Over the last ten years, we’ve come to the understanding that online learning is part of the college preparatory experience — something that our students have to be guided and led into like so many other experiences while they are in high school. In 2017, 33.1% of college students took at least one online course, and that percentage continues to grow steadily. Online learning isn’t at the fringes anymore; it’s built in to the college experience.
For most of our students, their online course with One Schoolhouse is their first online course. So, in the same way all educators support new experiences, we put structures and safeguards in place for support. Most importantly, we’re intentional about the on-boarding process. One key to building success has been to engage our students in a deep goal-setting process that creates regular reflection on the metacognition of learning.
We’ve all experienced futile goal-setting exercises and we have prodded advisees through the goal-setting process. (Actually, let’s be honest: we’ve bribed them with donuts.) Even as we plod through those moments, we know we’re not reaching the goal of goal-setting! Goal setting needs to be authentic and engaging to each learner, so One Schoolhouse students begin by creating their own learning profile plan and understanding growth mindset. What makes goal setting meaningful is the usefulness and effectiveness of the accompanying plan to achieve the goals. MIT does a good job of giving us framework in the SMART goals approach, which we adapt here at One Schoolhouse as part of our quarterly goals and reflection cycle with students. We also integrate Jordan Peterson’s research that shows the powerful link between motivation and achievement, and promotes a goal-driven approach to motivation.
Setting goals and devising a plan to achieve them motivates students because the exercise helps them envision how they want to show up in the class and how they plan to tackle challenges. In essence, the students’ goals become the primary metric for their growth We begin the year with SMART goals, and establish a routine for reflection. Teachers invite students into metacognitive reflection, asking them to reflect not only on their own growth and success, but also on the process of learning: Was the unit inspiring? Did they make the best choices? What do they want to do differently? Finding the right balance between goal-setting and reflection is essential. When goals boost motivation, we’ve gained traction.
Reflection and goals are also embedded in our formal quarterly student report cards. Teachers report on the student’s progress towards her goals and often include the student’s own reflections in the narrative comment itself. It also helps teachers write authentic, meaningful comments. The benefits? We get to reinforce that we take our students’ goals and progress seriously as an institution, and parents love the comments they receive from our teachers. Comments bring the goal-setting cycle full circle--we celebrate achievements, honor growth, and build essential skills.
As every school administrator knows, August can bring surprises. There are surprises that are minor and relatively easy to handle: the student who discovers a new passion over the summer and wants to change some courses; or the student whose schedule needs fixing because they’ve been double-booked for the same class period. And then there are those surprises can become full blown emergencies pretty quickly: the teacher who needs time off to handle a health crisis or decides not to honor their contract; or the student whose life is upended by a family move or a new opportunity. In either minor or major situations, we’ve found that online learning can solve unique challenges that arise for schools.
Let me share a few recent cases, both minor and major:
In any of these cases, the relationship with the school was key. The schools wanted to solve the challenges and retain these high achieving students, and we gave them an opportunity to do so, because they trusted that these students would receive a high quality education online.
For a deeper dive, check out these case studies, partner profiles and past blogs:
Crucial Conversations When Online Learning is The Right - But Maybe Not the Popular - Solution to a Problem
We love to brainstorm solutions to sticky problems in schools. Sometimes One Schoolhouse can be part of the solution. Even when we don’t have the answer, our collective experience in a range of schools makes us a solid sounding board when a partner needs to work through options with a trusted colleague. Because there is a human element to every change, it is often useful to have someone who isn’t connected to the personalities involved to process options and outcomes.
So who are the constituent groups and how do you handle conversations when the solution includes putting students into online courses? Let’s be honest: A lot of people have negative preconceptions about online classes. Families may perceive that they are impersonal or aren’t rigorous; teachers worry they will change or take away their jobs; administrators think it may be another thing to manage. Let’s assume these concerns are the starting points for conversations, and diffuse anxiety by addressing them head-on.
Families: Most families choose independent schools for two primary reasons: college readiness and personal relationships. Sharing our college list along with anecdotes about how online learning promotes college preparedness by increasing academic maturity can help alleviate concern around rigor. So does describing the One Schoolhouse faculty, most of whom teach in top independent schools around the country and hold advanced degrees in their fields. Our faculty have the same goals that your faculty have: to understand the goals and needs of every student and to help every student find success.
Primary communications goal: Convey that online learning is an essential piece of a college prep education and One Schoolhouse is your trusted partner because we share your independent school values.
