Trying to Make Sense of a Senseless Summer

brown_rawlingsAt our recent Parent Nights, I projected this picture on a screen. While it might seem an unusual picture with which to welcome parents back to a new school year, the summer we just experienced was anything but usual. Woven with the joyful moments of relaxation we enjoyed were disorienting and disturbing images of violence, divisiveness, and incivility.  Our city experienced this firsthand, and Chief Brown and Mayor Rawlings leadership in the wake of the July 7 shooting contributed to my reflections on the turbulent three months gone by.

The summer’s events compelled me to speak to the home/school partnership. In particular, how we cooperate to guide young people in our community to be “bold leaders prepared to impact our complex global society.” This phrase from our mission statement– “complex global society” – has been on vivid display in the 90 days since school released for the summer in May.

MissionStatement_finalTwo other words from the phrase – “bold leaders” – explain my picture choice. As a student of leadership and a citizen of this city, I watched with interest and admiration the police chief and mayor in the wake of last month’s shootings.  I was impressed to see these two men – one black, one white; one a fourth generation Texan, the other born and educated in the northeast; one a career public servant and law officer, the other a career businessman turned local politician –  transcend these evident differences and lead.  In the midst of harrowing violence and loss, they projected assurance, other-centeredness, and hope for a better tomorrow.

But the “bold leader” phrase from our mission statement and the example of these civic leaders also begs the question: from where do such leaders come? What type of parenting and school culture consistently yield individuals with the intelligence, skill set, and disposition we associate with credible adults whom others follow willingly?

These are certainly questions too big to address in a blog post – they form the basis for excellent leadership courses. But as a father and an educator, this summer left me feeling powerless.  I wondered what was within my reach to influence amidst this seemingly endless news stream communicating unspeakable hatred, puzzling justice, random violence, and vitriolic politicking.

Among other things, I want my sons and the students who graduate from Parish to live and lead with a boundless spirit, unencumbered by fear; I want them to modulate ambition and empathy; I want them to be guides to the middle ground where solutions, compromise, and steady – if at times deliberate – progress is made.

I knew I could ensure intentional programming exists to build such disposition in students. Our ParishLeads framework – woven through advisory, homerooms, experiential trips, and our daily chapel – contributes to it.  Our intentional work around diversity and inclusion, led by our Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Tyneeta Canonge, develops our skills in this regard. As the November election approaches, we will intentionally engage our students across each division in activities and discussions to heighten their awareness of our civic responsibility to be an informed and passionate electorate. We will also teach and model civil discourse and celebrate it as one of the most cherished and honorable characteristics of our unique democracy.

familymatters1But I’d propose there are two additional things we can do together, home and school. I would like to suggest we have the power in this milieu of uncertainty to make a shared contribution.  And I would like to think what it requires of us is not that difficult.

First, we can promote awareness.   An understandable tendency in the face of what we’ve experienced would be to shield our kids from it.   In most cases, the blessings of our resources afford us the opportunity to stay comfortably tucked in our enclaves insulated from the messiness of our world. When you travel – locally or globally – move off the beaten path.  Help your children understand what a food desert is; drive them to South Dallas and wonder with them what it might feel to live at great distances from a supermarket. Put challenging issues before them at a level appropriate to their age. Text them editorials on contrary sides of an issue; share informative video clips. Discuss all of this at dinner. Do what you can to help you children become aware that they are part of a larger, complex global community – not above it, apart from it, or absolved of responsibility for it.

Finally, remember this.

Love beats back fear every time.

Not the overprotective, shielding, and indulging kind, but the type of love that – with consistent application by parents and caring adults like us – research has proven produces the well-adjusted, resilient, hopeful, and capable adults our complex global society needs. Author and psychologist Robert Evans has provided perhaps the most cogent compilation of this thinking in his framework of nurture, latitude, and structure. I think Parish provides just this type of love for our students. When we regathered in August following this complicated summer, I asked our faculty and staff to recommit to offering our students boundless doses of love. I hope parents will take account of how their home environment features nurture, structure, and latitude.

