In 1994, Shipley hosted the Centennial Symposium on Education
to explore challenges that could potentially impact independent schools in the 21st Century. Demographic shifts, economic booms and recessions, technological advances. These and other forces have greatly impacted Shipley in the past two decades. How has Shipley addressed those challenges and adapted over the past 25 years? Listen in on our conversation.
Wendy Eiteljorg ’86
Director of Curricular Innovation and Learning Design, The Shipley School
As a fifth grade teacher at Shipley, she was named a “Teacher of the Future” by the National Association of Independent Schools. In 2013 she took over the role of Director of Educational Technology, and now she leads Shipley’s efforts to incorporate interdisciplinary teaching and learning from Pre-K through grade 12.
Upper School English and Interdisciplinary Teacher, The Shipley School
In addition to teaching in the Upper School’s English department for over 25 years, Greenberg was an original member of Shipley’s first Diversity Committee and was the inaugural Chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies Department.
Trina Vaux ‘63
Author of A Daring Vision: A History of The Shipley School 1894-2018
Trina has served Shipley in many capacities since graduating from the School, including as Alumni Board Chair, Director of Communications, member of the 1994-95 Long Range Planning Committee, and as the Chair of the Centennial Celebration Committee.
Greenberg: First, let me say that it is uncanny what the speakers at the Symposium laid out and what we are doing today. Their foresight was pretty extraordinary—about the changing American family, about the need for interdisciplinary, more multicultural, more diversity.
Regarding how we’ve adapted, the question of what it means to be a diverse community has expanded over the past 25 years. I remember the original diversity meetings where we came up with a mission statement for the diversity group.
We began discussing financial and geographic diversity, as well as racial diversity, in more intentional ways. Today, we have many more students from Pottstown, Exton, West Chester, and other areas we didn’t really consider then, and we continue to add to financial aid, particularly since the financial crisis of 2008.
There was also a lot of training around diversity. We see the results of that work and how the ethos of the School continues to be about the whole child, and that each child matters as an individual.
Vaux ’63: Yes, Steve Piltch has been tireless in pressing the diversity, multicultural issues and making the School a more inclusive and welcoming place.
[Former Head of School] Gary Gruber first talked about the changing needs of the American family in the ’80s. Now more than ever families need a sanctuary for their kids from seven in the morning until seven at night.
Eiteljorg ’86: Shipley has done a lot to meet families’ needs. The Commons offers breakfast. We have extended care in the Lower School. We expect that students need to be here in the afternoon, beyond the normal hours of the school day.
Q: How has technology evolved at Shipley over the past 25 years?
Eiteljorg ’86: When I first came back to Shipley as a teacher, we had computer labs, and then there were a few computers in classrooms. For a lot of people, using the computer was an event. You signed up, you went to the lab, you learned to type, you learned to use Word or a spreadsheet. You learned these isolated skills.
Then, as we started to have more laptop carts and have more people doing word processing, or graphing, or making charts, there was a shift. At some point, these activities became necessary parts of a wide range of classes. The carts and the labs just weren’t enough. They didn’t allow for the flexibility and on-demand use that teachers and students were developing.
Now, we don’t really think about going to “computer class.” What used to be computer classes are computer science. Students are coding, doing web design, building virtual 3D models. In non-computer science classes students are using probes and recording data in science, recording themselves conversing in the target language in a modern language class, writing and editing an essay or group project with a peer, working on a presentation, or modeling geometric shapes. Now we see technology as a tool for everything.
Hopefully we use technology safely, ethically, and effectively. We need to have ongoing conversations with students about how much they are using their computers for entertainment. There are so many ways students can also use technology for content creation in addition to content consumption. They should be putting work out there for other people.
Q: How would you summarize the past 25 years at Shipley with regards to interdisciplinary studies and breaking down barriers between departments?
