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