By Peter A. Kraft, Associate Head of School
Every Independent School has as one of its principal goals to help students--and employees--become “lifelong learners.” The reasons are as obvious as they are compelling: learning can be joyful and personally fulfilling, and it is critical to professional growth.
But far less frequently do schools discuss how to establish the institutional cultures and mindsets to encourage lifelong learning. After all, learning is difficult and time-consuming. It requires resources. And, for us as adults, it is easily put aside for more pressing things.
Increasingly, I am convinced that humility--and its close relative, empathy--is a crucial element to lifelong learning. Simply put, the pace of change is such that one simply cannot master the myriad skills, knowledge, and habits of mind one needs to grow without relying on others. Gone are the days of the cloistered academic who can retreat to her library carol to do her life’s work. So, too, are the bygone days of the small town doctor or lawyer who hangs his shingle and only occasionally attends a conference in the “big city.”
Collaboration is key, and it requires skill sets and mindsets that are founded on humility--more specifically, according to Daniel Goleman, the journalist who helped popularize the term “Emotional Intelligence,” a humility that allows one to be “coached.”
Students, of course, are coached every day by classroom teachers, theater directors and their athletic coaches. But adults need similar instruction--one based on the premise that learning stems from watching, learning, and then ultimately doing.
So how does a school establish a culture of “coaching”? This year at OES, we are initiating three critical initiatives that seek to do just that:
- Leadership and Design (L&D) and the “Inquiry Cycle”: Beginning this fall and continuing throughout the academic year, Erin Cohn and Ryan Burke of Leadership and Design, a consultancy of former K-12 teachers and administrators, will be working with the entire faculty on how to use the OES “Inquiry Cycle” (Explore, Connect, Create, Commit) in our work. During our Professional Growth and Development (PGD) Days in October and April, they will coach teachers on the fine points of inquiry-based instruction and design. In addition, they will work with two so-called “Inquiry Networks” composed of about a dozen faculty and staff volunteers who will use the Inquiry Cycle to examine and ultimately make recommendations on how to improve two key aspects of the OES community: Equity and Inclusion and Wellness. The goal of creating these “Inquiry Networks” is thus to deepen employees’ knowledge of the Inquiry Cycle and enable them to use it more fully in their work; and to apply these newfound skills to complex and important challenges at OES.
- Inquiry Fellowship: In addition, newly-appointed Director of Inquiry and Innovation Anna Rozzi will be facilitating a cohort of Pk-12 Inquiry Fellows to support the design and implementation of innovative programming throughout the school. The Inquiry Fellows will work in close collaboration to explore and expand their inquiry-based pedagogy, and connect across divisions and disciplines to reimagine their practice as innovative educators.
- Department Chairs and Teacher Growth: Finally, Department Chairs and other Academic Leaders (including Lower School Assistant Heads Chris Thompson and Kirstin McAuley; Head Librarian Lara Ingham; Upper School Director of Academics Liz Weiler; and Division Heads David Lowell, Ann Sulzer, and Asha Appel) will undertake a year-long process of designing and ultimately implementing a growth and coaching program for the entire faculty, which we are tentatively calling “PGD@OES.” The process began in early October, when renowned faculty coach Robyn Jackson did a day-long training with academic leaders on observational techniques and classroom visitations. For the remainder of the year, the academic leaders will visit one another’s classrooms to refine their observational and feedback techniques, as well as other aspects of faculty coaching. In 2019-2020, the process will be piloted and refined with faculty volunteers before going online with the entire faculty in 2020-21. In this way, a cohort of trained observers and coaches can be developed to enrich classroom instruction across the school.
None of this work is easy. All of it takes time. But, most importantly, these initiatives require the humility to be “coached” and the desire to hone one’s craft. That, of course, is what “lifelong learning” is all about--and it is the hallmark of a humble school that is committed to continuous growth.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.