Community as Classroom: KO Initiates Program To Engage Students in Local Learning

Dan Gleason, Head of the Upper School

On January 30, 2020, our Board of Trustees voted to approve a new strategic vision for Kingswood Oxford. The approval followed months of information-gathering and iteration by the Strategic Design Team, with strong input from faculty and staff, Board members, students, parents, alumni, and even recent accreditors. The new vision highlights several aspects of learning at KO – local connections, interdisciplinary thinking, student leadership, collaboration – that we believe are crucial for student engagement and essential to emphasize within our current program. In short, our strategic vision defines who we will become, and it specifies the exciting programmatic choices we are committing to.

While there are many key elements within the strategic vision, I would like to focus in this post on what is likely the most fundamental curricular initiative in the strategy: local experiences and partnerships. According to the vision itself, KO faculty will engage students “by expanding the classroom beyond our campus and partnering with people and institutions in the greater Hartford area.” We believe that these local connections are powerful motivators for learning, revealing in sharper relief the relevance and purpose of coursework.

The Power of Local Learning  

Schools that engage with local learning harness the power of the real world to motivate students and increase the relevance of the curriculum. In essence, local partnerships ask students to apply their classroom learning within a real-life situation, whether a meeting with a non-profit organization, benchwork at a biomedical lab, or a presentation at an art museum. One key accelerator for local learning is the richness of the context: in the medical lab, students don’t just learn the facts of science but also see firsthand what scientists do every day; in the art museum, students don’t just learn about art (or even analyze it) but also see how exhibits bring those ideas to life for visitors. This authenticity is compelling, and it helps students understand the power and purpose of their learning.

Promising Precedents

Certainly, building local experiences into curriculum is not a brand-new idea; several influential independent and public schools have created programs that do this. For example, The Winchester Thurston School (in Pittsburgh) pioneered the “City as Our Campus” program, and it has served them as a powerful platform for authentic learning. The Lovett School in Atlanta has found success with the semester-long Lab Atlanta program, which asks students to dive into local civic challenges. The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a public school for gifted STEM students, has used its Student Inquiry and Research program to place students in cutting-edge research projects at local universities and organizations. And Iowa Big, a program that draws students from three districts in Cedar Rapids, challenges students to help solve authentic problems posed by community organizations. 

Here at KO many teachers have been designing local learning experiences to energize their curriculum for years. Students in U.S. History have taken part in the Witness Stones project, an initiative run by local teachers that challenges high school students to research the lives of enslaved people who helped found Hartford-area communities. Through this project, KO students have presented their findings to community members and created public markers to recognize those otherwise forgotten founders. Students in our ninth-grade Earth and Environmental Science class have conducted longitudinal testing of a nearby waterway (Trout Brook), gathering data on water quality as part of a state-funded grant. Students have also taken learning walks through the community to ground their learning: a Wallace Stevens walk for an English class, a Frog Hollow walk led by local author Susan Campbell for a History class. Our strategic vision builds on these practices and deepens them, bringing more application and relevance to all KO courses.

Students Thrive

Local learning does not just sound impressive – it gets good results, too. A recent review of studies on place-based education found a raft of positive outcomes for students engaged in exploring the local community or natural surroundings within their classes. Students involved in place-based education earn higher test scores and grades than their matched peers outside those programs. They also stay in school longer and earn higher scholarship awards. Even more impressive may be the effects of place-based education on critical thinking: a study of 400 ninth- and twelfth-grade students in Florida found that students involved in place-based education outscored matched peers by a significant margin on the Cornell Critical Thinking Test. And the students in the local learning programs also registered much higher motivation to achieve and learn than their peers.         

