Since its founding in the 1970s, U-32 High School has prided itself on its progressive, student-centered culture. Today we have a tremendous opportunity to continue this legacy. Proficiency-based learning allows us to scrutinize traditional practices. Over the past few years at U-32 we've updated our curriculum, our assessments, and our reporting systems. But a simple question remains: What will a teacher's and student's day look like under a non-time-based system?
Traditionally, students were required to attend class for a set number of hours, for a set number of days. But under the new proficiency-based system, time is no longer a constant; it's a variable. Of course, the length of the school day and the school year haven't changed. But within those parameters, how much time do we need to teach a subject, and how should that time be spent? Do some subjects require daily meetings, while others require longer, less-frequent ones? Will some classes benefit from meeting sometimes in smaller groups, and other times in larger ones? What about individual conferencing? Is all of a student's time best spent meeting in whole-class settings?
My project will seek to answer the question of how we can creatively use our new freedom from time to best serve students. How can we free up teachers to work individually with studentsfor interventions, for enrichment, as content advisers, or as academic coaches? And how can we do so in ways that are sustainable for teachers and students, while preserving what worked about the traditional system?
Two years ago, I stumbled onto one solution: I began teaching four classes instead of five, with the fifth period devoted to individual conferences with students. This shift asked me to accept larger sections in exchange for greater individual attention and progress monitoring. The reports from students were overwhelmingly positive, so much so that this year my entire department adopted the model.
Next year I will conduct a broad review of our instructional practices. I will focus specifically on ways we can leverage our new freedom from the Carnegie Unit to prioritize individual instruction. I hope to study and fine-tune our existing conferencing model, with an eye toward expanding it beyond English classes. I also hope to investigate other promising instructional models that facilitate individualized and targeted learning. More broadly, I'll conduct a needs assessment of staff, students, and parents around the areas of teaching practices, instructional systems, and our school day, with an eye toward redesigning our schedule and improving our practices to align with what works best for student learning.
Harwood Union is uniquely situated, is an educational leader in the state, and a model school for student leadership. We have done the work to transform advisories and classrooms by shifting to proficiency-based teaching and learning while integrating the Harkness model as a tool. Now, we need to transform our community.
As many media outlets have recently reported, more teenagers than ever are suffering from anxiety and/or depression across the country. This led me to the question: "How can our school provide students with the social-emotional tools they need to survive in this ever-changing world?" As a school, we need to support students in developing emotional literacy by utilizing wellness practices to connect the heart and mind, so students can identify and communicate their feelings in a non-reactive manner.
As a Rowland Fellow, I will be investigating the ways Harwood Union can integrate a multifaceted approach to wellness to proactively support students and staff. I plan to work with students, faculty, administration, parents, and community members to integrate wellness holistically into the backbone of our school.
An intentional and supportive community with wellness at the heart needs to be created, so students walk in to school each day feeling safe enough to blossom and grow. Overall, I will work to strengthen social connections within our community to build stronger purpose in education and life. As Sir Ken Robinson once said, "Education needs to address the world around our learners but also the world within our learners." Now is the time to address the world within Harwood students (and staff), to teach them how to love themselves and how to love one another.
An increase in adolescent anxiety, depression, and digital addiction is a concerning reality nationwide and unfortunately at Montpelier High School we are observing no exception to these trends in deteriorating mental health. It is my belief that the skills for living in a healthful manner, including emotional, social, and physical wellness, are important 21st century skills. My goal is to create an integrated, proactive plan for helping students learn and achieve the benefits of wellness practices. Wellness is widely considered more than being free from illness. It is an active process that includes continued growth and change while making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. It is my hope that this Rowland fellowship will help Montpelier High School develop healthy practices for emotional, social, and physical wellness and help turn the tide on the increased mental health issues many of our students are experiencing.
With the generous support of the Rowland Foundation, I plan to work with a wide array of stakeholders, from the head of food service and teachers, to parents and students. Colleagues who also value teaching and inspiring our students to adopt healthy mind and body practices will be included in the project planning and implementation. Together we will create an integrated wellness theme that offers opportunities for learning and practicing the skills in each aspect of emotional, social, and physical wellness.
The focus on emotional wellness will include mindfulness practice and digital moderation. My working definition of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, including what is happening with our thoughts and feelings, in our bodies, and in the world around us. This noticing of our experiences in the present moment is paired with mental calmness, composure, and a withholding of judgment. Emotional wellness will be pursued through multiple options for mindfulness practice throughout the school (e.g., meditation, gratitude practice, mindful movement, mindful poetry writing and journaling).
Social wellness practices will include an emphasis on community building and empathy education. Working with student leaders to help in the implementation of activities that promote community and social inclusion will be a critical component. These wellness ambassadors will help fulfill many roles: welcoming new students to the school, editors of a wellness newsletter, event planners for a wellness fair, and leaders of mindfulness activities.
Finally, physical wellness will include an emphasis on nutrition and outlets and incentives for regular physical activity.
Our vision is to completely reimagine high school. We plan to work with students to create an educational path designed to provide learners with the time, space, and support needed to explore their own interests and passions. Through a series of multi-week interdisciplinary projects, they'll meet graduation proficiency requirements and develop skills essential for the future.
We plan to spend our sabbatical meeting with students, faculty members, and community partners to design projects and possible outcomes that make learning rigorous, authentic, and relevant. Recognizing that project-based education already exists for small subsets of students in different Vermont schools, our focus will be on bringing this opportunity to scale to meet the needs of as many of our students as are interested.
Community schools are a model of rural school reform that involve community members in every aspect of school planning. A community school has a network of invested community partners who pair with teachers and students to identify student and community needs, and work together to meet them. The critical elements of a community school (as outlined by the Coalition for Community Schools) are:
Examples of programs include student service projects, apprenticeships, and opening up the school to serve the community through evening courses, community dinners, and clothing drives.
The MVU community and staff are already so giving and kind, that I believe this model would work well to shape the direction of our school, and help address some of our most pressing school and community concerns around achievement and lack of opportunity due to rural isolation. During my Rowland Fellowship, I will coordinate the first steps for transitioning to this model, by identifying and bringing together community partners, and creating a structured environment for students, teachers, and community members to identify needs and wants, learn about the benefits and costs of various school reforms, and collaboratively plan a transition to an integrated community learning center.
The partner network will be in place for the following school year and will ideally will include key categories of community members: Abenaki representatives, business owners, farmers, senior citizens, veterans, Missisquoi alum in college, local officials, local artists, state representatives, elementary school teachers and classes, law enforcement officers, tech workers, health care workers, and others. This network will be our students' personalized learning village, and a learning resources for all students through interviews, authentic audiences, forums, and service projects.