In the latest edition of Independent School, the President of the National Association of Independent Schools, Pat Bassett, lists six basic skills and values that will be expected and valued in this century: character; creativity and entrepreneurial spirit; real world problem solving; public speaking/communications; teaming; and leadership. He goes on to quote Arthur Levine, the past President of Teachers College at Columbia University who said we need a system that “focuses on what students learn, rather than on what they are taught, and sets common standards for what they must learn, rather than common amounts of time for them to learn those things.” Finally, he cited the well regarded education reform movement in Singapore for its commitment to challenge assumptions and always look for better ways to encourage participation, creativity, and innovation. All of these ideas made me reflect on what is happening here at Pike.
The values Mr. Bassett named resonated with what I hope for in my eighth grade history class. We are in the midst of the traditional Patriot/Loyalist debate where we have the students do a great deal of research and writing in preparation for a two day debate. The students are making posters to put around the school, working together to plan a strategy, searching for arguments to buttress their side, taking responsibility for different parts of their side’s argument, reacting to the ideas proposed by the other side, and trying to express themselves in an effective way before their peers. This experience is quite different from what I remember of my own education about the American Revolution, which was taking notes as a teacher lectured us. I believe that teacher was more focused on what was taught than what we actually learned. My hope is that our students will have a richer understanding of the American Revolution as well as a more fully developed set of twenty-first century skills. In this same vein, our goals for the year said “Faculty teams will work collaboratively to assess student learning to inform instruction.” We have established Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where teachers who share a group of students are given more time to evaluate what the students are learning and then make plans from those assessments to insure all students learn the main ideas of a lesson and are challenged.
Finally, I have always believed that it is a hallmark of Pike that we have never settled for accepting the status quo and that we share a commitment to a culture of improvement. Each year, our Board has a retreat in the fall with the help of an outside facilitator to plan for the coming year. This year’s facilitator is very experienced in the independent school world and at the end of our morning together, he told the Board that he is often called in when there are major issues to be addressed. He was very impressed to be called in by a school that was in a strong position and yet was still looking for ways to be even better. Our children deserve nothing less.