As our school year has finished up this week, we’ve had three good days of end-of-year faculty meetings.   The high point was two hours we spent as a faculty and academic leadership discussing how we can continue our work advancing learning here at St. Gregory in ways which align themselves, generally speaking, with what NAIS President Pat Bassett calls in the TEDx talk above, the Big Shifts.   (Another high point, at least for me, was the five hour Project-Based Learning design workshop I facilitated yesterday with five of our teachers).

Our day Wednesday began with a viewing of and rich discussion of the TEDx talk.   Our conversation included recognizing and appreciating the many ways in which we believe we are advancing on Pat’s vision: using Project-Based Learning; promoting student innovation; employing contemporary assessments such as the CWRA, which he specifically endorses in the talk; teaching robotics and providing design-build learning experiences; and much more.

We also especially appreciated and admired Pat’s emphasis on the relational side of teaching: students always have, and always will, learn first and best from teachers who love them and whom they love. 

Immediately after the discussion of Pat’s talk, we switched gears and relocated to the dining hall, where two of our fine faculty members, Mike Mann and Alex Shawn,  organized an hour-long, faculty-wide, “speed planning” session.   Its purpose, they explained:

To facilitate cross-fertilization of good ideas, we are going to do a version of “speed planning,” modeled on the “speed dating” concept.  The idea is to invite conversation among colleagues in our different disciplines to generate interdisciplinary connections and sparks.

Eight tables were set up, and  every six minutes a bell rang, music, played, and the participants asked to move, at random, to a new table, seeking always to mix up the groups.  At each a facilitator who hosted a conversation for six minutes up0n one of the following questions:

  • What is an example of a good or great interdisciplinary unit or project you have been involved in?
  • What is the value of interdisciplinary learning?
  • What is your dream interdisciplinary unit or project?
  • What are the natural connections between your discipline and one or more others?
  • What would you like to learn more about on campus?  And from whom?  How can we advance each other’s learning?
  • How would you structure and organize a more perfect St Gregory?
  • How would you structure and organize the “perfect” interdisciplinary PBL?

Rich, quick conversations ensued, and opportunities previously unrecognized emerged.   At one table a I participated in, discussing our “dream” interdisciplinary unit, participants remembered years past when we ran week-long, interdisciplinary “humanities week,” organized around a single theme.   We went on to discuss how might we re-fashion the upper school, or all-school, curricular progression so that at each grade-level, a common problem (water resources in the Southwest, as an example) was explored, examined, and addressed in most or all subject areas, at least in part.

At the end of the hour, each table facilitator reported on key ideas and themes which emerged in each conversation, including calls for us to do this kind of connecting and exploring in the midst of the school year, not the end, so we can act more promptly on our inspirations; to promote more meaningful and authentic assessments for students; to learn as teachers more in the way we want our students to learn: fun and engaging, collaborative and social, inquiry and project-based.  “We need more teacher-created, teacher-driven professional learning.”