What can we do to create a culture of respect and collaboration in today’s schools? How do you actively make that happen? We have some ideas based on a study tour AYPF recently lead for the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF). We went to Denver, Colorado to learn about effective teaching in schools that incorporate rigorous academics, deeper learning experiences, higher order skills, and innovative and effective teaching and learning practices. The school we visited was Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS), a 6-12 grade school that is part of the International Studies Schools Network. We will share about the bedrock culture of respect and collaboration that permeates this building, as well as a new tool that can assist other schools as they work towards creating a deeper learning experience for their students.
At DCIS students are expected to practice and promulgate the school’s core values: Integrity, High Expectations, Diversity, Collaborative Culture, and Reflection. As our small groups visited classrooms it was clear that everyone was not only aware of the core values, but actively living them. We witnessed respectful exchanges among teachers and students as teachers facilitated learning that encompassed the four domains of global leadership: investigating the world, recognizing perspectives, communicating ideas, and taking action. These domains guide student assembly of a portfolio of their best work, and several students shared their portfolios with us, emphasizing how they collaborate with teachers and other students in their learning. This could take the form of giving or receiving feedback, working on multiple drafts of work with other students, or providing advice to one another. As one student summarized, “respect and trust work in both directions.”
Establishing this culture of respect and collaboration does not happen by accident at DCIS. At the end of each summer, teachers and students participate in a week-long academy where the school values are explained. During the school year advisement periods are used to reinforce the values through a variety of activities, with students remaining with the same advisement teachers for the duration of their time at the school. Students are known well by at least one adult, and they form solid relationships with their classmates. As one student observed, “it feels like family.” Upon that solid foundation teachers can work on teaching collaboration skills, evidenced by the group work we witnessed as well as some students serving as master teachers who assisted other students. A student observed that “teachers teach us how to collaborate – we get used to collaboration so it’s second nature.” They also have opportunities to provide feedback to the principal who over the course of the year meets with every student in “lunch bunch” to ask students what is working well and what could be improved in the school.
DCIS is well on its way to having this culture of respect and trust. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post to learn about a new planning tool to help schools develop this kind of culture.
Loretta Goodwin is a Senior Director at the American Youth Policy Forum