Collaboration and Independent School Partnerships

23 Jan

Applewild adopted explicit Core Competencies three years ago to parallel the Core Values that we put in place about 15 years ago. These clearly articulated goals provide us with a coherent, interconnected curriculum and a powerful, positive culture and climate. I am reminded of one of these Core Competencies as we come into the admission season for independent schools. It is the importance of collaboration.

The Emphasis on the Lone Individual

When I was a student, the ability to work collaboratively was not considered a positive attribute. For students in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the notion was to work independently. We learned about the pioneers, the frontier spirit and how rugged individualism led to the founding and westward expansion of our country. The “great man theory” was the way history was (and still is) taught, suggesting that individuals on their own forged the direction, even as our Founding Fathers demonstrated the value of collaborating. In addition, the Soviet Union was competing for the hearts and minds of the world and offering communism as an alternate organizing principal, so we were being aggressive about the importance of the individual.

The virtues of individual effort, focus, creativity, and competition are still essential to our ethos – and to the way we tell our history to our students. They help explain why the United States has been among the leaders in innovation for our entire history. What we know now, however, is that people are often most effective when we are sharing ideas, brainstorming, making use of the individual strengths of members of a team. We see whole “innovation zones” being created within companies and in cities to assure that people from different disciplines encounter each other and share insights and methodologies. We know that having a diverse team is most likely to assure that the best ideas are brought forward and vetted. We know that “group think” by like-minded  folk can be particularly dangerous and counter-productive.

Teaching Individual Accountability and Effective Group Work

Teaching students how to collaborate effectively, therefore, becomes an important goal in our schools. Instilling individual accountability, personal creativity and independence is hard enough. That becomes particularly complicated when a parallel goal is to encourage effective group work. Assuring that students learn how to be confident in their own abilities and also effective in groups does not happen by accident. It is critical that what was once the almost exclusive home of team sports and performing arts becomes a component of our regular work with students in the classroom. That is why at Applewild we are explicit that collaboration is an important skill.

We still assign individual work and hold students personally accountable for their mastery of material. Now we also have clearly identified ways to assure that they practice collaborating. This happens in science projects, creating scale models in mathematics, preparing history projects, reading and discussing literature, and in a variety of other ways. Students reflect on and write about their effectiveness, both as an individual and what they each brought to a task and also about how they contributed to the group as a whole. Faculty develop clear goals and a way of assessing this process. Because of our size, we are able to engage with the groups in meaningful ways during the process and can provide feedback at the end.

Independent Schools Modeling Collaboration

Schools have sometimes been so focused on their own missions and programs that working toward common ends has been elusive even when seen as a positive. Independent schools in particular are by our nature wary of sacrificing our essence – independence. There are nevertheless certainly good examples of such collaboration. In St. Louis the independent schools have operated a consortium for 20 years or more. Columbus Ohio decided to adopt some of that approach among its five independent schools. There is a national group, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), that provides forums for sharing ideas, collects and makes available important data and trend information, and offers professional development opportunities including for members of our Boards of Trustees. This assures that there is a common set of “best practices” that are well understood, even as each of our schools defines our mission in our own unique way. The Association of Independent Schools in New England (AISNE) is another such association that promotes collaboration.

Cushing and Applewild Collaborate

Cushing Academy and Applewild School are proponents of such collaboration. Among the ways our schools are creatively working together is on affordability and access. Recognizing the value of outstanding preparation, Cushing has established an initiative with Applewild to provide entry to Cushing for ninth grade at a discount to standard tuition. Students who attend Applewild starting in sixth grade or earlier who achieve honors standing in our seventh and eighth grades are eligible for this four year discount.

Sometimes families wait for high school to opt for independent education. Cushing knows the value of having their students start younger. They have a long history of having Applewild students succeed and lead in Cushing’s innovative curriculum. Building a strong foundation results in Applewild students succeeding in honors courses in public, parochial, and independent schools throughout the region and in boarding schools further afield. Our students will continue to seek acceptance to these schools, and all of us who care about education are fortunate that we have the best independent schools in the country to complement the public and parochial options within our area.

For those who are interested in these schools, and in Cushing in particular, starting at Applewild is a great way to assure the strongest foundation – for both individual mastery and collaboration skills. The collaboration between Applewild and Cushing does not simply assure the best preparation for success at Cushing but has the added advantage of the discount on tuition if eligible. To learn more, contact the Cushing admission office, the Applewild admission office, or come visit Applewild on Saturday, January 25 for our 11:00 Open House or at one of our 9:00 First Thursday open houses (February 6 is the next one).