In the end, as a dad and a school leader I’ve determined there is indeed something I can do. I can help shape the next generation of Mayor Rawlings and Chief Browns. Young people who become adults possessing a civic awareness and aptitude both in mind and heart.

In my August post, I cited Reimagine Parish, our plan to provide boundless opportunities for learners featuring greater personalization and student engagement. As much as our program continues to evolve, though, one commitment will remain.  We will be a school where, no matter how dark the world may seem at the moment, no matter how predominate the constraints and limitations of incivility, ideological thinking, and divisiveness may be, kids will feel loved. They will know we walk through this complex world with them, committed to equip them with the skills and character they need to make it better.

A New Year, A Unique Path

An exciting year lies before us. In the Monaco household, this is especially so as we face transitions of significance for two of our boys.  T.C. ’16, of course, is off to college; we leave him in College Station at Texas A & M later this month. Meanwhile Robert ’20, begins his journey through the Upper School in just a few weeks.

As a parent, we face junctures like this in the lives of our children with a range of emotions: pride, disbelief, sadness, wonder and a dash of anxiety. For me, I would cite wonder as my prevailing state of mind. What life-shaping experiences will these two men have in the next four years? Which people will enter their lives and leave an indelible impact on the men they will become? Our life narratives are unique: how transformational will this next four year chapter be on T.C. and Robert’s life stories?

If a quarter century in the school business has taught me anything, though, accurately answering questions like these is nearly impossible. That’s the magic of it all: watching our kids forge their unique paths.

Still, whether your experience is – like Mollie and mine – crossing the threshold of a significant academic transition with your child or, as is our case with Sam ’23, readying to begin another year, we arrive at the first day of school with a sense of hope and wonder. We want our children to have every opportunity their God-given intelligence and hard-earned effort can afford them. We aspire for them to experience life unbounded, flush with limitless options and opportunities.

Such aspirations, while well-intended, can present problems. Our hopeful aspirations, if we are not careful, can become – in the minds of our children – a set of unending and seemingly unattainable expectations.

LoveThatBoy_quoteRon Fournier’s Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About A Parent’s Expectations, a touching memoir about his experience parenting a son with Asperger’s syndrome, captures this parental dilemma perfectly.

The source of our dilemma, most often, is that our expectations emerge not from a fair and true assessment of our child’s unique skills, interests and gifts, but rather from the backdrop of what society (read: the media; our friends; other “experts”) paints as “successful,” “exceptional” or “above average.”

EndOfAverage_quoteOne of the most compelling books I have read in a long time, Todd Rose’s The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness, seeks to disabuse us of our tendency to fixate on how we or our children compare to the group. In it, Rose details the emergence of the exciting and relatively new interdisciplinary “science of the individual,” which centers on one big idea: “individuality matters.” Ability, talent and intelligence, Rose argues, are “jagged” (not one-dimensional), manifest differently depending on the situation, and emerge on a pathway and timeline unique to the individual.

We are wise to consider the implications of Rose’s premise as we ponder our children’s futures. What we know about the “complex global society” referred to in our mission statement is that the pace of change is fast, its rate constant, and its orientation directed to personalization and customization. The world of work is just one example. According to Cathy Davidson with MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, 65 percent of today’s students will end up in jobs that have yet to be created: Big Data Doctor, Meme Agent and Microbial Balancer, to name just a few. Indeed, the possibilities in the emerging “gig economy” of today – where one fits his or her unique skills to needs in the marketplace for a short period of time – seem limitless.

Increasingly, we are coming to understand that the path to a life of meaning, fulfillment and success in this complex world is rapidly becoming less linear or formulaic. In recognition of this reality – and our belief that each of the approximately 1100 students soon to start the new school year are gifted by God distinctly and uniquely – we are deep in the process of our Reimagine School vision for Parish. The core principles guiding our Reimagine effort, which is on track for full implementation by fall 2019 but being beta-tested and planned for even today, reflect our awareness of individuality.

  • Honor student voice and choice in learning;
  • Meet students where they are and help them reach new levels of mastery as they are ready;
  • Help students develop enduring habits of mind which are transferable to a lifetime of learning and excelling;
  • Create learning conditions which engage students in authentic meaningful work.

