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De-Siloing Education

By Austin Farwell
De-Siloing Education

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You work at a great international school. In many ways, pretty much anything you can think of is at your disposal. The facilities, resources, community, and students are all great. Your classes, for the most part, are excellent; every week you feel a bit better at your craft and you enjoy finding ways to innovate with your curriculum.

On those occasional drop-ins by members of your admin team they commend you on your “with-it-ness” and “student-centered dynamism.” You even are part of a great team. Your department is comprised of gifted educators who are all driven and supportive. Occasionally you even find opportunities to collaborate with them, but more often than not, the extent of that collaboration is aligning units and norming of scores perhaps. Everybody is busy, it’s normal.

When you sit at the monthly faculty meeting you look around and see a familiar sight. The math department is sitting with the math department, the science with the science department. You’re friendly with everyone but it’s a big school and you remember what that one veteran teacher told you on your first day a couple years ago. “Very nice to meet you. See you in April,” they said with a smile.

Maybe you even have an administrative team who is aware of these sorts of dynamics. Maybe in an effort to encourage more collaboration they ask each teacher to observe another teacher’s class- in another division even! And sure, you do it; and honestly it’s great. It had been a while since you sat through a chemistry lab. If only you could have had a teacher like that back when you were in high school. You send a follow up email thanking them, commending them on their with-it-ness and student-centered dynamism. See you in April you write.

This system of highly specialized yet compartmentalized departments are also commonly referred to as educational silos. In many institutions, particularly at the upper school level, silos are characterized by the isolated and independent functioning of different departments or stakeholder groups.

Whilst each department can be filled with expert educators in their respective fields, siloing often leads to unnecessary competitiveness between departments, ineffective communication, lack of innovation, and inconsistent learning experiences. When schools lean more towards a siloed orientation, the negative repercussions on both the educator and learner can be profound.

On one hand, departments, particularly those that are not considered “core” classes, are inevitably forced into an insular and competitive mindset in order to protect enrollment numbers, funding, employment and reputation. This in turn serves to disincentivize collaborative risk-taking as departments and even individual practitioners understandably slip into “every person for themselves” mentalities. This then not only stymies collaboration but can also contribute to fragmented decision making as well as a more distrustful and less supportive work and learning environment.

Because of this lack of risk-taking and holistic sharing of ideas, the students’ learning experience is more inconsistent, fragmented, and less collaborative. It is, therefore, a worthwhile initiative for schools to work towards “de-siloing” systems where they exist, in order to encourage innovative and invigorating collaborative learning experiences.

In an ever-increasing multi-disciplinary world, where the problems of tomorrow will require innovative solutions that we can’t even perceive today, expecting those innovative traits to develop from current and outdated educational modalities represents a fool’s errand. As independent international schools we have unique opportunities to become innovators in cross-curriculum learning design wherein schools strategically identify areas where learning is most needed and creatively collaborate to meet those needs. Research has consistently shown the importance of deep learning; by reorienting ourselves and committing to authentic cross curriculum approaches, we can guarantee that, as Ben Johnson says, “students will follow a particular stream of inquiry to the headwaters, rather than simply sampling all the possible streams.”

To foster a culture of collaboration and break down departmental silos, schools can implement a strategic framework that prioritizes communication, shared goals, and interdisciplinary initiatives. First and foremost, establishing regular cross-departmental meetings and forums can provide a platform for educators and administrators to exchange ideas, share best practices, and align on overarching educational objectives. Investing in technology solutions that facilitate information sharing and collaborative projects can also play a crucial role in breaking down information silos. Additionally, creating interdisciplinary task forces or project teams that draw members from various departments can encourage cross-functional collaboration, promoting a holistic approach to problem-solving. Leadership plays a pivotal role in dismantling silos, so fostering a collaborative mindset should be reflected in the institution's vision and values. Training programs and workshops focused on collaboration skills can equip faculty and staff with the tools needed to work effectively across departmental boundaries. By implementing these measures, schools can cultivate an environment where departments operate synergistically, fostering innovation and a sense of collective responsibility for the overall success of the institution (Warit Wipulanusat et al.,2022).

Austin Farwell is a seasoned international Director and educator. He is passionate about innovation in education and looks for ways in which we can change practices for the better.

LinkedIn: Austin Farwell

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03/13/2024 - Ars
Desiloing planning and fostering a growth mindset in curriculum design is crucial for educators to create a dynamic and effective learning environment that prepares students for success in an ever-changing world. When educators break down the barriers between subjects and adopt a flexible approach to curriculum design, they can provide students with interdisciplinary learning experiences that are more engaging and relevant to real-world challenges.

For example, a high school in New Zealand redesigned its curriculum to focus on big ideas and themes, rather than traditional subjects. This approach allowed students to see the connections between different areas of study and apply their learning to complex, real-world problems. As a result, students were more engaged in their learning and developed a deeper understanding of how different subjects are interconnected.

Additionally, fostering a growth mindset in curriculum design can empower students to take ownership of their learning and develop the resilience needed to navigate an ever-changing world. By encouraging students to view challenges as opportunities for growth, educators can help them develop the skills and mindset needed to succeed in the 21st century.

In conclusion, desiloing planning and developing a growth mindset in curriculum design is essential for educators to create a more engaging and effective learning environment. By breaking down barriers between subjects and fostering a growth mindset, educators can prepare students to thrive in an ever-changing world.



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