WMS 2016: Teachers research and discuss the future of learning

Tim Breen and Megan Sweeney
“…we are at a watershed moment in education, and the opportunities in front of us are amazing — opportunities to help students really develop their curiosity, critical thinking and communication skills.”

From June 10th to June 12th, a small group of teachers gathered to discuss the future of education at The White Mountain School. Pulled together across a wide variety of disciplines, faculty members included Hiapo Emmons-Shaw, History and Philosophy Department Chair, Kate Renner, Visual and Performing Arts Chair and Director of Residential Life, Gabe Boisseau, Science Department Chair, and Paula Erskine, Learning Center tutor. Together these teachers have over 45 years of service at The White Mountain School. The workshop was organized and led by Head of School, Tim Breen, and Shane MacElhiney, Academic Dean and math teacher. Titled “WMS 2016” this experience provided the opportunity to explore the best research on learning, teaching and motivation and to envision what learning could look like in the future.

After sampling some educational reading materials such as Who Owns the Learning?: Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age, by Alan November; Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere, by Will Richardson; Stop Stealing Dreams, by Seth Godin, and articles from Independent School magazine, our teachers were ready to address the issues at hand. What motivates student learning? How can we better engage students in directing their own learning? How do we balance traditional college preparation with opportunities for independent learning. How can we best use new connected learning resources? What skills and habits are needed for successful independent research? How can we help students develop the ability to ask great questions — questions that drive their learning forward?

Tim Breen says, “I think we are at a watershed moment in education, and the opportunities in front of us are amazing — opportunities to help students really develop their curiosity, critical thinking and communication skills.”

Much of the workshop was spent developing resources for supporting student learning in the LASR (Leadership, Arts, Service and Research) Project. The LASR Project is the culmination of White Mountain’s focus on student-driven, independent work. The capstone of which is an independent project required of all students. Refining a list of skills needed for success with independent research allowed the teachers to think together about how best to support student development of these skills. As Harvard’s Tony Wagner has said, “The essential skill of the 21st century is knowing how to ask the most interesting questions.” Through our focus on independent work, students will develop their ability to ask great questions — and to seek the answers.

Our faculty emerged after three days of valuable conversation and creative work with ideas for their own teaching, and with thoughts about how best to share these ideas with other teachers during inservice meetings. It is clear that there is a convergence of energy around helping students direct more of their learning — with a recognition that this will lead to higher motivation and deeper, more enduring understandings. For next year, it will be exciting to see how teachers put this into practice. So what will WMS be like in 2016? While we can’t know that for certain, we do know that WMS will continue to believe in educating each student as an individual. We will continue to create a unique, challenging, exciting educational experience to help young people discover their passions, their independence, their drive to learn and their connections to the broader world. “The workshop was exciting,” said Paula Erskine, “it was great to work together and we’re all looking forward to seeing the outcomes in the classrooms.”

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