As the new school year starts at Parish, my hope and expectation is that each of our students has a rich and full experience, one which propels them to a future of unbounded possibility.

What to Make of Summer Break

The midpoint of summer will soon be upon us. At this juncture, the final days of last school year represent increasingly distant memories. The change of pace afforded by the break from classes has likely taken hold and restored some energy. Yet, as I write, close to seven weeks of summer break still remain.

Now, I embrace summer’s more leisurely pace as much as anyone. Yet, as my career in school leadership has evolved I have increasingly found myself wondering whether summer break represents too much of a good thing. In this day and age, it puzzles me that a school like Parish would take an 85 day hiatus from pursuing its mission to prepare young people for the complex global society that awaits them.

Of course, most schools like Parish do stay somewhat engaged in the business of education during the summer months. Through ParishVirtual, our blended education program, close to 30% of our US students take for credit courses in subjects like religion, health, and history. They come to campus during the summer for 7-10 face-to-face engagements but otherwise complete their 6-8 hours of weekly coursework on their own schedule.

Our EXTEND summer program welcomes close to 500 young people to campus each week for a variety of courses, some academic, others not, but all offering students the opportunity to build skills, self-awareness, and confidence.

And through ParishAbroad, our global travel program, our students have journeyed to places like Peru, Spain, and Mexico to experience a new culture, hone leadership skills, study a foreign language, and/or engage in service activities.

 

Increasingly, though, I’ve wondered how Parish might play a larger role enriching the lives of students in those 85 days when they are “on summer break.” Is this something our families even desire? If so, what type of programming might engage students? What new expenses would it introduce to us as a school? What would it cost our families? How sustainable would it be for teachers and students with finite stores of energy, campus facilities which absorb added wear and tear, and administrators who need planning time to launch the new school year?

Beyond these questions, there is the reality that for a student population like Parish’s summer is anything but languid. Students attend camps or special programs – my middle son just returned from a two week backpacking trip in the Tetons with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), for example – pick up valuable work experience (as my eldest is), or broaden their global and cultural competency through travel with their families.

Clearly school as we offer it and students experience it for 9 months will not compete in the summer. I don’t believe our teachers, students, or families want 85 more days of “school as usual” in June and July. But it seems there might be a middle ground. While I do not have any immediate answers, an audiobook I am listening to this summer has provided a useful stimulant to further thinking.

SusanBlumIn I Love Learning, I Hate School: An Anthropology of College, author and anthropologist Susan Blum offers a commentary on the state of higher education, a system she believes needs “radical transformation.” A decade of research – including 300 student interviews and another 200 surveys (many done at Notre Dame where she is a professor) – has brought Blum to a conclusion: Our system of compulsory education – replete with its adult-curated and delivered curriculum and incentivized by grades and competition rather than student interest or engagement – has made schooling transactional. The learner does it because she has to while her more relevant, connected, and engaging learning occurs elsewhere.

Blum presents a framework befitting her identity as an anthropologist and informing to ruminations on what role, if any, school might play during the summer. Blum characterizes higher education as “Learning in the cage.” This term, which could aptly extend to educational institutions below the collegiate level, describes learning environments where students sit still in chairs; comply with the predominate expectation that they listen quietly; and complete the “schoolwork” prescribed to them. Schoolwork is just that – “work” to be tolerated until learning which occurs more naturally and engagingly can begin, often away from school.

“Learning in the wild,” on the other hand, Blum characterizes as “learning by doing, learning through play, observation, imitation, trial and error, guided participation, and apprenticeships, in which young people or novices are assigned to an expert to learn a craft or a trade.” When I think of what kids do during the summer, I think “learning in the wild.” If school is ever going to penetrate the mindset of “summer break,” we best consider Blum’s paradigm.

At Parish, we want our whole program to be more “learning in the wild” than “learning in a cage.” We are presently trying to reimagine school at Parish to infuse it with learning experiences which reflect the voices and choices of students, which engage them in meaningful, authentic work, and which focus more on building powerful habits of mind than warehousing endless volumes of content. Maybe once we complete the design of our reimagined model to reflect these outcomes, students would find the notion of being disconnected from us for 85 days as bewildering as I do today!

