Integral to the Wildwood Way is a thoughtful, intentional shared language. At the elementary campus, Life Skills provides a lexicon, which The Habits of Mind and Heart build on at our middle and upper campus. The words we use to communicate our ideas and inform instruction at Wildwood include patience, curiosity, and collaboration. Most importantly, the words are woven into every Wildwood student’s daily experience; they are not just big ideas posted on a banner.
I’m particularly fond of an early episode of The Simpsons in which Homer’s boss, Mr. Burns, invents and bestows an award on Homer in hopes of discouraging him from suing the nuclear power plant where he works. Burns even produces a televised award ceremony to go along with it: The First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.
The award is totally meaningless; the humor is in Homer falling for it.
But it’s a familiar exercise in empty language. We’ve all seen the inspirational banners touting “core values” like kindness, respect, integrity, etc. But schools still struggle with bullying, cheating, and the added fallout as students come to learn the hypocrisy of those hollow words.
At Wildwood, our shared language and clarity about the meaning of our words doesn’t make us immune to those real-world issues. But the Wildwood Way is fundamentally different.
From their very earliest days on campus, students at Wildwood begin learning and talking about Life Skills—those desired personal and intellectual skills Wildwood instills in its students every day. Ask a Wildwood elementary school student about The Life Skills and you’re bound to hear examples of how he or she navigates them every day—tackling a challenging math problem in 4th grade through the lens of perseverance or a channeling flexibility when a friend in the Pods wants to use the same toy during Explorations.
The Life Skills appear in every classroom and provide the vocabulary of myriad conversations throughout the day between students & teacher and students & students. They even play a role in how students are assessed, as I shared with a California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) committee on assessment recently.
I explained that because the Life Skills and Habits of Mind and Heart are integral to how we measure student success at Wildwood. It’s different— on purpose. Talking about how we measure our students’ learning and personal growth is a talk about our language.
In Wildwood’s middle and upper school The Habits of Mind and Heart are even more integrated into school life and culture. They guide cognitive and behavioral practices Wildwood expects its older students to internalize. The Habit of Convention dictates students’ attention to detail and precision in their work while students’ actions in their community involvement work flow through the lens of The Habit of Service The Common Good.
Every Wildwood middle and upper school student knows that the measure of one’s ultimate academic and personal success isn’t found on a report card set on a scale of A, B, or C. Rather, students and their learning are evaluated on narrative assessments which report the extent to which students meet expectations in each of the seven Habits—and recommendations for improvement if they are not.
Putting meaning behind the language we use is essential to The Wildwood Way. That’s what I told the CAIS committee. Yes, it’s different, and, it works.
The day after presenting I received a follow-up email from one of the audience members, an assessment expert at a peer independent school in Orange County. She wrote: “I thought it was very impressive, particularly the way in which the critical skills and dispositions of a learner become a habit through a very intentional, school wide practice. It is hard to get everyone using the same language and executing in a similar manner – impressive.”
By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach