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Parents step up and think big
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Last night, Wildwood held its State of the School meeting for parents and members of the school community. It was an opportunity for Head of School Landis Green and Board Chair Cynthia Berkshire to address the school’s financial health (rock solid); our current enrollment (healthy and strong); and to look ahead to future goals.

Prior to the meeting, parents were invited to take an online survey that asked, among other things, in what areas they wanted to see Wildwood recognized as a leader. At least night’s event, the nearly 100 attendees were asked to revisit this question in a uniquely Wildwood way: through a protocol.

Before I came to Wildwood, I would never have put the term “protocol” in the same sentence as “classroom.” In fact, here’s one definition of protocol I found on Merriam-Webster:

  • a : a code prescribing strict adherence to correct etiquette and precedence (as in diplomatic exchange and in the military services) <a breach of protocol>

At Wildwood, protocols are “structured ways to work and communicate to promote growth” – a definition that was given to parents courtesy of Assistant Head of School Melinda Tsapatsaris. Following Cynthia and Landis’ presentation, Melinda explained to parents that they would be dismissed to separate classrooms, where they would meet with a facilitator and use a protocol to hammer out a response to this question: “What does being a leader in (math/science, athletics, college placement/technology, etc.) look like for Wildwood?”

I had the privilege of facilitating the eight-member group that considered Wildwood as a leader in math and science. They were parents of elementary and middle school students, and one was a parent of an alum. They represented a broad swath of professions and interests, but they all shared a keen interest in the topic and the (very Wildwoodian) desire to dig deeply into the topic and consider it from all angles. They were ready to Think Big.

So back to this idea of a protocol. Our assignment wasn’t simply to have a free-for-all discussion. A protocol has a clearly defined set of parameters that are meant to guide our thinking. In this case, we started out with a short writing assignment, where everyone was asked to write down three answers to the question. Obviously, this was a very individualized activity.

The next step was to share their written responses with a partner and narrow their ideas to two responses. We went from the lone thinker to double brain strength. The conversations were lively as each pair collaborated to come up with their answers.

The final activity was a focused group discussion, with an end-goal of producing three responses to the question that we would then report out to the larger audience.

It was a dynamic conversation. The group ended up agreeing that being a leader in math and science would mean having nationally recognized math and science teachers; establishing partnerships with universities, research institutions, and corporations such as JPL and Caltech; and being acknowledged by national institutions and education leaders for our work in math and science.

As interesting and relevant as these outcomes were, I was equally fascinated by watching this group of parents go through the protocol process. They were tackling a concept in the same way their kids do almost every day: through a structured process that deliberately moved them from different levels of thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving. The final outcome was a solid set of ideas that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the strategic planning work that the school will be undertaking in the coming years.

The last part of our protocol was to reflect on the process we’d just undertaken. The group unanimously agreed that it was a great experience. They also wished for more time. “We only got to talk as a group for five minutes,” said one mom. I smiled. Actually, they had debated for a full 20 minutes.

Time flies when you’re thinking big.



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