 

 

One Month, Two Hats

What a whirlwind May proved to be!

Of course, the final month of school always tests a teacher’s stamina. Final learning experiences, exciting culminating programs and awards ceremonies, and the unbridled anticipation of summer infuse our hallways with uninterrupted electricity!

This May, however, presented a different dynamic for me as two of my three boys celebrated milestones on their respective academic journeys. My second son, Robert, completed middle school and is on his way to his upper school experience at Parish.

My oldest, TC, concluded his journey at Parish along with his classmates in our 10th graduating class.  He is excited to begin his studies at Texas A & M in August! As the relatively quieter summer days on campus begin, I am finding time to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.

As you might imagine, I was asked often if these graduation ceremonies felt differently to me. The answer has been at once an obvious yes and a more nuanced no. Like our fellow 8th and 12th grade parents, my wife, Mollie, and I were filled with a range of emotions in the shadows of these ceremonies: pride, disbelief (not that our sons graduated successfully, just that time had moved so swiftly!), sadness, wonder, and a dash of anxiety.

While I felt these more intensely and personally this year, though, they were not unfamiliar to me. Each May for 25 years, as I’ve looked at the faces of 8th graders or seniors with whom I have worked, I have felt similar emotions: Pride in what the students had accomplished; disbelief that the youngsters I once knew were now high school or college bound; sadness that graduating seniors would soon be gone from my daily routine; wonder as to what life might hold in store for these young people; and a dash of anxiety that they would find their way.

If anything, this past frenetic month reminded me of this: For better or for ill, my roles as head of school and dad are inextricably intertwined. The words and lessons I share with Parish’s students are spoken by a Head of School but crafted by a father. My commitments and responsibilities to my three boys are lifelong and unconditional, but my prayers for all of the young people in my life are uniform:

  • That they recognize that God has bestowed gifts upon them which are uniquely theirs.
  • That with zeal and purpose these young people will discover what these gifts are and that with a discerning eye and ear they will look and listen for the people, places, and causes which need them most.
  • And that one day when they take account of their lives, they will well with fulfillment borne of having left their impact doing the purposeful work they were called to do.

Come next May, I will return to wearing just one hat – that of the head of school. I will carry with me, though, terrific memories of a frantic month of May in 2016 when, with excitement, I proudly wore two hats – that of head of school and dad.

Pondering a Moment in Parish’s Time

We human beings love round numbers and clearly demarcated period of times. To wit, we monitor the developmental stages of our infant child in months or even days; chart the height of that child annually on a doorframe in the house; or return at rounded intervals of five or ten years for reunions at the places from where we have graduated. Marking time brings order to an otherwise random and unpredictable world.  These points in time also provide a perch, a momentary resting place from which we can both take account and dream ahead.

The Class of 2016 provides Parish a round number of its own: our 10th graduating class.  On May 22, 2016 our 841st graduate will cross the stage at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. With this year’s conferral of diplomas, our school community receives a gift – a moment to catch its collective breath. From this perch, we should remind ourselves what we have accomplished together this last decade and affirm our belief in tomorrow’s limitless possibilities.

10 year_final

Our school’s story is remarkable. After existing for three decades as a respected PreK-6th grade school of 400 students based at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, our church and school community chose the bold course. In order to meet the Metroplex’s need for an additional PreK-12 independent school option, Parish Day would expand. But anyone can dream. To turn possibility into reality, however, requires a unique combination of skill, fortitude and good fortune.

Indeed, since 2002, Parish Episcopal School has done what some might have considered impossible: nearly tripling our size to offer our college preparatory program to over 1,100 students; retrofitting over 350,000 square feet of the I. M Pei-designed, former Mobil International Research facility in Farmer’s Branch; adding 20 million dollars to our endowment; and sending talented graduates in our first 10 classes to colleges and universities across the country.

