By Richard Boerner, Superintendent
The concept of a think tank is not a new one, but it is rather uncommon in schools. Why is this the case? Why don’t schools look more outwardly and leverage outside expertise and research to drive improvement?
Graded has been a vanguard in international education for nearly 100 years. As a leading academic institution, we continue to push, grow, and improve upon our strengths. It was this desire that inspired our design of Think Tank 2019. As we shared in early-April, Graded brought together some of the world's best thought leaders to help us prioritize and implement our next steps toward continuous school improvement. What was refreshing was that we chose to do this not because we had to, but rather because we had the capacity to do it.
So, what did we learn? What advice and expertise did our guests share that we, as a learning community, could act upon to enhance the experience of our students? To determine this, we needed to listen, reflect, and think. After Think Tank concluded, we talked to the participating faculty and administrators, as well as our Board of Directors. Then on Thursday evening, two weeks later, 85 faculty voluntarily gathered to learn, understand, and offer input.
Through these extended dialogues, additional outreach, and further discussions with our Think Tank experts, we have distilled and synthesized what we learned and have thoughtfully developed our path forward.
A repeated piece of advice offered by many of the Think Tank experts was to resist doing too much. Dr. Kevin Mattingly, professor of science of learning at Teachers College, Columbia University, said it best, “Great schools try to do too much, so select a singular focus, with evidence of result, and be unrelenting in making progress.”
As I previously stated, Graded's students are excelling. Teaching and learning are strong. In short, results are impressive. However, Graded can be even better. We can create more meaningful and lasting connections between what students learn and what they do with that information. In fact, I would argue this is why education exists: for students to gain knowledge, develop skills to interpret the knowledge, and apply those skills in real-world, lived experiences.
To accomplish this objective, Graded will apply cognitive science research known as the "science of learning.” It will help us ensure that students, via inspirational instruction, harness deep, enduring, and transferable learning that will be evidenced in their work, their thinking, and their lives. In partnership with Dr. Mattingly and Columbia University, our faculty will begin in-depth training in the science of learning.
Additionally, we will share with students the strategies and approaches to making learning stick. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the content they learn and discover ways to apply and transfer their learning to new situations. The depth and quality of student work will serve as evidence of these new ways in which they “think about their thinking.” As we utilize the best approaches for students, we will measure how these neuroscience strategies positively impact their learning.
During a recent conversation with our Leadership Team, Dr. Mattingly said that “Graded is undertaking groundbreaking work in the science of learning.” He strongly encouraged us to publish the work.
While keenly focused on deepening learning experiences for our students, we cannot and should not ignore the critical role that belonging plays in the success of a learner. So, we will also focus on ensuring that students and faculty belong – that they feel connected, valued, engaged, and heard. This initiative, in partnership with the Institute for Social Emotional Learning, will ensure that students have the mindset, well-being, and sense of purpose needed to engage more passionately in their work and transfer what they learn into meaningful experiences after Graded.
Think Tank served as a catalyst that allowed our faculty and administration to reflect on and engage with the research around learning. It helped us develop a thoughtful plan to continue our improvement on behalf of the students we serve. As we near 100 years as an academic institution, we build upon Graded’s strong foundation.
I am honored to lead our school through this exciting and compelling time of growth, and I look forward to your active engagement with us on this journey. If you are curious to learn more about the science of learning, I encourage you to read Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, a book by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel.
One School, One Community, One Graded,