“Good schooling is built on the oldest idea around: you learn by the company you keep.”
~ Deborah Meier, Founder Central Park East School & Professor, NYU Steinhardt School of Education
When students and teachers keep good company together the benefits are clear for all—higher academic achievement for kids and higher job satisfaction for adults. It’s an idea that may be old and, like many good ones, it’s coming back again, and now there is ample research to support this philosophy.
This month, Educational Leadership, the leading journal on teaching and learning, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), dedicates an entire issue to exploring the role of student-teacher relationships in school. The takeaway is this: whether educators seek to help students invest themselves more deeply in their own learning or unlock the potential of all students, relationships are the essential foundation for learning.
This axiomatic truth—relationships first—guides the work of Wildwood School and the Wildwood Outreach Center on every level. The Outreach Center trains teachers in the practices that define the of best of smaller schools, where it’s understood that academic rigor evolves out of solid relationships. These schools are everywhere in the world, and are both public and private. This year, for example, we’ve been engaged in schools that literally span the spectrum—from the International School of Bangkok, to the public charter School of Arts and Enterprise in Pomona, in the heart of the Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles.
At these places and dozens between, Wildwood customizes professional development sessions that highlight learner-centered and relationship-based pedagogies. Each personalized professional learning experience is delivered in an intentionally small environment because the Wildwood Outreach Center truly believes in first building relationships—through both the content it delivers to educators and learning processes we employ to teach it.
Wildwood Outreach Center Summer Highlights
Hosting Engaged Educators in Los Angeles
In late June, two, week-long intensive professional learning experiences brought educators from all over the world both to our 6th annual Critical Friends Group New Coaches Training and our 4th annual Multicultural Leadership Institute. Wildwood faculty and administrators guided the learning of nearly 60 participants from public and private schools across California, as well as New York, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, Washington, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Singapore.
Critical Friends Group (CFG) New Coaches Training is designed to help educators develop the relational and facilitation skills necessary to lead CFGs at their home schools. CFGs are small peer-to-peer work groups that allow professionals to get support and feedback on strategies for improvement or classroom dilemmas. What makes a CFG successful is strong relationships. The Wildwood Outreach Center offers this training under the auspices of the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF), developers of the CFG format. The five-day training models, fosters, and teaches the establishment of close, respectful, professional relationships in the interest of student learning. Both myself and Deb Christenson, Wildwood Senior Institute History Teacher, are certified National Facilitators for CFG work.
Together, Deb and I facilitated a week-long training for our local, national, and international clients in late June at Wildwood and, earlier in the month, I facilitated a week long session at Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy—a public charter school in Las Vegas.
The Multicultural Leadership Institute (MLI) has firmly established itself as the premier West Coast training for educators seeking to create and sustain truly multicultural school communities. We know from feedback that part of the appeal of this offering is the small group size, which translates into a more meaningful experience. The Outreach Center limits enrollment to between 35 and 40 participants per year. We are intentionally smaller than other national trainings to ensure that more authentic relationships are established among participants and facilitators. The MLI is led by Rasheda Carroll Wildwood’s Director of Multicultural Affairs who is supported in her work by Wildwood Elementary teachers Monique Marshall and Sandi Crozier, Middle School teacher Katie Boye, and former Upper School teacher Jason David.
Our Systems Thinking Initiative Reaches East Africa
On the international front Wildwood 2nd grade teacher, Alli Newell, returned to Uganda this summer for her second service trip to the small town of Kaihura. This year, she shared some of her own Wildwood classroom practice with her hosts, leading a full-day professional development session on Systems Thinking. Alli’s session was well received by her hosts at Hope Academy and they left inspired to implement the practice with their own elementary age students. Click HERE to see one teacher’s reflection on Alli’s session.
Back to School, with Relationships First
The School of Arts and Enterprise, a public charter school in downtown Pomona, hosted me for a two-day workshop in August. There I met with a dedicated group of department and grade-level teacher-leaders who care deeply about their students, looking for ways to fine tune their collaborations.
Now in its 18th year, the SAE—as it’s known—resembles Wildwood School in its commitment to project-based learning and critical thinking coupled with an intentional emphasis on each student’s social-emotional development. After visits to both Wildwood campuses in May, the school decided our approach was a good match in terms of school culture.
Our goals: Foster deeper relationships among leadership team members, establish group work agreements, and develop a plan for the team to take on greater responsibilities in the school. We focused on learning new strategies and protocols to use in the classroom, and within the leadership team.
In August, Outreach Center activities also included assisting a handful of other schools to build and strengthen their advisory programs. In Pasadena, I worked with the middle school leaders at Polytechnic School, and at Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, I offered guidance to faculty working to build out their existing programs.
Aloha & Mahalo
Finally, a trip to O’ahu and some intensive work at ‘Iolani School in Honolulu brought ‘Iolani new ideas for an inaugural Advisory program in the middle grades. Wildwood’s relationship with ‘Iolani is evolving, as this past fall a contingent of their teachers and administrators attended an Advisory 101 workshop at the Outreach Center. They left impressed with the program that Wildwood shares with the world and eager to use our relationship-based approach as the model for their own program. ‘Iolani’s leadership group invited me to assist them in planning the program roll-out to their 6th and 7th grade advisors. It was a meaningful visit on many levels as I made my first visit to our 50th state to export the Wildwood approach to faculty and students on this beautiful, culturally diverse island.
Everywhere we go, and with every group of teachers, the Wildwood Outreach Center invests in relationships first, because we know that sincerely modeling what works in learning is most critical to nurturing student success.
~ Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach