middle School students stand and take notes, create more learning centers in your classroom). Second, to find joy in your work, even in the hard moments.
– Terrie Hale Scheckelhoff, Head of School, St. Catherine’s School (Richmond, VA)
Amidst all the talk of big initiatives and bold thinking, let us not forget to value the most important thing in every school: the close and caring relationships that highly successful teachers create with students and their families. My resolution is to write a thank you note to a teacher every week to express gratitude for their work with students. Without great teachers, not one of even the most innovative or forward thinking education initiatives will ever succeed. – Rand Harrington, Head of School, Kent-Denver School (Englewood, CO)
There are two New Year’s resolutions on my list.: 1) To help us establish a new context for thinking about student learning and the student experience. 2) To support a more thorough and practical understanding among teachers and administrators of emerging competencies in order to foster educational experiences that are learner-driven, process-oriented, relevant, and catalytic.”
– Bob Bryan, Associate Head of School, Viewpoint School (Calabasas, CA)
I have two resolutions to consider: Don't be afraid of failure. At Lincoln School, we embrace iterative learning and encourage our students to dig into trial and error. Society often pressures girls to be perfect, but there’s no such thing: the process is as important as the result because in life there is rarely just one answer. In the coming year, we are committed to keeping our Quaker values of peace, equity, and inclusion at top of mind as we educate girls and young women to be our society's future innovators, pioneers, and leaders.
– Suzanne Fogarty, Head of School, Lincoln School (Providence, RI)
Thank you to some of our consortium partners for their wise words. Here’s to 2017. What’s your resolution?
A central promise that independent schools make to families is: we know your child. For generations, we have made this promise to parents and students, demonstrating this in our programs and in our messaging. And, for some time, schools have developed a “short hand” way to communicate this promise to families: publishing their student to faculty ratios on their websites and in their viewbooks.
It is time to stop publishing those ratios. These ratios hamstring you financially and academically; and, it isn’t the right message for parents that you are trying to reach.
On the financial side, faculty and staff expenditures account for 60-70 percent of a school’s operating budget (or 40-50 percent for boarding schools). The percentage of school expense put towards faculty and staff costs has increased over the last number of years, as we have hired more staff school wide (from development to technology to teaching faculty). Additional staffing is a primary driver for tuitions so greatly outpacing the rate of inflation. This is an unsustainable practice in the industry.
On the academic side, class size is not necessarily a meaningful academic marker as many assume. A Brookings Institution report from 2011 summed up the research on class size: "The academic effects [of decreased class size] seem to be largest when introduced in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds. They may also be largest in classrooms of teachers who are less well prepared and effective in the classroom” (Brookings, May 2011). Different class make-ups (and thus different class sizes) could be beneficial to student learning. For example, a school may decide to have a lecture-style class to prepare students for that type of experience in college. A school may use a co-teaching model with a larger than normal class in order to promote project-based learning. Or, a school may move to a personalized or blended learning model, in which case both a ratio of students to teachers and the look and feel of a classroom will be different.
Focus on class size is also not the right marketing angle to attract millennial parents. Millennials seek customization and personalization experiences for themselves and their children. A recent Harvard Business Review article about marketing to millennials notes a change in company strategy: "This strategy required a highly personalized marketing plan that delivered custom experiences by speaking to shoppers on an individual level, rather than addressing broad demographics” (HBR, March 2016). So, marketing from an individual perspective, rather than a group perspective is key. Student to faculty ratios speak to the size of a group… rather than the unique experience of the individual. Better to speak to the custom experience afforded to each student than the group of students of which a student will be a part.
How is this done? Consider this marketing video from Acton Academy, an independent school in Austin, Texas (with branches popping up around the country). Think about the language used in this video: lots of “I” statements from the students denoting the individualization of student work; talk about their individual journey; and emphasis on student choice. All of these messages fit with what we know about successful marketing to millennial students and their parents. Not once is “class size” mentioned on their website or in the video. And, in fact, their “class size” is larger than most independent schools, in part because their educational model allows for larger groups of students and greater customization.
The Acton example does not speak to everyone, nor to every school. But, it does give us ideas and language that effectively speaks to today’s families. And, it does so in a way that does not cause challenge to our finances or academics.
A version of this post originally appeared on Cheney & Company's blog.
Brad Rathgeber, Executive Director