Teachers: Independent school teachers care deeply about their subjects and their students. In this moment of accelerating change, some are less inclined to adopt new innovations or are even fearful. Obstacles arise because teachers worry that new pedagogical or curricular initiatives will subjugate content and one-on-one time with students, or because they worry that the online option will eliminate their position or that of a dear colleague. Transparent communication about the school’s decision-making process reduces fear, which often surfaces because teachers don’t have the information that they need to understand what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Primary goal: Don’t be afraid to make your thinking visible to teachers as you process challenges - it prevents the toxic behavior of assuming the worst.
Administrators: No school administrator needs one more thing to manage, we can’t build a different school to address every single parent complaint, and we all want our school to be fully enrolled. Circumstances such as these conspire to back us into a corner. Here are a few real examples from when I worked in face-to-face schools. There were moments we lost students for all sorts of reasons that were largely out of our control, but that could have been resolved with One Schoolhouse’s help:
One Schoolhouse isn’t always the right solution to every problem. But we can help you think about how to handle course issues, especially those involving sensitive relationships or high financial stakes. We’ve seen communication go smoothly; we’ve also seen moments where you’d give anything for a do-over, and we’ve learned a lot about what makes the difference. Bottom line: when you’re preparing for crucial conversations around online learning, make us your first call.
There is general acknowledgement across our industry that we have to continue to hire more people in our schools. We can look back almost twenty years to 2000-2001, when schools had 5.5 students for every one full time equivalent employee. Today, it’s 4.5 to one. Back in 2000-2001, there were 9 students to every one FTE teacher. Today, it’s 8 to one. The assumption has been that our schools have added more employees in administrative positions, not teaching positions in the last twenty years. That was true in the 1990s, but it hasn’t been the casein recent years. We’ve added teachers, and often we’ve added teachers to teach smaller numbers of students.
As our partnerships with schools deepened, we learned that online education provided an innovative opportunity for schools to add programs: per student rather than per faculty. This allowed schools to increase opportunities in more cost-effective ways and without making huge up-front investments in either spaces or people. also provided an opportunity to shift low-enrollment courses online to reduce costs without sacrificing the breadth and depth of their offerings.
Consider this program expansion scenario from one of our schools. This girls’ school in a tight market was looking to increase STEM opportunities for students, and considered two paths: traditional staffing (Option #1) or an online partnerships (Option #2). They chose Option #2 to allow for greater depth to their program at a lower annual cost and no capital expenditures.
Ten years ago, there was a lot of thought in the independent school world that online learning could be used to create new revenue. Those predictions have not come true. More importantly, however, independent schools can use online education to manage expenses, by adding value and increasing opportunities without having to add staff.
For a deeper dive, explore some past blog posts or check out the professional development courses offered in partnership with the National Business Officers Association:
As teachers, we all have our own flavor of innovation, and we leave for summer with ideas (or, if you’re like me, a stack of haphazard notes in a drawer) to revamp our courses for next year. Sometimes there are new tools we’ve heard about that we want to test out, and sometimes we have a new course to design. Whatever the motivator, teachers are lifelong learners and we seek to grow professionally. I’ve noticed two essential ingredients that are necessary for this growth. First, teachers need time and space for expansive reflection. Second, they need a structure to guide the process of designing for a reimagined learning experience. Here’s how we’ve taken these challenges on.
Meredith Mikell, One Schoolhouse Astronomy and Marine Science teacher, has to refuel each summer because, in her words, she teaches “intellectual recklessness.” Concerned that so many good science students have a fixed mindset, Meredith spends her summers pursuing her own passions - including attending the annual Star Trek convention! - so that she can shift the learning paradigm for her students. By designing activities that allow for creative application, Meredith’s projects allow students to “discover” basic science principles. For example, the null hypothesis is a notoriously tedious topic to teach because it is so abstract. But Meredith’s Astronomy students uncover its true meaning when they are asked to determine whether their teacher is actually an alien. Far from the rote experimental design question, this crazy origin story inquiry pushes students to the brink of what science can answer, and therein lies the lesson. (Her home planet is earth, in case you are wondering). If Meredith didn’t take her own growth and rejuvenation seriously, she could never conceive of the wild ideas that promote brave discovery in her classes. Even if you have to leave this galaxy to clear your mind, make this part of your professional growth; protect it like your students’ learning depends on it--because it does.
Structure to Guide Design
Given the frenetic pace of the school year, summer is the only time when teachers have time to think. This is why we believe that the best formula for teacher growth is summer planning. Here’s an outline of what transformative summer professional development might look like:
Improve your practice this summer and register for upcoming professional development at One Schoolhouse - courses start July 15, 2019.
Building Leadership in Schools for Boys
Introduction to Boys' Schools
Introduction to Girls' Schools
Introduction to Independent Schools
Mastery Practice in Teaching Boys
Brad Rathgeber, Head of School & CEO