Last month, I wrote about One Schoolhouse’s pedagogical innovation of personalized student courses. This month, I'm expanding that conversation to discuss personalizing professional development both for faculty members who teach our One Schoolhouse courses and for courses that we run for faculty and staff at independent schools. At One Schoolhouse, we understand that all students learn differently -- and this includes adult learners.
For our own faculty, we are personalizing their future development. To do this, we are eschewing the idea of a faculty theme and instead working with faculty members on their individual goals and school-wide objectives. Corinne Dedini wrote about this recently here. Each faculty member will have unique goals and unique learning plans (including specialized training) to further their development towards school faculty competencies. This last part is key... many independent schools incorporate faculty goal setting and planning into their professional development processes. Yet, many do not ensure that those goals and plans align directly to school wide goals for teaching and learning. Ours do.
By the end of this year, all of our professional development courses will be personalized. In those courses and programs, participants will have choice in how they check their understanding of topics covered and apply their knowledge to real-world situations in variety of ways. And, these courses also have gamification elements, including badging. Early results of this work are promising: active engagement in courses with badging is up almost 50% in professional development courses.
We encourage faculty to experience the difference in taking a personalized professional development course themselves in a few courses that start soon: Building Leadership in Boys Schools, Budget Meets Mission (Essentials of Business Operations for Non-Business Officers), and Long-Range Financial Planning.
As we begin the 2016-17 school year this week, I think it is a good time to reflect on our goal of personalizing the learning experience for every student at One Schoolhouse. Three years ago, we made the decision to create a personalized educational experience for students in classes at One Schoolhouse. Corinne Dedini, Director of Academics, and Karen Douse, Director of Student & School Support, started our incredible faculty on a three year journey to define personalized learning in an independent school context, and to implement personalized approaches in our classrooms: in 2013-2014, our faculty focus was on building student-teacher relationships in the online space; in 2014-2015, the focus was on assessments as and for learning; and in 2015-2016, the focus was on empowering students to have greater agency in their learning.
Our faculty and academic team have been doing amazing work to personalize the student experience -- to the point where we are thrilled to say that we are the first independent school with personalized student courses. We have come to understand that personalization means honoring how each student learns.
How do we do personalize approaches for students? In three words: choice, check, apply. Students in One Schoolhouse courses have pathway choice in how they access content and try new skills. They can choose to watch a video, try a problem set, read a book, or try some combination of options in order to gain primary understanding of course materials. They then check their understanding of materials through a range of formative assessments. And, then they apply that understanding to complex challenges and real-world situations. Check out this video that shows how we introduce students to personalized learning in their classes.
Where do we go from here? We help our faculty build greater capacity by personalizing professional development for them! I'll write about that work soon.
Faculty professional development is a critical cog in the wheel of annual school initiatives. We send cohorts of teachers off to AP training or the Stanley King Counseling Institute; we bring in a consultant to revamp our schedule and teach us how to teach in the new block rotation; we read a book on brain-based learning and report back monthly on how it’s changing our class routine. But the proverbial wheel only has so many cogs, and every wheel’s cogs are different. That’s why we’re giving up the faculty theme at One Schoolhouse this year.
Our three-year buildup to the personalization of our pedagogy was done on the annual faculty theme model – starting with the student-teacher relationship, then formative assessment, and finally student agency. But now that we know what we know about personalized learning, I sure would do it differently. You see, each one of us has different strengths—what Robert Brooks calls our islands of competence—and different growth goals. These starting points, unique to each teacher, are antithetical to the annual theme approach to school-wide professional development. One-size-fits-most PD is also the opposite of what we believe about learning: namely, that it should be personalized to the learner’s strengths and goals. So now we walk our talk. What does it mean to personalize professional learning for teachers?
We start with establishing the baseline expectations for course design/delivery and teacher competencies, clearly communicated in an open-ended rubric format so that teachers can both evaluate whether they meet baseline expectations and set a trajectory for their growth over the summer course refresh and the yearlong course facilitation. We give teachers time and space—including access to resources and one-on-one support—to reflect, reimagine, and redesign. As they refresh and then deliver their courses, they share milestones, measure progress, and process through challenges—all at the pace and scope that we agreed to when we set their personal plan for the year. Because the professional learning experience is designed backwards from what the teachers need and choose to do to improve their courses, they are energized by the efficiency and relevance of the model. And guess what? The wheels are spinning smoothly!
Schools often ask the question, “How do we finance online learning?” I often think back to the ways I thought about this question during my time as Associate Head of School for Finance and Operations at Atlanta Girls' School.
As you can imagine, there is not one specific answer that fits every independent school, but there is a starting point for the conversation. Like any budget discussion, it is a matter of choice. The choice involves setting priorities on how to allocate available resources to fund programs in alignment with the school’s mission. The process for answering the question about financing online learning is no different than funding any other aspect of a school’s program: “How do I fund a new maker space?’ “How do I fund a new gym?” “ How do I fund STEAM initiatives?”
Schools may face a number of challenges in the budgeting process: demand to expand the curriculum, staffing classes with few enrollments, scheduling constraints, need to reduce FTE’s, and human resource challenges (often prompted by our inclination to ask teachers to continue to do more and more and more). Whatever the drivers, we find that there is an opportunity to meet mission and budget objectives through using online courses as a supplemental AND strategic part of delivering student programs at independent schools.
