Remarks to Upper School 9-22-2014

Good morning. I am….  Some of you have seen me in your classrooms–if you’re not new, you may have seen me in your classes last year; any number of you may have noticed me in your classes this year.

As Dean of Faculty, I work with the teachers here to continually reflect on and improve our curriculum. To that end, this year, as you know, we have changed a few things. A couple of them are pretty significant things: We have changed time in terms of the schedule–and space. The new Walker classrooms are designed for more interactive, collaborative and flexible learning. My Hilltop, you might say, is a change to our virtual meeting spaces.

Two weeks into the year, you’re probably getting used to these changes. We have

Longer periods:

Schools have a long tradition of holding 40-50 minute classes. That’s because that is the perfect amount of time if the point if education is to transmit information. It’s just long enough to say hello, take attendance, check and collect homework, deliver the next lesson, and assign the next round of homework. Why did we make them longer?

To allow each of you to go deeper in your activities in classes. More time allows for some of the most essential elements of learning to take place–active listening, dialogue, practice and application. In the new schedule, there is more time for questioning, discussion, seminars, getting feedback on your work—and practicing giving others feedback on their work. You have opportunities to apply new concepts while your teacher is there to answer questions, engage in discussion, and often to learn with you–for when we are grappling with genuine questions, we are all learners.

And the cooperative/collaborative learning period is new.

Cooperative/Collaborative Learning Period:

Those of you who are not new are used to a period we used to call “extra help.” In this new model, if you need “extra help” you can get it during the collaborative/cooperative learning period. But let’s analyze that phrase—“extra help”— for a minute. Both words imply that you need to be “fixed.” The term implies that there are those who “got it” right away, and then there are those who need “help.” Even worse, you don’t just need help, you need “extra” help. But somehow enough of us needed extra help that we held it for the whole school four times each week!   That’s because it’s not really extra or help. It’s just learning. Learning is a process. It’s messy, and it looks different for every person. And it is much more complex than showing up once to be taught, and if that didn’t work or wasn’t enough, showing up an “extra” time for the teacher to fix you.

Learning requires brain-play.

Sometimes you have a question for the teacher. Sometimes you just need to talk it through again or think it through for yourself—getting confirmation from your peers or from your teacher.

Sometimes you can work with your peers, or do some research.

There are many ways you can answer your questions, deepen your learning, and extend your knowledge.

Extra help (and it’s even more dire companion “mandatory extra help“) implies that there was one way. That you go to your teacher for “help.”   Sometimes we do need to be rescued, but often we can help ourselves. That what the cooperative/collaborative period is for–for you to be in charge of your own learning. You know—usually better than anyone else–what you need. Sometimes you need a boost –so when something is radically new or particularly difficult, you might seek extra help. You may reach a point where you are asked to get mandatory extra help from your teacher. In those cases you should set up an appointment with your teacher. That can happen during CCP. But most of the time, no one knows better than you what you need.

Why I keep popping into your classrooms.

As the Dean of Faculty, I collaborate with our teachers to continually develop curriculum. Teaching is really only a more sophisticated form of learning, and both teaching and learning are processes. We are, as individuals and as a group, continually getting better at both. Here at WA, we ask you to be in ongoing dialogue with each other and with your teachers, and the teachers are in ongoing dialogue with each other and with their administrators, the deans, the counselors. We are all here for one reason: to support teachers and students in their teaching and learning. So you will see me, Mrs. Peterleitner, new faculty, veteran faculty, all coming in and out of classrooms to observe the learning so we can remain in dialogue with each other around how kids learn best and how we can all continue to learn.

And of course, we are eager always to remain in dialogue with you about what is working and what is not. I’m on the 2nd floor of Walker, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, your feedback, and your ideas.   We are a school—teaching and learning is our whole identity and reason to exist. So we should all be engaged in dialogue–with our peers, with our friends, with our mentors–about how people learn.