I am spiking an imaginary football as I write the opening sentences of this post. Sometimes when things get messy, they still work out for the best. If you’ve been reading my posts about the Adaptability Project over the last week and half, then you know that I had a lot of worries about my group’s presentation. I can breathe a sigh of relief now. Here’s how things played out.
Our Head of School, Nancy, put together a panel of five judges (“the shark tank”) to assess the proposals generated by the Adaptability Project’s four teams. From left to right, they are Katherine Falk, Peter Vari, John Weingart, Drew Smith, and Gloria Denoon. The judges are mostly former George School parents and board members with a range of relevant business experience. Drew Smith is the current head of Friends Council on Education, so his participation was especially meaningful as it helps shine the spotlight on GS’s innovative summer work. The pitches were each roughly half an hour in length, with about ten minutes permitted for Q&A. Things ran a little slowly, so the presentations began at 9am and ended at 12:15. A summary of the four proposals follows:
Group 1 (Michael and Travis) — “Leadership Institute for Direct Action and Social Justice” This duo proposed a summer program to expand/revive George School’s erstwhile leadership position in service learning. Hopefully the summer pilot would expand to continue into the school year over time.
Group 2 (Alyssa, Kevin, Melaina, and me) — “Technology Renaissance” Our group proposed embracing blended learning, joining an online consortium, hiring an academic technology integrationist, and allowing more independent study opportunities for our students. We argued that we could halt the growth in FTEs and improve the depth and breadth of our academic program at the same time.
Group 3 (Colette and Debbie) — “Proposal for a Fourth Semester” This duo proposed scaling up our summer offerings to become a legitimate term. Students and teachers could study/teach over the summer, perhaps in place of another term. We would pair with a college (or several) to offer classes that might earn students college credits while they are still in high school. Non-GS students would be able to participate.
Group 4 (Ben, Kim, and Rebecca) — “Re-visioning Curriculum for Agility, Advantage, and Real Value” This group asked us to imagine how we might best serve each individual student and support his or her passions. To do this they propose changing departmental distribution requirements to create more opportunities for students to craft individualized paths through the curriculum. This would align our curriculum and requirements much more closely with our peer schools, some of which we perceive to be outpacing us in assorted areas.
As my colleagues and I chewed nervously on the lunch provided to us from 12:15 to 1:00pm, the sharks deliberated in secrecy. When we were called back into the conference room at 1:00, Drew Smith wasted little time in announcing that Groups 2 and 4 had the winning proposals that have been selected to go forward. Now last Wednesday, on the third day of our our three-week seminar, I wrote on my blog that it might be very interesting if the sharks selected my group’s proposal and the proposal from the group that was working on graduation requirements. That is in fact exactly how things played out, so if the faculty approves these two plans at some point this year, we will have a dramatic new vision for our academic program. Students will have far more choice in how they want to follow their passions and interests, and we’ll have a more student-centered pedagogy with a ton of cool interdisciplinary classes available for them to take. Getting from here to there is scary as heck, and I have to admit that I am probably not the best person to steer that ship.
“The changes aren’t going to be disruptive; they are going to be adaptive.” — Nancy
It would be petty of me to dissect the reasons why my group was selected as a winner, but I do want to confess that I think we had two advantages. For one thing, the sharks selected the two largest groups, and my quartet of teammates was the largest group. This meant that we had more personnel to do research, think through ideas, and create the presentation. The two groups that were not selected were both duos, and it was harder for them to shape a complicated proposal with many moving parts in just eight days. Our other advantage might have been . . . this blog. Two of the five sharks have been reading my posts, and even though I am sure that they were completely unbiased in their judging, I feel like I helped myself by controlling the narrative. My victory today was therefore a victory for the Connected Educators movement, whose inspiration is the reason why I write these lengthy missives. (And thank you, John Weingart, for the CD you burned for me of tracks that match the tone of my blog. I need to listen a couple more times to think deeply about the message you are trying to send me!)
Everyone agrees that the social justice institute concept proposed by Michael and Travis (Group 1) deserves to become a reality, too. The proposal didn’t necessarily offer a solution to change our unsustainable business model, but it presented a vision of who we want to be that all of us embrace. I imagine that it will become a reality regardless of whether or not it has the official endorsement of the Adaptability Project. In fact, it could fit well into the “Contemplative Studies” structure that Group 4 is suggesting is the future of our Religion Department. And Colette and Debbie’s proposal (Group 3) isn’t just going to die, either. Colette is always doing innovative things with GS’s summer programs, and I expect that some of her proposal today will find expression in programming we offer in coming summers.
After the announcement of the winners, the sharks lingered for a while as we debriefed the process. Eventually, only Drew Smith was left, and he stayed to speak with us for about an hour. (He is coming to do a session with us on Quaker decision-making next week, and he has lots of professional reasons to be interested in this project). We talked for a while about how we might go about selling the two winning proposals to the faculty. Peter Vari was especially helpful on that topic, and he reminded us that we had done a sales job today, and we just needed to reconfigure it for the new audience. Drew reminded us that Quakers are supposed to be good at continuing revelation, so we shouldn’t be so pessimistic about our colleagues accepting change. We got on a long conversation about the health of Friends schools across the country, and what the future might hold for them. (Consolidation?)
Finally, Nancy asked us all for takeaways from the first half of the three-week seminar that we might want to write about as we seek ways to promote our work. (I don’t seem to have a problem in that area.) Many of my colleagues spoke about the value of collaboration, and I certainly echo that sentiment. My teammates carried me, as far as I tell. Alyssa is the most technologically skillful member of the Adaptability Project group. Without her, we would have been nowhere, and she probably reduced the amount of time it would have taken us to put the presentation together by 50%. Kevin is a former professional actor, and his opening narration for our presentation was a highlight of the entire day. Melaina has done the most research on blended learning, and she kept our feet to the fire when it came to making claims that were backed by sound data about outcomes. Since I’m moving into a non-teaching role next year, these are the people who are going to have to wave the flag for blended learning. I was very proud to work with them.
There are six days left before the seminar is over. We have more guest speakers coming to work with us next week, and we need a plan to get these two proposals through the faculty. I know that Nancy has a plan, so stay tuned, and we’ll all find out what comes next.