Greenberg: About 15 years ago, we were charged with creating an interdisciplinary department. The committee worked hard to come up with an authentic definition for interdisciplinary curriculum and used Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ work as a benchmark. Several years later, the administration added a requirement for graduation. That work built the momentum as departments were charged with developing a more interdisciplinary approach to their subjects. Educating and supporting the faculty have allowed for the work to have real integrity. Now, it’s one of the areas of the strategic plan.
We’ve shifted from the silo notion of education, where we teach in single disciplines. We are allowed to do it because the higher education spaces are doing it. Even business is talking about how we can’t work in silos.
Because of the internet, because of more diversity in the community, having an interdisciplinary lens has also allowed for people within single disciplines to be thinking more globally as well. The curriculum has really allowed for people to think in multidisciplinary ways.
Q: How has Shipley supported faculty in these shifts in education over the past 25 years?
Eiteljorg ’86: I came to Shipley as a Lower School teacher, and it was through professional development opportunities that I was able to continue my own learning and focus on technology. I received support from the School in terms of encouragement, time, and money. The School is incredible in that way, that it recognizes and supports teachers as they continue to learn and hone their craft.
Over the past couple of years, the division heads have really worked to develop the idea that observing even for a few minutes [in another teacher’s classroom] is the norm. I have had so many really interesting, rich conversations with people after visiting their classes. It’s just a great way to connect ideas.
Greenberg: It speaks to the shift in the silo notion. Twenty-five years ago, we were in siloed disciplines and we were siloed in our classrooms. People didn’t really go see other people’s classrooms. Those visits have become part of the School’s culture.
Q: Where has Shipley been most successful in adapting over the past 25 years?
Greenberg: I think we have adapted a curriculum that’s more engaged, more of the world. We probably still have a long way to go, but I don’t think anyone says we shouldn’t be trying new things, whether it’s interdisciplinary, technology, or SEED [Social, Emotional, Ethical Development]. It’s all important.
Vaux ’63: I think, although I was very skeptical about this at first, that the whole Positive Education thing is a good initiative for our time because it addresses all of the insecurities and the issues that are so prevalent—the 21st century frenzy and the stresses that we all have.
When I hear older alumni lament the lack of the old spirituality that we used to have, I see this as a kind of secular way of dealing with that. It’s not deist, obviously, but it does deal with ethics and kindness to others and responsibility in the community in ways that the old spiritual values taught—but without the potential contentiousness of specific religious forms.
Q: What challenges and opportunities do you foresee in the next 25 years?
Eiteljorg ’86: We need to figure out how to insert our students into the world more. Technology makes it too easy not to.
If we have all of these resources and skills and our students are doing great things (or even doing mediocre things that they’re fumbling through), the next opportunity is getting them an audience. What are they doing for other people? How are they participating in an intellectual community that is beyond the walls of the School?
How are we helping them find people who are interested in whatever they’re interested in and supporting that developing passion for an area of study? How are we both telling students they have the power and responsibility to take up the challenge of sharing ideas with and creating content for others? As students begin to create work for an age-appropriate audience, they are motivated by that audience, especially if that audience is bigger than their classmates or teacher.
If we can support students in becoming engaged to the point that they say, “I’m an author or a thinker on this subject, and here’s my contribution to this area of study,” then we all win. They don’t have to be solving the huge problems of the world, although I suspect some will in time. Feeling able to contribute to the greater understanding of something is so powerful. Students who see themselves as people who do real work and solve real problems will grow up to do just that.
Q: What has remained constant at Shipley?
Eiteljorg ’86: At Shipley, you can do a lot of different things and people will recognize you, recognize that you do that and know that you do that. That’s a strength and it is something that has endured. I think there were plenty of people who recognized who I was as a student, as a learner, and I think that happens today, too.
Vaux ’63: Everybody can be recognized for something. I always said that about my class. Respect for quality. There has always been, in not only age-appropriate, but time-appropriate ways, a requirement for quality work. That’s been a constant from the beginning and all the way through, up to now.
Greenberg: One of Shipley’s greatest strengths is its sense of community and its value of community. Kids feel loved and safe and engaged and that shows.