Personalization – our own garden

SMUS-Views-Bob

In last week’s blog entry I ruminated on the theme of personalization in education and in our School. I have used the word “garden” above to suggest how personalization might sprout and blossom for us at SMUS. The theme runs the risk of becoming a weed rather than a flower.

Every January our Management Team (Directors of Junior School, Middle School, Senior School, Academics, Residence, Learning, Admissions, Advancement, Finance and myself – ten of us) go on an overnight retreat to some pleasant and inexpensive spot and consider ideas important to the School over the next 12 – 18 months. This year the idea under the lens was personalization. Those of you who read last week’s entry will gather why it is important.

One educational entity that has considered the question of personalization is Independent School Management (ISM) – the largest independent school research organization in the world. Several years ago, anticipating the future, they created the Middle School student “Molly”, who shows up for the year at a personalized school. We like Molly, and feel we have many Mollies in our school: these are students with ability, with talents both active and latent, with passions and strengths, and also with corners of themselves yet to uncover. Given our Mission, “to seek the excellence in all of us”, we feel the Molly story is one we should be writing ourselves.

“Molly lives”

The central presentation of our retreat was therefore titled “Molly lives”. Planting Molly in the garden that is SMUS, she appears in the Junior School, where our program is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to educating young children, with an emphasis on the child’s initiating much interaction with the world, and responding to it creatively and concretely. In this context parents, teachers and the environment are the child’s three teachers, and opportunities abound to discover the wide range of abilities, talents and interests a child might have – including many that parents and teachers might not have considered.

By Middle School, Molly will be assembling her E-portfolio (we have been working on this for the past couple of years – more to come in a later blog), which records her experiences, her strengths and passions, under the three headings of our Vision: how she has learned, how she has led, and how she has served. With this record, she can now sit down with her parents and teachers, and together they can begin to map out a plan that ensures competency where necessary, allows mastery in areas of strength and passion, and integrates her experience with the broader community. I’ll insert here the caveat that the theory sounds simple; the execution is more complex.

In Senior School, Molly will be considering higher learning, will have identified her strengths and passions more definitively, and will encounter the world in ways that are increasingly adult. Responsibility, leadership, and experiential learning will become increasing patterns of her education. At least as much thinking will go into making her life at SMUS challenging as will go into making it smooth. Plants in this garden have to withstand the weather, and when we put them out into the world, they will go having had a few hardening experiences outside the hothouse of learning.

Extended metaphors can be risky, as experienced readers of literature know, but Molly fits into this one fairly elegantly, we think. In future blogs, look for the role of some of Molly’s teachers, friends and family on this path. I’m sure the suspense has you on the edge of your chair.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden is Head of School at St. Michaels University School.

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