These are powerful results. Not surprisingly, colleges and universities take notice when students engage deeply with the meaningful civic and research challenges posed by their local environments. For example, Greg Moyer, the Associate Director of Admissions for Dickinson College, notes that Lab Atlanta’s emphasis on local engagement translates very well to the college environment: “Lab Atlanta’s focus on community-focused education resonates well with the work that we do at the college level. We look for curious minds that care about inclusive, diverse communities…Empathy and engagement is critical.” Halfway across the country, students coming out of the Iowa Big program have also found that their experiences have been viewed very favorably by colleges: 97 percent of the program graduates who applied to college were admitted to their first-choice school. Obviously enough, the purpose of local involvement is to engage students and increase learning – not just to rack up college acceptances – but these results nonetheless speak to the power of their work.

Engaging the Entire KO Community

With these compelling stories and potent research findings – on critical thinking, grades, and motivation – in mind, we at KO are thrilled to bring the power of local learning to our students. We are also thrilled to collaborate in this initiative with our parents, alums, and others in our local community who look forward to partnering with us and forging connections between our coursework and their organization’s goals and needs. Please reach out to us if you are interested in working with our students and building a meaningful learning partnership. 


River of Learning: Seventh Graders To Embark on Interdisciplinary Expedition

Ann Sciglimpaglia,  Head of the Middle School

The Middle School years, when students are brimming with energy and curiosity, offer the perfect opportunity for exploratory or “expeditionary” learning. It’s the ideal time for them to take a deep dive into learning that’s experiential, immersive and interdisciplinary – learning that allows them to explore new ideas, connect learning from different areas of study, and to examine the region and community where they live in an entirely new way.

This September, seventh graders and their teachers will embark on an expedition to create just such an experience. For an entire semester, they’ll be intensely engaged in an interdisciplinary study of the lifeblood of human civilization and culture in the Connecticut River Valley: water.

The Expedition

The Connecticut River Watershed will become our classroom. We will follow the river wherever it takes us to ask the essential question: What is the power of water?

Like any authentic quest, our expedition will lead us into the unknown and generate a range of emotions, including real and perceived risk, discomfort, surprise, and exhilaration. Our students will make this voyage of discovery as crew, not passengers. They’ll be relying not on teachers, but on their own collective knowledge and problem-solving ability. They will experience both successes and failures.

Through the lenses of science, history, and literature, students will examine the biological, chemical, geological and hydraulic features of water, its role in sustaining and shaping the economic, political and societal structures of indigenous peoples and European and African settlers in the region, and the cultural and metaphoric meanings and interpretations of rivers as expressed in myths, legends, writing, and art.

Most importantly, this process will build and strengthen their skills as thinkers, readers, writers, researchers, analysts, and synthesizers.

H-2-O Odyssey

As scientists, students will investigate questions such as: What are the sources of water in the Connecticut Valley? How has water shaped and carved the landscape? How have humans sought to use, control and distribute water and what effects have their efforts produced? What does a healthy watershed look like?

They’ll take a canoe trip from Hartford to Long Island Sound, conduct fieldwork to collect data on the quality of water and the flora and fauna in the watershed, and assemble field guides describing and cataloging the river’s environment.

Plunging into the Past, Present, and Future

As historians, students will ask: How did water shape the farming, hunting, fishing and trading patterns of Native American and European settlers in the region? What role did water play in the slave trade, the Pequot War and King Phillip’s War, and the American Revolution? How did waterpower lead to the development of manufacturing in the area? They’ll take field trips to archeological sites, dams, former factories and canals, and historical museums and homes.

They’ll also assess the state of the river today and discover how local, state and federal laws and public opinion affect how we currently use the river. They’ll analyze the impact of current policies and practices and on the future of the Connecticut River Valley.

Lapping Up Literature

As readers and writers, students will examine the inspiration that rivers have furnished for myth and literature. What is the role of rivers in legends and origins stories? How have novelists, essayists, poets, musicians and artists such as Walt Whitman, Gary Paulsen, Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, and Billy Collins drawn on rivers as metaphors and sources of meaning? Students will keep personal journals and write their own narratives and creative responses to their experiences. They’ll create a literary magazine and podcasts featuring their writing.