Looking back from the perch afforded by our 2016 graduation ceremony, a distinctive feature dominates the view: Parish’s pioneering spirit. The 46 students in the inaugural class of 2007 entered a new high school in 2003, where classes would be staged in a corporate space renovated for their arrival only in the preceding eight months, with only five faculty members and a division head as their guide. Together, fueled by faith and hope, they built a quality school program and successfully transfused a larger Parish Episcopal School with the uniquely inclusive and joyful culture of the more intimate Parish Day School.

Some 10 years later, though Parish has evolved in ways the class of 2007 could never have imagined, they would recognize the pioneering spirit embodied in the class of 2016. Among this year’s 90 graduates are:

  • The second cohort of scholars in our Academy of Global Studies, who have spent three years studying a global issue of interest to them through an academic’s lens and producing a scholarly and artistic capstone to evidence their thinking.
  • The first graduates of the Leadership Institute, who have spent three years learning about and practicing leadership through coursework, workshops, a professional mentor and a community based capstone.
  • One of the first cohorts of students to help develop, learn and teach in the more than 14,000 square feet of STEM, maker and robotics spaces on our two campuses, all part of Parish’s national regarded PreK-12 ParishSTEM programming.
  • The student cohort who launched ParishBridge, which engaged each of these 90 students in a five week learning experience unique to them. Through their online course, personally designed academic project, and 15 to 50 hours of real world professional experience, these young people haven’t wiled away their final days on campus. Rather, they’ve learned more about themselves and about the complex global society in which they will lead and serve.

Yes, the Class of 2016 represents the latest generation of Parish pioneers!

As we pivot on the perch provided by this year’s graduation and look ahead, we are right to wonder: “What’s next for them?” “What’s next for Parish?”

Of this I am sure, the graduates of 2016 will return to Parish at some time marker in the future. Maybe it’s a six months from now at the holidays, or a year from now to see their friends graduate, or at their five year reunion in 2021, or when we celebrate our wonderful school’s 50th anniversary in 2022. Whenever it might be, they will encounter a Parish as unimaginably different to them as the Parish of today is to those 46 graduates in the class of 2007. We understand the world changes relentlessly. Consequently, we believe the way school works needs to change as well. Emboldened by our pioneering past, we are at work even today reimagining the Parish of tomorrow.

And of this, I am hopeful. That the young men and woman who cross the stage on May 22 carry with them not only the content knowledge they’ve secured and the warm memories of rich relationships with faculty and schoolmates, but also the pioneering spirit Parish has imbued within them. Our world needs solutions. Our city needs bold leaders with big hearts. Our communities need those who see limitless possibilities.

May God guide Parish and the class of 2016 as we journey forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking a Day in Our Students’ Shoes

When was the last time you spent a day with a 2nd grader? And by that, I don’t mean just a couple of hours with a niece or nephew, or even an afternoon in the same home with your own 2nd grade child. When was the last time you put aside your day’s to do list, your phone (for the most part!), and control of your day’s schedule to experience firsthand what a day as a 2nd grade student looks, sounds and feels like?

MehaWell, I recently had the opportunity – thanks to 2nd grade student Meha K. and her teacher, Shannon Longfield. On March 2, I began in chapel at 8:00 a.m. with Meha and her fellow Lower School peers at Hillcrest. I proceeded to spend the remainder of the day observing, participating and experiencing what life is like for a Parish 2nd grade student.

Interestingly enough, I haven’t been alone. Over the last several weeks, 20 of my colleagues – representing each division – have shadowed a student in nearly every grade in our School. (See full list of shadows)

Why? It’s another purposeful step in crafting the Reimagine School vision upon which I reported in my March First Monday. These immersion experiences can teach us so much! Among the questions I carried with me into my day in 2nd grade were:

  • How does the energy of our students ebb and flow during the day?
  • How does our allocation of time (for example during instruction; for elective classes; or for breaks) contribute to or detract from student energy and engagement?
  • What types of learning activities seem to engage students most?
  • Do certain types of learning experiences promote the internal motivation and acquisition of skills to which we aspire better than others?
  • Does an engaging (read: interesting, “fun” or thought-provoking) classroom activity always correlate with meaningful learning?

