Rigor and Relevance

Last month, we hosted our annual All Day @ All Saints’; an opportunity to drop by any class, in any Division and visit with various School departments throughout the day to learn more.  Perhaps the best part about the day is that there isn’t that “dog and pony show” feel that some people associate with an Open House event. (You know what these look like, those gatherings where you hear from the stodgy Headmaster, a few maxims- here and there, an activity there and here and some time to tour, visit with a teacher or two, and perhaps listen to parents or student ambassadors share their perspectives on the merits of the program.)

There is nothing wrong with these events, as schools or institutions should have their act together and present their schools in fair light. All Day @All Saints’, however, points to something more meaningful. I believe it speaks to our commitment to a growth mindset, a willingness to take good risks, that our curricular and pedagogical expertise not be taken for granted, but continue to develop; that we are welcoming, and that we gratefully and willingly share the joy of our educational community.

 I am highly subjective, of course, but I believe it reflects a community of rigor and relevance.

Rigor and relevance are obvious from the first time one steps on our campus and experiences our community.  Time and again, current and prospective families and visitors to our campus and offer unsolicited feedback regarding the positive way in which they were treated and made to feel welcome; they share the substance of the lessons they learned in Chapel and marvel that we do this every day; they listen to or witness students engaged in lessons or programs that rival opportunities many of us had in college; they see and grasp an educational community that exercises blending the best curricula and methodologies of our past with best practices of today, piloting innovative topics and activities for our next generation of servant leaders (see Dr. Ward’s Math & Art classes in Early Childhood and Lower School, Solar Car, Project Empathy & Honors College, as examples).  And even before the public heard or realized that the world was undergoing a sea change in the educational landscape due to tremendous brain research and massive shifts in technology, All Saints’ had been regularly exercising the intellectual or academic equivalent to cross-training.

The schedule of our School day, though it does not draw the attention of Google or Stanford’s design-thinking initiatives, is a good example.  A few years ago, we decided to change the start times between Divisions for several reasons, with the most important related to improving the educational development of all our students.

For example, the Lower School begins at 8:00 a.m. with Chapel; the Middle School classes begin  at 8:30 a.m. and Upper School classes begin at 8:45 a.m.  The latter two Divisions have tutorials from 7:45-8:15 and 7:45-8:30, respectively.  The benefits of such nuanced schedules may not appear obvious to a lay person, in that as the cognitive and analytical demands increase, so does the opportunity for more focused practice as is provided by the tutorials.  But also look at the times these are offered.  Why not have both Middle and Upper begin at the same time?  First, you’ll notice that there is more time allotted for tutorials in the Upper School (more to juggle); but the most important reason for the later start relates to the development of the adolescent brain.  Yes, every household has its early risers, but, a slightly later start takes into account the developmental differences between our students.

A significant portion of our schedule adjustments are based on the best brain research available.  Essentially, giving more focused time to practice combined with a block schedule, similar to what colleges offer (longer class periods, fewer classes-per-day, on alternating days). This flexible schedule also allows the teacher and student to take deeper dives into the subject matter and places extra responsibility on the student to budget their time—creativity, discipline and focus play an increasingly important role.

In a November article from Independent School Management, entitled The Benefits of Schedule Design Change, the authors argue that “The schedule is important as a reflection and ‘interpreter’ of your mission.  It determines what is deemed important, decides who is important, reflects the power structures of the school, forces actions by students and adults whether desired or not, influences issues of discipline, can mitigate or exacerbate stress, and enhances or detracts from academic performance.”  One of the benefits of an intentional schedule design change may be seen as a reflection of “…whether the school has moved in a 21st century performance direction or whether it maintains its 20th Century performance characteristics.” Importantly, they note, common threads of 20th century scheduling “…characteristics include:

  • No classes longer than 50 minutes in middle and upper school
  • A whittling away of the homeroom in lower school through increasing incursion of specials
  • Middle and lower school schedules are similar to upper school schedules
  • Schedules that disconnect teachers from each other (observable through the lack of common planning time horizontally – within a grade or subject area, lack of time for the faculty to become a professional learning community – vertically between grades, divisions, and subject areas)”

I find this fascinating and affirming.  While we clearly employ certain tried and true methodologies and curricula, All Saints’ is ahead of the curve in many areas.  And scheduling is but one of them.

  •  We have classes longer than 50 minutes in Middle and (predominantly) Upper School
  • Daily chapel and homeroom remain important “balancing” components
  • The Upper School “A/B” schedule is quite distinctive to our other Divisions and with respect to other schools in the area
  • Each Division has their own faculty meetings and we have monthly mini-in-service meetings for vertical and horizontal dialogue and alignment

Embracing a balanced program of excellence means we retain that which we feel works best and always seek ways in which to improve.  I love the growth mindset reflected in our educational community.  And, oh, by the way, the headline grabbing phenomena of Google 20 % time (20% of the work week or project time dedicated to a personal or separate project of interest) and design-thinkingThese are being exercised by our students, as well.

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