We’re blazing through the fall semester with a new daily schedule, and perhaps the most popular change for many of our families and students has been the K-12 late-start Wednesdays. As a parent, I notice how the week slows down on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. Jennifer, Ben, Claire, and I have more opportunity as a family to engage each other without the stress of having to finish homework before bedtime and having to rush out the door to be avoid being late for school.
This “found” time is a gift to us as parents and to the children, and is, I believe, part of what we need to do more consistently to enjoy more mindful lives. For us on the faculty, the benefits of Wednesday mornings are very different, but no less significant. We’re here by 7:30 and go through a rotation of faculty meetings designed to keep us connected to each other and challenged to grow and develop on behalf of the children under our care.
In the past we met on Monday afternoons. We missed our teacher-coaches and all those responsible for after-school activities. And most would say that we’re not at our best in late afternoon meetings that can feel tedious and tiresome when we’re weary from the day and ready to get re-connected with our families and engage in our own after-school lives.
Having all of our meetings on Wednesday morning, however, has made an enormous difference. We are all present, and we are all engaged. We no longer need half-days (days which aren’t great learning days for students) for professional development. And most important, the early morning rotation is designed to make us better by pooling our talent and working through the challenges and opportunities we face every day.
This is the second year all members of the faculty have been part of a network of professional learning communities that we call Lifelong Learning Collaboratives (LLCs). LLCs are made up of ten to twelve members, each with two trained faculty facilitators. Faculty from each division populate our LLCs, so the teachers of our youngest and oldest students are regularly engaged in meaningful conversations about best practice within and beyond the classroom.
Not everyone on the faculty liked (or even likes) this approach, as some would argue that there’s not much we can learn from each other beyond our grade levels and divisions. But we hold that ours is a single K-12 school and we are one faculty community, and there is indeed a great deal we can learn from each other. The quality of our faculty conversations has never been stronger in my time at the School.
Earlier this fall I visited with an Upper School science teacher who brought a problem to discuss with her LLC. She was introducing her students to the important task of writing lab reports, and had for years, with mixed results, challenged her students to write better conclusions for their reports. She wanted her students to act more like scientists by avoiding personal pronouns in their narrative, being clear about their purpose in the lab, their expected results, their actual findings, the accuracy of their data, and any known sources of error.
Too often, students had shown a tendency to rush through their this aspect of their work and hurriedly turn it in. Her Upper School science colleagues commiserated and wondered too how they could make their reports better. The best suggestion, interestingly enough, came from a first grade teacher, who wondered whether or not the general start-of-year directions could be broken into smaller, more manageable parts, and whether or not the teacher could simplify the packet and include an FAQ format.
To the outside world, this might seem mundane and unimportant. But it was magic for the Upper School teacher who’d become frustrated over the years. What worked was the structure of the LLC, because it was fresh eyes from a colleague from another division who could most fully empathize with an Upper School student at the start of the year a little intimidated by the task of a high-stakes lab report in a hard science course at Randolph.
I’m reminded that we benefit greatly from the talent that’s all around us. What we need most is the open-minded patience and determined persistence to ask the right question and have the right folks at the table to help find the answer. This takes the time we give over to early start Wednesdays. It takes real courage to share what another faculty member calls “unfinished” work in a way that leaves us feeling “uncomfortable but healthy.” It’s the students who benefit most from this work, and it’s the combined commitment to excellence that we share with our parents on behalf of our students that makes Randolph a great school aspiring to be even better.