June 11, 2013

Finished up in Ahmedabad


So deeply glad I didn't restrict myself 100% to institutions of higher education! The Riverside School (preK through Grade 12) was such a joy to visit; it just felt very positive there. They have a distinctive philosophy (not in content but in nature it reminded me a little of KIPP schools in that there is a distinctive structure and nomenclature; not subjects but beacons, biweekly congloms (group reflections) for the Key Stages (1, 2, and 3; groupings of the grades by ages and corresponding to three stages of learning; aware, enable, and empower). The two directors were kind enough to spare me some time even though the students are returning for classes the day after tomorrow! One of the grade 5 students (who happens to be a director's son) gave me a tour of the school (well, we took too long so a partial tour) from ) . As always, students are the most eloquent spokespeople- just in how they behave, what they say- for an educational philosophy. He told me how students have a voice in policies; the congloms mentioned above they all decided to have biweekly, one focusing on "doing good"; what they are doing for others, and one on "doing well"; their own personal successes and challenges for the week.
They're set up for a lot of active work and a lot of group work, for appreciating the development of body and mind, for fostering citizenship and empathy (students have "buddies" in other key stages; when I said, "oh, so you help the younger students", he was quick to tell me that the older students learn just as much from the younger students. Each grade also partners with an NGO or group and not only raises money but also spends time working with the group (older students teach younger in less advantaged schools, they partner with groups of blind or disabled students, etc.)) and really on developing a certain intellectual sophistication. They did a wonderful exercise where groups of students were given a set of very disparate words/objects, and they developed group presentations/performances that brought those things/words together to express a common theme. It would work better if I could remember a sample set of words; cinnamon was one, and physics. Ah, ok, an example: the directors spoke of doing that exercise with a parents' group, where they got an umbrella, a ball, and something else, a word I didn't catch...and one unifying theme given was World War II (!) One parent used the ball to represent the globe and opened the umbrella, saying that the war shadowed the world, and the *unknown object* represented a global peace that is still being sought...so hopefully you get the drift.  Students critiqued each presentation in a group wrap up, so feedback came not just from the teacher but also from peers. 
This deliberate fostering of ability to see and make connections between objects which seem at first to share nothing is something I find utterly fascinating, and would love to explore ways that can be built in to education at various levels. Interestingly (but probably realistically) the folks at Riverside School have no intention to try to replicate in total what they're doing, but rather focus on sharing their ideas so that others may pick and choose relevant practices and adapt as needed.  Their model does require quite intensive professional development for the teachers; they've fostered a real teaching and learning community where faculty are exchanging ideas, offering suggestions for improvement, and generally working together towards educational goals. It seemed like a wonderful place to teach and learn.


catching up on reading, too! Do you think the directors of this school would be interested in the "sister school" relationship with my local school district? The elementary school is implementing many of these ideas and it might be an interesting connection. Thanks!

I will put you in touch with them, that would be really cool!