By Lisa Vardi, Director of Cross Divisional Curriculum
Summer is a time for renewal, deep thinking and new learning for educators. We attend curricular and leadership conferences, spend time reviewing our past year's successes and areas for improvement, set goals for the coming year, and, of course, spend quality time with friends and family, as the school year is so busy that we do not always have the time to do so.
This summer is different for me as it contains many firsts I had never experienced before:
First time on campus during the summer in my new role as Director of Cross Divisional Curriculum...
First time in Palo Alto, California attending two conferences, Leadership and Design's Wonder Women conference at Castellija School and Challenge Success Summer Leadership Seminar at Stanford University.
Both conferences spoke to my interests: the former on how to reflect on what it means to be a female leader in the independent school world and how to build my leadership capacity, and the latter on how we can better support students to improve engagement, wellness and motivation using research-based strategies.
The final first this summer: Completion of my first trimester as a doctoral student in Vanderbilt University's K-12 Educational Leadership and Policy program. This summer I completed two courses: Advanced Leadership and Behavior and Advanced Learning and Performance in Organizations. What I love about the Vanderbilt program is the merging of theory and practice! My cohort consists of K-12 and higher education professionals from throughout the United States who discuss how we can improve teaching and learning for students. We met once or twice a month on the weekends on the campus of Peabody College in Nashville, TN. The professors are top-notch in their fields and the conversations are authentic, thoughtful, and so relevant to my practice.
I can already see how my Vanderbilt courses have influenced my approach to teaching and learning. Using improvement science to identify ways to improve our new teacher induction process, I worked with Upper School Principal Bobby Pollicino and English teacher Brad Kosegarten (who just completed his master's in school leadership at University of Pennsylvania—congrats!) to ensure new Bullis teachers receive the support and tools they need to learn our school culture, embrace our values and mission and provide an outstanding learning experience for our students. This final project in my Advanced Learning and Performance in Organizations course allowed me to merge theory and practice and produce tangible and applicable change ideas for Bullis. Isn't this what we want for our students as well, the ability to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to the real-world in an authentic experience?
The key to improvement science is to start with knowing what it is you want to improve and then taking the time to think deeply about the process and problem, rather than simply jumping to possible solutions. Continuously asking why is key! We use tools such as a literature review to understand research findings on teacher induction programs, a fishbone diagram to document the process and areas of concern associated with new teacher induction, and empathy interviews to explore the experiences of new teachers in the 2016-17 school. Next, we create primary and secondary drivers to document root causes and ultimately identify change ideas to improve teacher induction at Bullis.
From the start of their time at Bullis, teachers will learn the best approaches to building relationships with our students and how our history plays into who we are now and what we will be with the opening of the Discovery Center. They will better understand the practices and strategies successful in developing a student that can "Lead the Bullis Way."
I found this first—using improvement science as a process—incredibly valuable in allowing me to think creatively and innovatively about how to improve teaching and learning at Bullis. I look forward to growing as a learner, leader and collaborator in the coming school year as we welcome new teachers, new students and new Bullis families on our campus!