No area of our twenty-first century world is more dynamic than education. Globalization is rapidly transforming the world our children will inherit, and information technology is revolutionizing the way we learn about it. Harvard once boasted the largest academic library in the world – 10 million volumes. Today, middle schoolers have access to more information on the desktop in their bedrooms. Researchers learn more every day about the human mind, how knowledge is acquired, and how student brains learn. In most elementary and middle schools, today’s learning looks nothing like it did a generation ago.
Yet many high schools today appear to be stuck in a time warp. The mode of teaching has changed little, because information-heavy survey courses require teachers to continue using traditional methods. Even the content of the courses is largely unchanged, implying that little of consequence has happened in the last few decades. U.S. History teachers once struggled to reach the 1960s before the May exam; today, they must move a little faster to work in a week on the 70s, 80s, and 90s – and a word about September 11.
“Students are at the top of our organizational chart. What we do is tailored to our kids, not a standardized test."
Faculty and administrators at ICG schools take pride in designing the best possible program for their own students. “Students are at the top of our organizational chart. What we do is tailored to our kids, not a standardized test,” said Dick Heath of Sandia Preparatory School. “Our teachers use all of their energy to design courses that work for everybody – not just the students who are interested or the ones who do well, but every student,” said a student from Carolina Friends School.
An engaged faculty, which constantly defines and re-defines the educational practices of the school, has more ownership of the school program than is possible with an off-the-shelf curriculum. The work is harder for teachers, but the best of them thrive on it. “It is crucial that our students see faculty members modeling lifelong learning. We set a powerful example when we show our curiosity. And we keep ourselves alive and vibrant,“ said Mike Hanas of Carolina Friends School.
Most schools operate on two tracks: the honors or AP track, and the “regular,” less rigorous track. ICG schools relish the challenges, and benefits, of teaching students with diverse talents in the same class. “Kids need to learn from others who don’t think as they do,” said Lee Zanger of The White Mountain School. “If you get a bunch of advanced science students together, they all think alike. But if you add a couple of artists, the dynamic totally changes.”
“Kids need to learn from others who don’t think like them. If you get bunch of advanced science students together, they all think the same. But if you add a couple of artists, the dynamic totally changes.”
Without a curriculum set in stone, schools have more ability to focus on the needs of individual learners. Part of the equation is helping students better understand themselves. “I love helping to teach kids how they learn and to understand their own strengths and weaknesses,” said Justine Lewis of Redwood Day School. “There are so many kinds of learners. We make sure that every student has a place to shine.”
Independence from standardized testing keeps an entire faculty focused on its mission and its students. “If you work here, you have two jobs,” said Rob Connor of Beaver County Day School. “One is teaching your class, but you also engage in the process of making education better. You need to think institutionally and developmentally.”
The Independent Curriculum Group is delighted to announce that Peter Gow has joined the organization as Associate Director. Peter has spent the past 33 years at Beaver Country Day School, where he has served as English teacher, History Department Chair, Academic Dean, and most recently, Director of College Counseling. He previously worked at The Gow School, The Fessenden School, and Providence Country Day School.
The Episcopal School of Dallas will host “Fostering a Culture of Conversation: Students, Parents, Colleagues” on Monday, January 7 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The program will explore the ways in which schools can use conversation as a powerful tool to create community, broaden horizons, resolve conflicts, challenge conventional thinking, and hone vital skills in collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. A call for proposals is now open.
ICG members and friends are urged to check out this year’s slate of summer offerings from the Center for Innovative Teaching (CIT), sponsored by The Urban School of San Francisco, an ICG Founding School. Sessions will be hosted by the Urban School (June 18-22) and The Chapin School in New York City (August 13-17).