River Keepers

During the course of their journey, students will interview key stakeholders in the river’s fate – farmers, hydrologists, naturalists, environmentalists, engineers, public officials, including KO alum Chris Hayes of Riverfront Recapture, State Archeologist Nick Bellantoni, former State Historian Walt Woodward, WNPR environmental reporter Patrick Skahill, master fly fisherman Iain Sorrell, Connecticut Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson and KO alum Benjamin Bachman, author of the book “Upstream: A Voyage on the Connecticut River,” as well as curators, scientists and conservationists at the Connecticut River Museum, the Connecticut River Conservancy, the Connecticut Audubon Society, and Trout Unlimited.

Journey’s End

As the expedition approaches its conclusion, each student will present their answer to the question “What story is the river telling?” in one of three ways: by writing a literary journal, producing a podcast, or devising a computer application. Collectively, they’ll compile an ethnographic study based on their interviews with the river’s stakeholders.

The expedition will culminate with a showcase event where students will share their experiences, discoveries, and reflections with the wider Kingswood Oxford community through exhibits, maps, artwork, and verbal presentations.

The Five Qualities of Effective Leaders

Will Gilyard, Dean of Students

What makes a great leader? At a recent conference dedicated to exploring the type of atmosphere schools can create so that faculty of color will feel safe and supported at trying their hand at leadership in independent schools, I had the opportunity to join other educators in answering that question. Working together, we identified, discussed and practiced the attributes and skills that make an effective leader.

In our school’s mission statement, we highlight the importance of inspiring students to excel and lead lives of integrity and involvement. Preparing our students to be leaders is part of living out our mission. I’d like to share some insights and strategies with the larger Kingswood Oxford community.

  • Soft Skills Are Hard Skills 

With the rapid increase of advanced technologies, we tend to assume that highly intelligent people with technical expertise and specialized “hard skills” make the best leaders. 

But many organizations are discovering that “soft skills” – having a high EQ, effective communication, making connections with colleagues, collaborating with them, and respecting their differences – are equally important attributes of strong leaders. Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls this “emotional intelligence.” 

Effective leaders, like great teachers, are able to inspire and motivate people to achieve their best, not only because they know so much about their subject areas, but also because they know so much about their colleagues. 

  • Tell a Story 

As any successful teacher, coach, speaker or writer knows, the most effective way to explain a process or clarify a message is to tell a compelling story that invokes an emotional connection and illustrates your point. What better way to encourage your sales team to be persistent than to describe your experiences as you knocked on 500 doors before making your first sale?   

  • Ask Questions 

Too many managers think their job is to give opinions and orders. In fact, their job is to ask questions and listen to other people’s ideas. Great leaders welcome multiple perspectives and seek dissenting opinions that differ from their own. They ponder not only what people are sharing, but also why they’re sharing it. 

You’re the one who makes the ultimate decision, of course, but by incorporating different perspectives into that decision, you can enroll others.

  • Set a Goal

One of the most effective practices of good leaders is “backward design” – figuring out exactly what you want the final result to look like and then engineering a process to achieve that result. That way, as the project progresses, you’ll know how each piece and step of the plan fits into the long-term goal, and you won’t be distracted or deterred by temporary obstacles and setbacks.

So, instead of false starts and blind alleys, you know in advance just what your goal is and exactly what tools you’ll need to achieve it. 

  • Yes, you can! 

Many leaders, even those who have risen to great success, suffer from “the imposter syndrome” – a sense of inadequacy, self-doubt and feeling fraudulent that overrides any feelings of success. They feel that they’re just faking it and that someone will unmask them as frauds. 

You can short-circuit this self-doubt by pausing to review your track record, reaffirm your competence, and remember the validation you’ve received from your teachers, colleagues, supervisors, and mentors. 

Give yourself the same advice you’d give to a good friend – “You can do this, and you know it!”

