I was reflecting upon the rounds that I enjoy making at Williston and two moments coalesced and inspired this post. The first was an English department meeting which only a former English teacher could love. During the period, our department had a deep discussion on the use of the semi-colon. (Actually, much more was happening, too, as those in the group challenged one another’s ideas about teaching writing and how students analyze different texts.) “What a great moment,” I thought. It showed that our adopted schedule has given Williston’s professionals time to do what they do best.
Being peripatetic, I encountered another such moment—but this one the result of considerable labor, time, and planning. The Modern Language department’s curricular review team (the final visit of outside experts in a year-long process) created a report about how we teach languages at Williston. Everything from the use of technology to “backward design” has been discussed, challenged, and tested.
I’m not sure how many of our students know the extent to which our teachers are committed to life-long learning, but Williston’s teachers model the message—the same message they deliver every day in classrooms across campus. Their continuous professional development demonstrates that good teaching is no accident.
Talk about having an engaged Board of Trustees. If work and knowledge are twin pillars of strong boards of trustees, then Williston’s Board showed their mettle this past weekend over long and productive days of work. I have been around a number of boards in my time, but the energy and interest shown by our group was exemplary.
One highlight was certainly “Windows into Williston” and the Board’s exchange with a student panel which focused on the strategic issues exercise of “stop, start, and continue.” Members listened and asked questions as a cross section of students offered their insights about Williston today. As always, Williston students displayed the Purpose, Passion, and Integrity that define our school as they spoke about ways of further strengthening our deep sense of community, developing more Williston Scholars offerings, and increasing opportunities for day students to interact with boarding students.
Williston students listening as Mark Conroy pays tribute to Al
The return to Williston from Thanksgiving break is generally accompanied by the excitement and energy of the beginning of a new term, but this year, we confronted the loss of a devoted friend with the news of Al Lavalle’s passing. True to his legacy (and a sign of the times) the outpouring on social media sites was immediate, passionate, and memorable. I notified the community via email, but Mr. Mark Conroy’s moving tribute at our all-school assembly on Wednesday best captured the moment.
As Mark said: “With no disrespect for teaching faculty, students learned as much from Al during his tenure in the ‘cage’ as in any classroom.” Mr. Conroy then read from the 2007 yearbook dedication which honored Al for his service, friendship, and mentoring—all done from the unusual classroom space of the lower level of the athletic center and the equipment cage. It just goes to show you, the purpose of boarding schools, and their unique and irreplaceable value, is what happens outside of the classroom walls.
We all need to be learners in the virtual classroom. Dr. Sameer Hinduja educated Williston students on Tuesday (and a gathering of parents the evening before) about the clear and present dangers of teenage use of social media.
An expert in his field, Dr. Hindjua’s deceptively youthful appearance gained him quick credibility with our students—a hip college professor connects well with those in middle and upper school. One aspect of his message was not especially new: Electronic postings last a lifetime even if “taken down” from original sites. Yet the advice he gave students was newly framed for them.
Since everything a student posts is permanent—subject to searches by everyone from would-be employers to creepy people—students need to treat their social media presence as part of their very identity. What they post online should be something to be thoughtfully considered, guarded, and treated with utmost care.
Dr. Hinduja also focused as well on the world of cyberbullying, interspersing his lecture with YouTube videos made by teens who have suffered from the humiliating effects of campaigns waged against them.
It’s not that our students would use smart phones or laptops to wage a Lord of the Flies-like power struggle. Even so, they need to hear from pros like Dr. Hinduja that the old saw, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” don’t always apply when those words are streaming through millions of social media accounts.
Social media guidelines for educational institutions have not been widely defined, yet are just as clearly needed. With that in mind, Williston Northampton is working on a set of social media guidelines that we hope will offer students, faculty, and staff helpful, practical advice for navigating social media.
Since these efforts to develop community resources are always ongoing, we welcome your suggestions. What do you keep in mind when you’re online?
I have been thinking a lot in recent years about innovative teaching ideas and am always on the lookout for them.
Williston teachers, in particular, reflect current educational thinking about how to maintain a vibrant and relevant learning environment. Williston emphasizes five Cs across our program: character, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
In the English department at the end of the term, all members of the class of 2015 participated in “a paper of many parts” as they studied Romeo and Juliet. The portfolio included assignments that emphasized the five Cs; students wrote a monologue in the voice of a minor character, a sonnet in iambic pentameter, a critical analysis of a passage, and interviewed someone who had read the play but was not a ninth grade student.
While portfolio assessment is certainly nothing new, the approach to this particular assignment is part of a holistic and thoughtful methodology.
Our students learned skills they will need to be successful for Century 21.5 (as I like to call that future time when the class of 2015 will have become mature professionals).
We hear a lot about preparing students for the 21st century, but it’s also worth remembering that we are into our second decade already.
So the real point is that Williston’s curriculum—as with our ninth grade program, which encourages the collaboration and empathy (intrinsic to working with those who do not necessarily share the same background or perspectives)—is constantly evolving as we look toward the future.
Do you agree? Have your own experience to share? Let me know in the comments section below!