2ndNotesMy day was awesome! Like my other colleagues who shadowed a student, I graphed student levels of engagement and took copious notes on my observations. I look forward to comparing our experiences.

What is indisputable is that how time gets used and allocated lies at the heart of reimagining the school experience.  For well over a century, a familiar time framework has dominated American schooling. I am sure you recognize some of its features:

  • A school year which begins in August or September and ends in May or June;
  • Students grouped by incremental, grade-based cohorts where they remain for the nine months of the school year and twelve years of pre-collegiate education, regardless of their capability;
  • “Graduation requirements” in high school and college based on seat time rather than content mastery;
  • Academic disciplines taught in allocated time blocks in isolation from one another.

Recently, Will Richardson, a leading voice of educational reform, penned a piece in the Washington Post, expressing his exasperation with our adherence to school time models borne of an era when what it meant to be educated differed fundamentally from what it means today. Influential American educators like Horace Mann and Edward Thorndike, later joined by the earliest proponents of “organizational management” like Frederick Taylor, linked the design of schools to the needs of late 19th and early 20th century American society. The factory-based industrial economy and increasingly diverse social milieu of our growing country valued systemization, standardization and efficiency.

JarcheToday’s “complex global society,” to which we refer in our mission statement, is anything but standardized and systematized. As business consultant Harold Jarche has noted, “just as few people do work that requires pure physical labor today, soon few of us will do routine, procedural and standardized knowledge work.” As Jarche’s chart (at right) depicts, we are on the cusp of a change in what the work experience of tomorrow will be like for the Parish students of today.

Thus we wonder: how might we reimagine our use of time at Parish so that we are even more effective producing “creative thinkers and bold leaders prepared to impact our complex global society?”

But here’s the catch: path dependence.

New York Times columnist David Brooks (who visited Parish last May) wrote a piece in 2011, Tools for Thinking, about attacking complex problems with holistic thinking. In it, he cited a linguist at Columbia University who warned of path dependence and identified it as “something that seems normal or inevitable today [that] began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of justification for that choice.”

While path dependence is terminology of economists and social scientists, it aptly frames the challenge of rethinking time in schools. We teachers are products of the very time system we seek to upend; it is all we know. It is our dependent path and, as such, any process designed to rethink it runs the risk of duplicating the very tendencies that have become entrenched.

Which brings me back to my day with Meha.

Our immersion experiences reflect our quest to break path dependence and design a truly reimagined time framework for Parish which begins with the user (in our case, the student) experience. We have teamed with the Director of the Deason Innovation Gym at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, Katie Krummick, and her colleague, Gray Garmon, to attack the question of our school schedule from a completely different angle. Katie and Gray are not K-12 educators or even schedule consultants. They are experts in human-centered design, a problem-solving process pioneered by organizations like IDEO.Org and places like the Institute of Design at Stanford.

Human-centered design aligns with Parish’s innovative disposition. It involves three general, though not always linear, phases:

  • Inspiration: understanding your challenge by empathizing with your user.
  • Ideation: making sense of what you have heard and seen from your users and generating numerous prototypes of possible solutions to test and refine.
  • Implementation: bringing your idea to life.

Our shadowing of students has been a vital part of our inspiration phase. In their letters later this month, Division Heads will share some of their perspectives on their shadowing experiences. My colleagues and I will be spending time with Katie and Gray in April and June to take stock of what we have learned and begin designing Parish’s reimagined schedule, a process that will occupy much of the next 24-36 months.

I can’t wait for Meha’s feedback on what we develop!

Wonder Never Ceases

What we know about relentlessly innovative organizations is that wonder never ceases.

Amazon_UberThe same sense of wonder which fueled Jeff Bezos to question in 1994 how he might bring millions of books to readers whenever they want and wherever they might be has more recently become how he might deliver products to customers within the day.

A more recent market disruptor, Uber, initially penetrated the sharing economy by wondering how they might provide people access to a personal chauffer anytime, from anywhere. Now, Uber has begun to wonder how it might leverage this same network to deliver business messages more efficiently and quickly.

After a half decade of launching various signature programs fueled by our own inquisitive nature, we, too, are pondering once again.