Centering on Students Is Our Twenty-first Century Vision

 Joan Edwards, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency

At the dawn of a new year, I imagine that I join others in reflecting on what this time of renewal offers us. I am not focused on committing to a new exercise regimen or a new self-care plan. Instead, I have given great thought to how to address what ails us as a society. We need to focus on the needs of our children. Seeing them as our North Star will bring us clarity on how to educate them for the present that they are facing and the future that lies ahead of them.

With the onslaught of hatred and violence streaming in the news cycle and the way that incidents of hatred and bias show up in the online and real-time lives of students, I ask us adults to commit to:

•Highlighting how systems of oppression still persist today. All students need to learn how those systems operate today in their daily lives.

•Letting students of color know that they are not an advertisement or representation of our equity goals. Neither are they required to teach us about how to achieve full inclusion in schools. They are young souls who deserve to be loved as people with the full spectrum of skills, needs, and dreams that are assumed of white students.

•Teaching white students how white supremacy robs them of their humanity every time they say, think or feel that they are superior because of their race.

•Refraining from teaching boys and men that women and girls are primarily sexual beings with no ability to lead.

•Teaching all students that people from the Asian diaspora are neither the “in between” people, nor perpetual foreigners. They have a history and present that is a salient part of the current discourse about race and class in this country.

•Refraining from teaching that white people are the involuntary perpetrators and that Black, Indigenous and People of Color were only the unfortunate victims of enslavement and genocide.

•Telling all children the truth about the founding of the United States with all of its contradictions, ugliness, and beauty. 

This is a call to action I share as an educator and a parent. I’m not calling us out. I am calling all of us adults in — into this work of raising our children honestly and with the respect they deserve.

Raising the future is challenging and often scary work but it is not impossible. Before we can effectively commit to and live out these promises for 2020, we adults need to do our own learning and unlearning.

We need to clearly see for ourselves how white supremacy, heterosexism, ableism, sexism, and classist thinking have clouded and continue to cloud our vision and therefore our teaching. Let’s promise that in 2020 we will “get our learning on.

Practices Sharpen Skills & Boost Camaraderie

Debbie Fiske, Director of Athletics

If you were to ask student-athletes what they enjoy most about playing a sport, the word “Practices” probably wouldn’t be at the top of their lists. But in fact, rigorous and regular practice provides the foundation for the success of any athlete or sports team. As sports psychologist Jim Taylor recently wrote, “Whatever you do in practice is what you will do in a competition.”

While practices may not be as exciting or enjoyable as games and matches, they can provide the satisfaction of learning and improving skills, forging bonds with your teammates, and developing the physical and mental discipline to excel in competition. Practice may not always make perfect, but it always makes players and teams better. And, yes, it can also be fun. 

What benefits do practices provide and how can athletes get the most out of practice? Here are six points to consider:  

  • Embrace the Drill

Most athletes don’t enjoy drills, which usually involve the repetition of specific skills such as ball-handling, passing or shooting. But performing these routines imbeds these movements, techniques, and dexterities into your muscle memory. They become habits so that during actual competitions they feel so natural that you can execute them without even thinking. This allows you to focus your attention on larger concepts like tactics and positioning. 

  • Second Stringers Rule

Athletes who aren’t first-string players often make their most important contributions to the team, not in games, but in practice, where they provide intense and high-caliber competition for the team’s starters. This sharpens the skills not only of the top players but of their understudies as well, thus making the whole team better. 

  • Know Why You’re Doing It

Players should always try to understand why they’re practicing a certain skill or maneuver. Coaches will usually make this plain to their teams, but players should ask for clarification if they’re unsure. Knowing the purpose of a practice makes it more bearable, meaningful and productive. 

  • Hard Practices Forge Team Spirit

Challenging or grueling practices not only build strength and endurance, but they also create a bond among team members. Like basic training in the military, suffering with your teammates through the pain and fatigue of a hard practice produces not only gripes and groans but also an intense shared experience that boosts morale and creates the feeling of “We can get through anything together!”

