Sunday, March 12, 2017

Innovating at St. Mary's Academy

Innovating at St. Mary's Academy

St. Mary's Academy is entering its next phase of educational excellence, one that is more firmly grounded in an inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary, creative, and joyful approach in which the student is the center of a community of learners that includes teachers, parents, administration, and trustees. 

Currently, we are studying models, reading, researching, and collaborating on schedule, evaluations, programs, and curricula. What is motivating our quest? Our observations of and experience with students in a rapidly changing world are our prime motivators. We see shifts in how students are learning and how they more often struggle with stress-management and identifying a sense of personal and world purpose. More students are being identified with learning disabilities, defiance disorders, iAddictions, depression, anxiety, and challenges with focus.

We hear from parents who are asking for guidance. Some tell us homework loads, club sports, screens, and other commitments are replacing family time and causing excessive stress at home. Some express worry about their children spending hours and hours on school assignments and not sleeping and playing enough. Others express exasperation for their children who seem to be giving up on learning either because of disinterest, a feeling of overload, or a sense that they are not smart enough. 

We believe that both extremes and all in between can be addressed with innovative ideas and practices that build on St. Mary's Academy's history of innovation, the Loretto legacy of educating students to be bold and positive agents of change, and the extraordinary committed and smart members, past and present, that make up the SMA community. We know every student can learn, and curiosity and a desire to learn are part of being human.

In this evolving model, an increase in reading, writing and speaking skills are paramount, along with a deep understanding of the language of mathematics to model the physical and probable. Emphases on the teaching of leadership, positive risk-taking action, ethics, contemplation, and empathy will continue to be grounded in the Loretto school values of faith, community, justice, and respect. We are committed to continuing the positive aspects and commitments that are part of a St. Mary's Academy education. 

The innovations we are considering involve more collaborative partnerships among the three divisions and with schools and organizations outside the immediate St. Mary's Academy community in support of the study of social issues, problem-solving strategies, network complexity, and knowledge management, synthesis, and application. We are re-imagining the summer programming to provide inspiring courses for all ages that include leadership, physics, robotics, mathematical modeling, literature, and collaborative partnerships. We are considering the spaces in our buildings and how to best configure them for learning.

Currently, in MS, changes in schedule and how students are evaluated are inspiring other innovative considerations such as giving students more voice and choice, increasing subject-matter connectedness around themes, issues, and in assignments from reading to science labs to motivate connected, relevant learning. The quantity and focus of home assignments are being studied. We are considering how to implement a more intense and broadly integrated character-ed thread to the SMA experience, as well as teaching students more about how the brain works and what we need to learn well.

A few of the questions we are asking and seeking to answer in the context of innovation, change, and a future that is difficult to envision are the following:

What qualities of a learner are most important for a SMA student to acquire?
What are the most important academic skills for a SMA student to acquire?
What are the most important attributes of character for us to nurture?
Are these qualities, skills, and attributes best to support students in the unknowable future?
How do we fairly and fully assess acquisition of these qualities, skills, and attributes?
What content is essential to impart and ensure mastery of and why? 
How can students be given more voice and choice?
How can we better support and benefit from parents as learners and partners? 
How can we better model and teach the practice of mindfulness and prayer?
What can we do schedule-wise to support student learning?
How can we more optimally use our facilities?
When do we find the time to do this important work that involves collaboration?
How do we create an environment that allows for healthy risk-taking, errors, and revision.

Our teachers and students are creating a base of ideas and energy, and in the coming months, they would like to share and solicit input from parents. To that end, we invite parents, trustees, and any interested member of the St. Mary's Academy community to meet in the MS Commons in April. A series of meetings will be held at different times of the day. Meanwhile, please consider reading any or all of the following books:

Beyond Measure
Vicki Abeles with Grace Rubenstein
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks
Copyright 2015            ISBN: 978-0-670-01671-6

Creative Schools – The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education
Ken Robinson, Ph.D. with Lou Aronica
Viking – Penguin Random House LLC
Copyright 2015            ISBN: 978-0-670-01671-6

#EdJourney-A Roadmap to the Future of Education
(Moving the Rock will be published this coming fall-2017)
Grant Lichtman
John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Copyright 2014            ISBN: 978-1-118-89858

Mari K. Swingle PhD
New Society Publishers        

Copyright 2016            ISBN: 978-0-86571-825-8