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Cutting Through the Edu Babble to Articulate What Is Most Important

A Common Ground Collaborative case study: Colegio Maya
By Michael Johnston
Cutting Through the Edu Babble  to Articulate What Is Most Important

We at Colegio Maya, along with all Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) schools, continue to drive everything we do from one question: “What is most important to learn?” Whether we are focusing on conceptual learning, building competencies, fostering character traits or all three simultaneously, we are focused on providing learning experiences that matter. Communicating this important learning is our biggest challenge, as is true for PK–12 schools globally. Addressing this at the high school level is difficult, as higher education requirements dictate certain protocols of communication. Regardless of all that surrounds the communication of learning, we at Colegio Maya will never let up on our drive to provide connected, meaningful, personalized learning experiences for all community members. We learn together, we struggle together, we celebrate together, and we focus on what matters most for our children—together. Parents of PK–12 students are consistently subjected to edubabble, which creates a disconnect when the conversation about learning gets picked up at home. At Colegio Maya, creating a common way to organize learning and having a consistent definition of what it means has been a game changer for teachers, students, parents, and all stakeholders. In our journey toward achieving consistency, we arranged a parent gathering for all new families, both to make them feel comfortable in joining the school in early years and to test the impact of our new learning language. The results clearly supported our choice to join the CGC and gave wonderful insights into how we can shape similar experiences with all families, whether new or longtime members. Here is how we shaped the session. All of the families were either joining in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten at the start of 2017–18. The parents were anxious and excited as they greeted one another. As the Director of Colegio Maya, I see every family in the admissions process and have noted a clear trend among families who want more than just a traditional education for their children. They want opportunities for learning and experiences that prepare students for the unknown landscape of the future. I started the session with the all-important question: “What do you wish for your children in 2031, when they graduate from Maya, or from any school?” Parents wrote their ideas on post-it notes and stuck them to a chart labeled “2030.” The process started off slowly, but the board then quickly began to fill with a plethora of ideas—big ideas, such as happiness, success, resilience, etc. I asked parents to then lump common ideas together; as they did, we could see they centered on dispositions, habits of the mind, and values pieces. Following this exercise, we began to drill down, discussing how they define success. One common notion to emerge was the idea that success is about doing things that both make a person happy and create a better world in the process. This was both encouraging and daunting as I asked the next question: “What role do you think the school plays in making this a reality?” The discussion that followed was enlightening, as participants tried to sort out what role school plays, what role parents play, and how the two might work together to create a positive outcome for students between the ages of 4 and 18. This led to the next question: “What do students need to learn in school to make this outcome a reality?” It was time to get more specific, as I suggested examples related to skills and values. I did not want to lead participants, but rather allow them to develop the learning outcomes from their desires for 2030. They quickly filled two more charts with many Competencies and Character traits, hesitating more when it came to Conceptual learning—understandable, since I had not yet presented them with our learning language. It was interesting to note at this point that the Character traits made up a clear majority. I then briefly introduced Colegio Maya’s learning ecosystem, including the 3 C’s representing learning that matters most: Concepts, Competencies, and Character. It certainly helped to clarify our statement prompts for each, posters of which I’d had prepared ahead of time. • Conceptual Learning - Students will understand that... • Competency Learning - Students will be able to... • Character Learning - Students value… or Students are like… The exercise required no further explanation, as one parent asked if they could take the post-it notes off the other chart papers and place them on the 3C posters. The response was immediate from participants, who filled the charts with moral purpose and skills that they felt should allow students to be successful in any arena of work or study. Once again, they quickly populated the Character Traits and Competencies categories but were unsure what to add to the Concepts poster. It was time to ask the most loaded question of the entire session: “If these are the most important things our school can do to help your child achieve your vision upon graduating, how would you like us to communicate and report this learning to you?” This prompted silence and contemplation, as the group collectively came to the realization that schools struggle with this task. Typically, schools do not communicate about these important aspects of a child’s education. Providing information about content learning and grades with some surface comments is insufficient. I then extended an invitation to parents to come along on this journey with us, as a school, in seeking to better communicate about those aspects of learning that are most important. Let us figure this out together, I suggested, knowing the pressures imposed by higher education, the fact that each stakeholder brings a unique perspective based on their own PK–12 journey, and that schools have traditionally focused on extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation. We all agreed to set new standards, to stay focused on what matters most, and to remain in constant communication to ensure that the journey we offer these young people helps them to arrive at their desired destination in 2030. These are the sorts of enlightening conversations we are now having with our students, as well. Michael Johnston is Director of Colegio Maya since July 2016. Previously, he was Middle School Principal at UWC South East Asia and at EARCOS, and MS Associate Principal at the American School of Doha. 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