  • Practice Offers a Chance to Experiment 

Because the stakes are much lower in practices, players and coaches have the opportunity to try new strategies and maneuvers. Players can improvise and take risks, and if these experiments don’t work, it’s a no-harm, no-foul situation. This novelty brings a sense of fun to practice, and these experiments often produce breakthrough plays or strategies that help win games.

  • Support Your Teammates in Practice

Most of us associate cheering with games, but it’s also important to show support and encouragement for your teammates during practices. A pat on the back, a high-five, or a simple “Nice job!” not only lifts the spirits of your teammates but your own spirits as well.

KO Will Shape Its Future With Strategic Vision

Tom Dillow, Head of School 

As we close the chapter on Kingswood Oxford’s 110th year this year, I can’t help reflecting on the tens of thousands of graduates this school has sent off into the world, well prepared for the academic challenges of college and well equipped to meet the demands of the 20th Century. Our school has a long history of helping students develop a love for learning, to read and write with increasing sophistication, and to take ownership of their learning. Equally relevant, we have taught students about the importance of personal integrity, hard work, and caring beyond self. These have always been the hallmarks of our mission and will continue to be so in the years ahead. 

However,  as we turn our attention to the future and formulate a new strategic vision for our school, we must also ask, “How do we best prepare our students for success in the colleges and jobs of the future?” The changes taking place in the world today are of historic significance and will surely shape the ways in which we live, work, and interact with one another.  

Revolution 4.0

While the First Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth century brought a transition to machines powered by steam and water, the Second introduced electricity and mass production. These two fundamental transformations altered the social and economic structures of the prior thousand years. They gave birth to new ideas, like industrial capitalism, Marxism, and socialism, and made it possible for humans to wage war on a scale unimaginable to past generations. 

Many economists now argue that we have already undergone a Third Industrial Revolution, which ushered in the Information Age and automated manufacturing, and that we are now in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution that will deliver entirely new ways of embedding smart technology within production processes, societal structures, and even the human body. Like the Industrial Revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these revolutions in information and artificial intelligence will bring dramatic changes to how we live and work in the near future.  

Equipping our students to meet the challenges of these rapid transformations will require new skills and dispositions to build onto those we have always taught. According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report,” within five years, up to one-third of the skills we think are essential for success in the jobs of today will have become obsolete.

Ready for the Revolution

As we develop a new strategic vision for Kingswood Oxford, we are being intentional about providing our students with the skills and dispositions they’ll need in this new world. These include:

 •Interdisciplinary Learning – Because new discoveries will blend knowledge from many fields, young people will need to perceive and utilize connections across academic disciplines.

•Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – The ability to empathize and connect with others is a disposition that artificial intelligence won’t be able to copy.

•Focus – Bombarded by the multiple distractions of data, students will have to distinguish between peripheral and significant information and to home in on key concepts.

•Critical Thinking – Young people will need to cultivate and exercise a healthy skepticism about the quality, accuracy and hidden consequences of new information and processes.

•Content Mastery – While the facts and concepts in every field are continually being updated, revised and even discarded, students will still need a body of core knowledge to provide context and perspective on new information. 

•Collaboration – The complexity and speed of information demand a team approach to research and problem-solving, placing a premium on unselfishness, compromise, and tact. 

•Interpersonal Communication – Amidst an atmosphere crackling with the static of data, they’ll need to express their ideas and information clearly, concisely and cogently.

•Flexibility – Like a quarterback under pressure, they’ll need to be able to adjust and recalculate their patterns of thinking to meet unexpected challenges.

•Ethical Leadership – New technologies, business models and scientific breakthroughs are raising profound ethical questions, and young people will need strong moral compasses to answer them.

•Risk-taking – The Fourth Revolution is not for the faint of heart; young people will need to develop the courage, confidence, and competence to explore and propose new ideas and solutions.

 A Roadmap for the Revolution

 While devising a plan to prepare our students for the challenges of the future can seem daunting, the process of creating our strategic vision also brings exhilaration and excitement. Our teachers, staff members, parents, students, alumni, and trustees look forward to setting clear goals for our school and exploring creative ways to meet them as they continue to sustain and nurture the values that Oxford, Kingswood, and Kingswood Oxford have always cherished. 


Vaping Is Addictive, Dangerous and Deadly

by Will Gilyard, Dean of Students

The practice of vaping – the use of e-cigarettes that produce an aerosol vapor to deliver nicotine – has now reached epidemic proportions among young people. Lured by clever advertising, enticing, kid-friendly flavors such as “Cotton Candy” and “Gummy Bear,” and nicotine cartridges shaped like flash drives, teenagers and even pre-teens – many of whom would never dream of smoking cigarettes – are experimenting with vaping or are now vaping regularly. 

The U.S. Surgeon General reports that more than 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students currently use e-cigarettes and that vaping has now spread to young people of all regions, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes. Clothing manufacturers have even been marketing “vapewear” to teenagers, including hoodies and backpacks with small pockets designed to stash e-cigarettes.

Here are some critical facts for parents, educators, and young people to consider:

  • Vaping poses significant health risks. 

Nationwide, more than 1,800 people have been diagnosed with vaping-related illnesses, and 37 people have died from them. 

The aerosol (vapor) produced by e-cigarettes consist of ultrafine particles that are inhaled deeply into the lungs, where they can do extensive damage and cause respiratory diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified more than 70 chemicals in the vapor delivered by e-cigarettes, and 26 of these are on the FDA’s harmful and potentially harmful substance list. These toxic substances, some of them carcinogens, include: 

– propylene glycol (found in anti-freeze) 

– acetone (found in nail polish remover and paint thinner) 

– ethylbenzene (found in pesticides, varnishes, paints, and inks)

– formaldehyde (found in embalming fluid)

– heavy metals, such as nickel and lead 

Nicotine itself is known to have harmful effects on the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Recent studies show that nicotine impairs flow-mediated dilation of the arteries (the natural expansion of the arteries in response to increased blood flow). A single e-cigarette pod contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, and many vapers buy extra-strength cartridges that contain even higher concentrations of nicotine. Such intense doses can cause users to become “nic-sick,” leading to vomiting, dizziness, and headaches.

  • Vaping is as addictive as smoking cigarettes. 

Nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, which is why both smokers and vapers have such a hard time quitting. Nicotine use in early adolescence causes changes in the brain that make life-long addiction much more likely for both young smokers and e-cigarette users

  • Vaping can lead to smoking cigarettes and using drugs. 

Though vaping began as a way for cigarette smokers to quit, physicians say it’s actually leading some young people to smoke cigarettes and try other drugs. “The #1 concern about vaping right now is the so-called gateway effect,” Michael Blaha, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, recently wrote. “We might be causing the next smoking epidemic through young people getting addicted to electronic cigarettes early in life.” 

Because vaping has become a popular method for ingesting THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active ingredient in marijuana, it’s easy and natural for young people who’ve been using e-cigarettes to make the transition to vaping THC.  

  • We don’t yet know the full consequences of vaping.

Because vaping products are so new and health professionals can’t fast forward into the future, the long-term effects of these products are impossible to predict. Just imagine what else we will know about the consequences of vaping in another 10 years when we have a fuller picture. 

What we do know now is this: Vaping can cause disease, death, and addiction and lead to smoking cigarettes and using other drugs. 

Collaborative Learning Groups Help Teachers Create  New Ways To Foster Equity and Student Ownership

by Jane Repp, Director of Teaching and Learning

This year, Kingswood Oxford teachers are exploring new ways to create an equitable classroom culture where students take ownership of their own learning process. To pursue this quest for innovation, every teacher has elected to join one of five collaborative learning groups, based on his or her own area of interest. Each group is devoted to a different aspect of engaging students in learning.

During the course of the academic year, these collaborative learning groups will meet several times to generate ideas about curriculum, methods and activities that foster equity and empower students in their own learning. 

Teachers will plan, implement and evaluate these new approaches, and then share their experiences with the colleagues in their own groups and eventually with the entire faculty. The objective of the collaborative learning groups is to ensure that innovation and creativity become the norm, rather than the exception, in our classrooms:  

The collaborative learning groups and the key questions each will be addressing are: 

  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain – How can we use the ideas in Zaretta Hammond’s “Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain.” the book read by the entire faculty this summer, to create a culturally responsive classroom environment? 
  • Project-Based Learning and Authentic Application – How might we devise new student projects and applications that are culturally responsive in their content or structure? 
  • Feedback – How might we use the feedback students receive from teachers or other students to develop independent learners who are eager for intellectual growth?
  • Student-led Discussions – How might we develop independent learners through practices of student agency and voice in our classrooms?
  • Collaborative Learning – How might we use a culturally responsive lens to modify or create structures of collaborative learning?

This shared process of professional growth offers enrichment and refreshment for our teachers and helps our students in several ways:

  • Teachers become students – By following their curiosity, discovering new ideas and generating new strategies, teachers savor the same intellectual exhilaration their own students do. This stimulation enables teachers to stay vibrant and fresh, and this excitement in turn energizes their own students. 
  • Teachers learn from one another – Teachers traditionally do much of their planning in isolation, but collaborative learning allows teachers to share ideas and resources, discover what other teachers are doing in their classrooms, and support one another. Pairs of teachers partner to sit in on each other’s classes and then share post-class debriefings, which provides useful feedback, suggestions, and validations. They can also serve as sounding boards for each other and hold each other accountable for meeting deadlines to devise, implement and evaluate their innovative projects.    
  • Teachers become a team – Because each group comprises a mix of teachers of different grade levels, academic departments and years of experience, teachers come to know colleagues with whom they’re unfamiliar. These interactions encourage interdisciplinary perspectives, professional respect, and faculty camaraderie, which, in turn, provides a model for how such cooperative learning can be implemented in the classroom.  

Through these collaborative learning groups, we’re asking of ourselves what we ask of our students: to think creatively, to take ownership of their own learning, and to work productively and joyfully with others.     

Seven Student Goals for Technology in the Classroom

Maureen Lamb, Upper School Classics and Language Department Chair

Technology in the classroom is beneficial, but teachers, not the tools, transform learning. To promote student learning, teachers need to facilitate and help the students apply their digital skills to their scholarship.

Technology allows teachers to adjust and to play to various students’ proficiencies and bolsters areas that need work.

Here are seven different attributes from the International Standards for Technology in Education (ISTE) which are designed to empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process.  I’ve explored various means to apply them to the classroom.  

Empowered Learner

Students leverage their technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learner sciences.

Ideas for Empowered Learner:

  • Self-reflection through shared or collaborative rubrics on Google docs
  • Peer revise work on Google Slides
  • Autocheck assessments on Google forms and Classroom
  • Create a video for feedback using FlipGrid
  • Create a video describing solutions using Screencastify
  • Self-reflection through Google forms

Digital Citizenship

Students recognize the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of living, learning, and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model ways that are safe, legal and ethical.

Ideas for Digital Citizenship:

  • How to responsibly use social media apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Responsible citing of sources using EasyBib and similar resources (Easy Bib Add On)
  • Responsible research using library sources and Google Scholar

Knowledge Constructor

Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital skills to construct knowledge, produce create artifacts, and make meaning learning experiences for themselves and others

Ideas for Knowledge Constructor:

  • Graphic organizer to plan and outline notes and research (Google docs)
  • Cite sources properly (again using online sources, such as Google Scholar)
  • Use Wikipedia to inform research, not for research
  • Credibility of resources (Google translate video)
  • Citing YouTube video and infographics
  • Creating Infographics (Google Draw)

Innovative Designer

Students use a variety of techniques with a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful, or imaginative solutions.

Ideas for Innovative Designer

  • Reflection on assessments, projects, assignments, etc. (Google forms)
  • Ability to redo assessments (Google forms)
  • Use Flipgrid to practice presentations and speaking assessments
  • Use podcasts (or teacher-created Flipgrids) to practice listening assignments

Computational Thinker

Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions

Ideas for Computational Thinker

  • Create student polls/surveys (Google Forms)
  • Create infographics
  • Create websites with data and results (Google Sheets, Google sites)

Creative Communicators

Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using platforms, tools, styles, formats, and digital media appropriate to their goals.

Ideas for Creative Communicator

  • Student-created presentations and interviews on Screencastify
  • Student-created blogs on Google sites
  • Edpuzzle for repurposing videos or making relevant video clips for a topic

Global Communicator

Students use digitals tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.

Ideas for Global Communicator

  • Student choice in project types and media in presenting project (Sites, Slides, Drawing, Docs)
  • Video conferencing through Google meet
  • Email penpals
  • Online discussion threads
  • Virtual field trips through Google Expeditions




Jackie Pisani, Director of Marketing and Communications

The most important task of a teacher is helping students learn how to learn, not to fill out worksheets and parrot back answers. As educators, the essential question we are all addressing is:

How might I create an equitable classroom culture where student ownership is the norm?

Zaretta Hammond, the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, examines the nexus of brain-based learning and practicing culturally responsive teaching as a means of unlocking the potential of all students, including those traditionally marginalized students who have been left behind due to systemic failures in education.

Hammond makes it clear that her text is not a how-to guide to developing lesson plans on culturally responsive praxis, but rather a means to develop in teachers “a mindset, a way of thinking about and organizing instruction to allow for greater flexibility in teaching.” The ultimate objective of the book is to give teachers specific frameworks and strategies to shift students from dependent to independent learners. Neuroscientists define this recasting as a “productive struggle” where students can expand their cognitive growth or “intellective capacity” so they may attend to higher-level, complex, and analytical skills.

Hammond organizes her methodology in a “Ready for Rigor” framework of four interdependent areas for teachers to create a learning environment where students are both nurtured and challenged simultaneously.


Every teacher comes to the classroom with a predisposed set of ideas and values. Without judgment, Hammond asks teachers to reflect on the biases they may carry, situate themselves within the cultural framework and open their aperture to the various identities of students in their class. By understanding themselves, teachers can recognize and mediate their own emotional responses to situations in the classroom.

Learning Partnerships

Teaching is a relational process — a daily trust-building exercise between the teacher and the student. Only through this meaningful and real reciprocal exchange can a student’s brain become more wired to learn, receive feedback and follow through with it to build their intellective capacity. Students accept constructive criticism and rise to a challenge from those they know who have their back.

Information Processing

Information processing is the ability to acquire information, expand upon and store that knowledge, and apply it in various settings. A culturally responsive teacher designs lessons so that a student can move through each of these stages. Our backgrounds, traditions, and customs influence how the brain takes in information. For instance, those students from oral-based cultures process information better with call and response strategies, music, and talk activities.

Community Building

Each student feels safe, comfortable, and supported when taking a risk since their value and sense of belonging is embedded in a culturally responsive class. Whether through locating universal signs and symbols or establishing class routines, teachers can create a positive environment in which all students can learn to take more ownership.

After reading Hammond’s book, the faculty at Kingswood Oxford chose the Collaborative Learning Group that best matched their pedagogical interest for professional development. The groups are Collaborative Learning, Project-Based Learning and Authentic Application, Feedback, and Student-Led Discussions as well as a group that will take a deeper dive into all four elements of the Ready for Rigor Framework. Using this book as a resource that grounds our work in neuroscience and culturally responsive pedagogy, we can widen our cultural lens and measure the impact in the classroom and examine the data to make shifts in our teaching practice.