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Academic Blog

Progress Report: Derryfield's Academic Vision

Three years ago Derryfield launched a process to examine our teaching, our academic program, and our daily schedule.  As we have shared with you in Cougar Tracks, at Parent Night presentations, Middle and Upper School communications meetings, and through many parent forums, this has been exciting and energizing work, in which we’ve sought to keep the best of what has always worked at Derryfield and add the best of what’s new in the brain-science of teaching and learning.  

In year one we looked closely at our teaching practice through the lens of 21st century skills: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.  Our teachers led in-house professional development workshops that included the use of digital storytelling, blogs, twitter, and the flipped-classroom; and our colleagues ran sessions on coding, robotics, and the development of empathy through art and writing.  We examined new forms of communication through the use of video and visual expression, while simultaneously improving how we teach writing, and we developed projects for our students that are based on real-world problems and that allow them to present before professional audiences.  

In year two we focused on our academic program, asking ourselves the following questions: how can we best prepare our students for college and the world beyond? What skills and experiences do we want to ensure our students have when they graduate? And how can we enhance student health and wellbeing to optimize learning?  Through talking with alumni, visiting other schools, attending conferences, conducting research, and hearing from parents, students, and teachers, we developed our Academic Program Vision.  This vision includes the development of our Advanced Topics courses, new required courses in Computer Science, Visual Foundations, and Leadership, Ethics, and Development (LEAD), and an emphasis on problem-solving and communication skills.  

This year (year three) our goals have been two-fold: one, to develop a new schedule to best serve our students, which we completed in January, and two, to prepare to teach in the new schedule -- one that includes 75 minute classes that meet every other day.  We know that the deep learning of skills and content occurs through multiple modes of experience, and is enhanced by student choice, engagement with the real-world, and time given for reflection. Our teachers are excited to use these longer periods for exactly these kinds of activities, activities that include role plays, debates, writing for the public, student-driven research, and collaborative problem-solving.  

Our training for this teaching is well underway.  During our two recent February professional development days, our teachers learned and reviewed Understand by Design, a curriculum planning process which emphasizes backwards design, enduring understandings, and the careful alignment of units and activities. We also worked with a consultant from Independent Schools Management (ISM) to hone and diversify our teaching techniques, with a focus on classroom activities that develop student agency, initiative, understanding, relevance, and mastery.  Teachers wrote detailed lesson plans, offered and received feedback from colleagues, and shared best practices that exist at Derryfield and beyond.

As we approach the end of the year, we are preparing for our “June Faculty Days,” which will include three days devoted to Project-Based Learning (PBL).  For this work we will be led by the Buck Institute for Education, and our teachers will continue to develop plans for the learning of core content through real-world research and problem-solving.  We are particularly excited about the development of Gold-Standard projects in our new Advanced Topic classes.  

If you haven’t done so already, please also read this recent New York Times article on what learning in schools can look like.  We were excited but not surprised to see so many elements mentioned in the article already taking place in Derryfield classrooms.  But the work is never done, and our teachers and administrative team are eager to keep learning and growing as we look to the 2019-20 school year and the exciting changes ahead.

Brent Powell and Lindley Shutz
Deans of Academic Program
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The Derryfield School

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