Signature_Programs3.16

A series of new questions drive our purposeful vision to Reimagine Parish by our 50th Anniversary in 2023:

  • How might we rethink paradigms of time long familiar in school (e.g. students learning the same topics at the same rate organized by age rather than by interest or level of demonstrated mastery)?
  • How might we rethink paradigms of program long familiar in school (e.g. academic departments which reinforce thinking in silos rather than exploring the intersection of disciplines as is more common in today’s interconnected world)?
  • How might we rethink the paradigm of the learning spaces long familiar in school (e.g. redesigned classroom furniture and on-campus learning spaces; redefining learning spaces beyond campus classrooms through creative partnering with individual experts, businesses and universities, and non-profits)?

We are deep into this work already and it seemed due time to provide an update.

Reimagine Parish aligns with our mission to prepare students for the “complex global society.” It also requires major paradigm shifting for all of us – students, teachers, and parents alike. We must embrace the opportunity to redraw the blueprint used for over a century to design the school experience; we should also recognize and celebrate Parish’s unique positioning to do so.

Think of this work as akin to building or remodeling a home. You have a picture of what you want that home to look and feel like, but the initial work does not include accessorizing the rooms. One first engages in thoughtful design thinking and the necessary, if largely invisible, laying of key utilities before proceeding to the inarguably more exciting and evident finishing.

Provost Michelle Lyon leads our Reimagine Parish endeavor. This year, she has concentrated our efforts digging the important footings and trenches which will form the foundation of our Reimagined program. Work has focused in three areas:

  • Paving Pathways: If students are to experience optimal levels of challenge, it must be clear what learning mastery looks like.  This equates to an architect’s drawing for the new dream home. Faculty teams in each discipline have written competency statements and standards this year and will continue over the next 24 months to articulate even more detailed curriculum pathways.  (See a draft of the English department’s work here).
  • Tackling Time: if students are to experience more “voice and choice” in our program, their learning experiences shaped in part based on their optimal level of challenge and/or their areas of deepest passion, we must consider how we allocate time. We have begun our wondering at the level of the student experience. In the next several weeks, a dozen faculty and administrators (including me!) will spend an entire day shadowing a student in one of our divisions. This will help us ascertain daily ebbs and flows in student engagement and fuel our creativity as we design the time structure which undergirds our vision.
  • Building a Backbone: if you dream of a modern home which anticipates rather than reacts to your needs (smart appliances, for example), a robust technology system is necessary. Similarly, delivering more personalized learning experiences will require that we develop a learning management system to power our vision. A small team of our professionals have begun analyzing solutions and will continue to do so next year.

Some of you have likely experienced living in your home while major remodeling projects are underway. Envisioning and constructing the new while simultaneously trying to live life as usual can be a challenge! But, in our case, we view this as an opportunity. Consider it this way: visiting showrooms helps to shape your vision for the look and feel of the spaces you are redesigning in your home.

Similarly, as we thoughtfully and deliberately Reimagine the Parish learning experience over the next several years, we will continuously develop and test dozens of “Reimagine School” showrooms across campus to inform our final design. For example:

  • Students in math classes in all three divisions, 7th grade science, and Middle School Humanities (for grammar and vocabulary), just to name a few, experience personal learning pathways, many featuring technology platforms which we will evaluate as we develop our technology backbone. (Picture Billy or Kevin’s class)
  • Students in 3rd and 4th grade spend 90 minutes every six days on “Passion Projects,” deep learning experiences organized around student interest. Like ParishBridge, which launches for seniors next month, Passion Projects represent a “time showroom” from which we will learn.
  • In addition to our 3th and 4th grade STEM blocks or Middle School Humanities course  – revisions to our program made in the last several years to break down existing walls between academic subjects – we have approved a new Upper School course for next year which will merge AP English Literature and Philosophy. We will continue testing showrooms featuring such interdisciplinary learning experiences as we develop Reimagine Parish.

Pathways_Passion

We will also continue to rethink our use of space. Inspired by our Maker Spaces, including the ideaLab added at Midway this year, we will incorporate new furniture into several learning and common spaces next fall – in most cases informed by the input of our students.