Shipley Community Letter from Michael G. Turner

When your child lights up as they learn or accomplish something, or when you recall an engaging teacher or class, research tells us we are likely experiencing several emotions. We experience a sense of individual and collective well-being, the warm presence of a meaningful relationship, and the endorphin rush of learning or accomplishment. Research also tells us that students learn best when this love of learning is alive in and modeled by the adults who guide them. Shipley’s unique recipe for success in school and beyond is grounded on adults and students pouring themselves joyfully into their learning and pursuing their own and others’ well-being through positive education and diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

This month’s community letter, written by Shipley’s thought leaders in these areas (Wendy Eiteljorg '86, Director of Curricular Innovation and Learning Design; Brandon Jacobs, Director of Diversity and Inclusion; and Dr. Sharron Russell, Director of Positive Education and Student Support), highlights how we intentionally tend to the intellectual, emotional, and physical lives of our colleagues so they can be at their best to meet the needs of our students.

Michael G. Turner

Adult learning at Shipley takes many forms. Teaching colleagues work formally and informally by and across department, division, grade level, and teaching team. In the summer, Shipley runs a week-long professional development experience (the Summer Symposium) for teaching colleagues from all three divisions and all subject matters and brings them together to work collectively and individually on their craft. The Summer Symposium combines in-house expertise with outside experts to create a schedule that blends new learning with time to think expansively and collaborate deeply. And, we make sure to start each day with breakfast and conversation.

This year teachers have access to additional professional learning resources. These include the new Learning Design Teams and the Teaching Resource Center located prominently across from the Head of School’s office and staffed by Josh Berberian and Debra Finger. Throughout the school year teaching colleagues meet in these Learning Design Teams, each of which focuses on one of the three elements Shipley believes produce educational excellence: instructional design, positive education, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

All curricular work we do is grounded in Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design framework for “backwards planning.” This approach stresses that planning begins with the end in mind - namely, what are the learning outcomes, enduring understandings, and essential questions that will guide student learning. Teachers then consider the evidence they must see in order to assess this learning. Developing a range of assessments to address both the individual skills and to assess deeper understanding and transfer of knowledge is critical. It is only after that work has been planned out that teachers plan actual class activities. Being intentional about maintaining a common and current pedagogical language among all teaching colleagues from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade is essential in providing a cohesive experience for students in an ever-changing world. This ensures teaching colleagues can talk about their craft with each other across disciplines and divisions and work together effectively.

Shipley is the pioneer positive education Pre-K through 12 school in North America, patterned after the Geelong Grammar School in Australia. Trained by the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, Geelong promotes a Positive Education model based on PERMA. PERMA is Dr. Martin Seligman’s model of understanding the components of well-being. It stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. We also often add Health as the additional factor which makes the model “PERMA+.” During the Summer Symposium, and in professional development throughout the year, teachers invest time exploring the concepts of PERMA, with a specific focus on engagement and meaning for both teachers and students. By creating a learning environment for teachers that builds these areas, we inspire teachers to do the same in their classrooms. Intentionally building in time to enhance positive emotions and relationships, all ongoing professional development opportunities strive to model an ideal classroom for learners of all ages.

Adding diversity, equity, and inclusion to the concepts of positive education allows teachers to ask the question, “How can we foster an environment where students can become conscious of and pursue their well-being as well as the well-being of those around them?” This framework for building individual well-being and collective well-being was a theme for the whole Summer Symposium and is something that all teachers are exploring throughout this year. Over the course of the Symposium, teachers considered ways to diversify their curriculum so that students learn about and hear from a diverse range of people. It is not enough to learn about a people exclusively through the eyes of those outside of that group. Any people we study in our curriculum must be recognized as authors of their experiences.

One of the ways for Shipley to “recruit, develop, and sustain” excellent teachers is to invest in teacher learning in all forms. During the course of the school year, teachers work in their Learning Design Teams, meet with colleagues to learn from each other, take online classes, or attend conferences. During the summer, teachers do the same. Investing in the development of these individual teachers, who then work with their colleagues, is how we not only strive to sustain an excellent program of study for students but also how we build a community of adult learners who model John Dewey’s notion that “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

In all professional learning for teaching colleagues, we strive to see the connections between and among individual aspects of educational excellence. “It all fits together,” one colleague who attended the Summer Symposium said, “It’s like you planned it.” This is precisely the reaction we seek from all learners, whether they are adults or children. Early in Shipley’s history, in response to a question about whether girls at Shipley really played in the snow and went sledding, Katharine Shipley stressed that “it was our aim in sledding and all other things, to ‘really do it.’” That is precisely our goal for colleagues when they learn, so they can, in turn, guide our students to do the same.

The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.