The summer of 2020 has been anything but ordinary, but at St. Mark's the faculty remain committed to professional development during their time away from the classroom. Throughout July, St. Mark's faculty members were deeply immersed in a special course entitled "Designing & Building for Student-Centered Hybrid Learning at St. Mark's." The faculty is now well-prepared to present the curriculum in both a fully-remote format and, when practical and safe, a hybrid model for 2020-2021.
Created and presented by Dr. Colleen Worrell (pictured here), Director of St. Mark's Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, the course models "a pedagogical approach that combines face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning. With the uncertainties of next year," says Dr. Worrell, "this model will allow us to adapt as circumstances change."
Worrell introduces the course by referencing the work of Dr. Rhonda Bondie, director of professional learning and lecturer at Harvard's School of Education, who states that "excellent online teaching isn't based on the ability to navigate a Zoom room or create a Google doc. Excellent instruction," she declares, "is based on decision-making — how teachers decide to respond to and engage with students, select curriculum materials, organize learning, and use communication strategies." That principle, according to Bondie, holds true in physical and virtual spaces alike, and the intention of Dr. Worrell's St. Mark's course is to help guide faculty through the decision-making process so they can adapt their "excellent teaching to the hybrid context we will live into over the next school year."
"Designing & Building for Student-Centered Hybrid Learning at St. Mark's" clearly articulates its learning goals and criteria for success. It is culturally informed and takes equity and learner variability into account. It is interactive and social, designed for cultivating and sustaining a vibrant learning community. It models challenging engagement through inviting students to participate and make personal connections, promoting student agency by providing choice and opportunities for relevant and meaningful learning. The hybrid models presented in the course involve regular practice, supporting students' cognitive and affective growth by drawing them into the actual "doing" & "thinking" of learning. The key to promoting student agency and success in a hybrid curriculum, it asserts, is a fully prepared caring teacher who is visible, active, empathetic, approachable, and responsive.
"St. Mark's is building from points of strength in our dedicated, creative faculty, and our longstanding commitment to educational innovation," says Nat Waters, Dean of Academics at the School. "We are fortunate to have the Center, and Center Director Dr. Worrell, as resources for translating educational research into effective practice in St. Mark's classroom. While our classrooms might have a slightly different look and feel this year, I am energized by the work our faculty has done to ensure that we uphold the relationships and connections that make our learning community special. My faculty colleagues and I are very excited to share what we have designed with our students."
St. Mark's faculty have responded positively to this summer's experience. "Colleen's course provided an array of cutting-edge resources and clear but flexible directives to support the us in the development of state-of-the-art online courses," said Dr. Heather Harwood of the St. Mark's Classics department. "I have been employing hybrid learning pedagogies for a number of years and through my work with the Patterson Grant Hybrid Learning Consortium, and I have participated in a number of workshops and conferences on hybrid and remote learning. I can truly say that this course was one of the most informative and helpful professional development experiences I have had to date. Not only did the course explain the 'hows' and 'whys' of effective hybrid learning, it also incorporated culturally responsive and egalitarian teaching practices that are critical for St. Mark's faculty to apply as we continue to grow into a more inclusive, anti-racist learning community. Jeanna Cook and I were able to take our hybrid module and self- regulated learning techniques to a whole new level while simultaneously adapting the Classics curriculum to more intentionally address relevant social, economic and cultural issues crucial for St. Mark's students to understand if they are to effectively address the challenging issues of this century."
"This summer's professional development work encouraged me to think more deeply about how to structure both my remote and in-person classes to be more safe, equitable, and productive," says Kathleen Roussinos of the Modern Language Department. "The focus on carving out what is essential to our classes and the best modality to teach the skills and content we deem as such will inevitably set us up for success for whatever comes our way this year!"
John Camp, veteran St. Mark's English teacher and current director of experiential learning and associate director of the Center, has been teaching his VI Form elective, "Getting LOST," for twelve years now. Preparing that course for a hybrid approach over this summer "has been an uber-positive endeavor for me. I loved the process that Colleen developed—I reimagined a lot of material, infused more voices of BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color)—particularly important for the theme of islands, both fictional and real—and feel great about my plans for remote learning, in-person, or a combination of the two. I am also happy that all faculty and students will utilize the same structure in Canvas (the digital learning platform used by St. Mark's) for a much-more streamlined approach with our learning management systems than we have ever had, which is a key cog for better student learning." Building the courses online in Canvas also provides the "maximum flexibility" needed to facilitate shifting between on-campus and online instruction as circumstances dictate.
Dr. Worrell also created an "open" version of the course, which she offered free of charge via St. Mark's Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning to other educators and institutions beginning in July. There are now over 150 educators enrolled from 62 different schools/districts, spanning independent schools, public schools, and universities, mainly in New England but also the Punahou School in Hawaii and two schools outside of the United States: one in Canada and one in South Africa.
"When looking ahead to this coming year," said Worrell, "one of the primary concerns of so many schools and teachers is how to build supportive relationships with students in a hybrid or remote context. The research I dove into for this course made it clear that we at St. Mark's can absolutely get to know our students and build vibrant learning communities in any modality. I hope St. Mark's parents and community members feel assured that we have all the talent, knowledge, and resources we need to create the best learning experiences for our students, whether it be online, in-person, or toggling between the two. We've all worked hard to create an impactful student-centered approach so all of our students can be successful in the dynamic year ahead."
"I am tremendously appreciative of Colleen's work in developing a truly outstanding course for our faculty that has set us on a clear path for our students' school experience this year," says Samantha Brennan, assistant head of school and dean of faculty. "Despite the uncertainty of the year ahead, our teachers are prepared to deliver the best education possible. They have embraced the opportunity to learn and grow as educators this summer, collaborating with one another to design learning that targets essential skills and knowledge while simultaneously fostering relationships and building community. The professional development course also facilitated collaboration among non-academic departments, including athletics, advisory, and House Heads, which has prompted excellent planning to deliver our holistic education even when we are not all together on campus. I am proud of our faculty's desire to embrace the challenges that face education this fall, and I look forward to celebrating their successes this year."