Friday, February 14, 2014

Boarding Schools and Public Schools

After posing on my Twitter handle, @AndrewMcNamar, the question, "Is it possible to replicate the learning models of @TABSorg or @NAISnetwork in pubic ed," my snowy morning exploration led me to a list of 25 critical factors in boarding schools, written by Pat Bassett and Pete Upham.  Their list inspired me to return to my blog, because 140 characters on Twitter is not enough space to share my thoughts on how their list connects to a public school world.

Here are three important points from their list that public and elite private schools should have in common:

"1. Create a distinctive and robust culture rooted in the school’s mission and values, informed by institutional history, energized by hope, and responsive to change."

By nature, human beings connect with stories; our history has been told through pictures and words for as long as we existed.  Local public schools should explore and honor their history in the same way storied boarding schools do with their histories.  Who are the graduates, the great teachers?  What are the legends and traditions?  

"7. Design experiential learning opportunities that serve a dual purpose: building student knowledge, confidence, and resilience through exposure to novel contexts, unfamiliar people, and fresh challenges; and deepening the esprit de corps between and among students and teachers." 

At other points on their list, Bassett and Upham attend to the need for focusing on each student's development, as well as creating opportunity for engaged students through leadership.  In point 7, I am struck by the language of "dual purpose."  Public education has moved too far down the testing accountability path.  As a result, these schools are lacking the "esprit de corps" that thrives at institutions like Phillips Exeter or Loomis Chaffee (those are two boarding schools I have visited).  Public education, in far too many instance, but specifically in the urban environment, are not attending to the basic human need for connection and belonging. 

"17. Attend to a faculty culture that is supportive of colleagues and school leadership, open to new thinking about teaching and learning, and hungry for professional growth."

Like many other states, Connecticut is moving in the direction of tying teachers' evaluations with standardized test scores.  We have read about teachers willing to walk away from this profession because they don't feel free to take risks beyond the curriculum associated with the test.  School districts force feed a one size fits all professional development strategy without consideration of the individuals.  Today's public school teachers are not afforded the same respect or academic freedom provided to boarding school educators

Public education needs to start examining the world of private education, specifically as it relates to school culture and climate.  Students who feel connected to teachers who feel empowered are far more likely to succeed academically.