Program Expansion: Independent school parents and students demand more courses and programs on an annual basis. As demand for courses (think increased Computer Science strands or new languages) have accelerated, schools have been challenged with not only providing the courses, but also to do so in a cost-effective way. What is the choice at hand? Do we try to find a Computer Science teacher or a new language teacher to start a program (at a cost of $60,000-80,000, dependent on market) or do we build the program or jump start a program through supplemental online options (at a per student cost that is much lower)? Starting a program online may solve two issues schools face when expanding a program. First, online partners have access to hire an experienced teacher from anywhere -- and take the challenge of hiring a specialized faculty member away from the school. Second engaging an online partner allows the school to pay for courses as the program builds and the student enrollment increases. Schools have found program expansion in this manner to be not only lower cost, but also lower risk.
Small Enrollment Classes: The need to offer certain classes to challenge the most gifted students at our schools is always going to be a need and a challenge. What is the choice? Do we continue to offer the most advanced courses in areas such as math and accept the fact that the per student teaching cost for these classes is going to be off the charts? Or could we enroll our handful of students taking an advance math course, such as Multivariable Calculus, in an online learning environment. This would allow students to experience an online class before college, learn with and from other top math students from around the country, and free up faculty to teach and reach more students within the standard curriculum and sequence. We will always need to fund small classes to meet our mission. Again, the question is there a way to do this differently?
Reduce FTE’s: This is a sensitive one because as soon as online learning is mentioned at a school it immediately elicits fear among pockets of the faculty. If we engage in online learning is this going to mean having fewer faculty? Given that 60-70% of independent day schools' costs are in their FTE's, the answer for many schools trying to create a different financial model, will almost certainly be "yes," whether engaging with an online partner or not. And, yes, using online learning strategically may mean fewer faculty in the long run. How many faculty are we actually talking about, maybe a few? But, if an average faculty member costs a school $70,000 per year (including benefits) and we were able to reduce faculty by four or $280,000 per year, what other opportunities might we be able to provide for students, including those online?
We know that online learning may not be a part of the strategic answer to some of your questions, but we believe that engaging in the questions you will have clarity in the financing choices that you are making.
Creating Flexible Learning Programs for Students – How One Schoolhouse helps schools work with students with special circumstances
Do you have a student who is trying out for elite competitions or even the Olympics? How about a student with once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study abroad while in high school? Are you trying to meet the needs of a student who desperately wants to stay in school but is battling an extended illness? Are you advising a student who is moving with her or his family to another city for a year of high school, but plans on coming back or graduating after that?
Often independent schools have students who, for whatever reason, cannot work within the traditional school schedule and calendar. Over the years, we have worked with many such students and their schools to help those students remain a part of your school communities. One Schoolhouse’s supplementary program is a great option for students who are taking a leave from your school for a year but want to stay on track to graduate with their class at your school and for students who can’t be at school all day every day but want to stay enrolled in your school.
How does it work? The student needs a reliably strong internet signal and approximately eight hours per week to do asynchronous coursework. One Schoolhouse is fully accredited and appropriate courses are approved by the College Board, NCAA, and University of California, so their transcripts will not suffer while they pursue a passion, build a resume, take care of a health concern, or collect passport stamps. Moreover, our teachers are committed to student success and will work with them to juggle their travel commitments without falling behind in their online class(es). They are still your students – we just help them meet your graduation requirements as you and they navigate extenuating circumstances.
We thought that it would be helpful to let you meet some students who have leveraged online classes to stay in sync with their face-to-face schools (note: the examples are real, but we have provided pseudonyms).
Consider Ester. Ester was a nationally ranked equestrian. Competitions kept her on the road for days every month. She could keep up with her school’s coursework in some subjects, but the schedule for taking all of her classes at her home school just wasn’t manageable for Ester. The flexibility of her One Schoolhouse AP Statistics and AP Art History classes allowed her to earn college credits in these courses while she trained and competed all over the country.
Or Ingrid. One of the top ice dancers in the world, Ingrid needed a science class that would offer her the flexibility to accommodate an intensive practice schedule and travel to competitions around the world. One Schoolhouse's AP Environmental Science worked perfectly for her.
Susanna spent her senior year in Marrakesh, Morocco on an Arabic immersion year abroad through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, teaching English and taking Arabic classes. She successfully received credit for two online AP classes that allowed her to graduate on time with her classmates.
Next let’s meet Lin. Lin was a boarding school student whose physical health prevented her from finishing the school year at her school. Just because she was sick didn’t mean she didn’t aspire to start college on time. One Schoolhouse worked with Lin's school to offer four courses that met the school's requirements. This offered Lin the opportunity to complete her sophomore year while recovering at home.
Natalia, a world class ballerina, was offered the opportunity to pursue a professional ballet career in lieu of her senior year, but needed two credits to graduate from her home school. One Schoolhouse worked with Natalia's school to develop a post-AP English class just for her, and that class along with AP Psychology allowed her to graduate on time with her classmates along with fulfilling her dream of dancing with a professional company. (An aside that her English teacher was in attendance at one of Natalia's performances in the Nutcracker!)
Gillian, another ballerina, danced with a local professional ballet company every afternoon. Because of her challenging rehearsal and performance schedule, she could only schedule four classes during the morning at her school. Gillian successfully engaged in four different One Schoolhouse classes during her junior and senior years that allowed her to graduate on time with her classmates.
Interested in learning more? Give me a call or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad Rathgeber, Executive Director