Head-Royce News

A Message from our Dean of Academics & Community

How would you like to engage in an All-School Food Fight, instead of, for example, the All-School Fair?

While that may sound ludicrous, not to mention impossible, this is my job. Let me explain.

School is now in full-swing, the Fair is just behind us, and I thought it would be a good time to introduce myself, and more importantly, the work I am doing at the School. As the Dean of Academics and Community, I oversee different parts of the work of the School, including curriculum, hiring, and professional development. But, I see my work really as making sure we are moving the goals of our Strategic Plan forward, and that is so much more than the responsibilities I mentioned above. It might be more interesting for you to know what it is I have been up to this fall, in service to our Strategic Plan.

At the start of the school year, we invited High Tech High, a K-12 school (plus graduate school) to lead a day-long workshop with our teaching faculty on various aspects of project-based learning. The training was to give teachers concrete tools to implement our Teaching and Learning goal of our Strategic Plan, Bridge to 2022—bringing student-centered, real-world problems to our classroom. Back to the food fight: HTH prompted us to come up with 50 ideas for projects, using Linus Pauling’s words as inspiration: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” We then sorted them into “doable” and “shoot for the moon,” and threw away the doable ones.  

We focused on how we would bring a crazy idea to fruition, giving our faculty tools to make the impossible, possible. A food fight, for example, was imagined by identifying the product or action (a food fight), the audience (parents, students, professional community) and the exhibition (demonstration). We then layered on four quadrants: Launch, Essential Questions, Assessment and Content/Skills, as a way to thoughtfully plan out the learning experience to ensure it is engaging, specific, and can be assessed.

This approach to teaching is not unlike what Head-Royce teachers have done, but the tools provided them a permission to dream big, and a structure to make those dreams a reality. Teachers were inspired and empowered to try things that they’ve always wanted to do. Now, with tools to make sure they aren’t sacrificing any effortful learning, I think you will start to see and hear more amazing experiences from your students, and have a chance to see them wrestle with real-world problems in really exciting ways. In March, we will spend some time as a community sharing out projects we tried, successfully and not, and “living the exhibition”—the real-world sharing of our work.

Providing professional development and an opportunity for teachers to hone their skills is one aspect of the Strategic Plan. Another is our approach to balance and well-being. We have taken a multi-pronged approach to this, starting with our partnership with Challenge Success, a K-12 all-school committee with 3 foci (mental well-being, intentional communities, and Challenge Success initiatives), a student club and CommunityEd programming. 

While advancing the goals of the Strategic Plan satisfies my big-picture soul, there are some nuts and bolts I must attend to. The main one, at this time, is to ready our school for a CAIS-WASC accreditation. These two bodies, the California Association of Independent Schools and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, accredit our school every seven years. As part of the process, we engage in a comprehensive self-study process to compile a report for a Visiting Committee to review. Our entire Professional Community has been busy researching and writing about all aspects of the School (Teaching and Learning, Faculty and Pedagogy, Operations, Plant and Facilities, and Governance, among other topics) since last March, as we prepare to submit our report in Mid-November for an early December visit. It is both exhausting and rewarding work to see all the amazing strengths of our school and opportunities to refine our work.

My invitation to a food fight still stands - I look forward to updating you on our progress on all of these efforts in a few months, as well as to shed some light on some other work we are doing. If you have any questions about any of this work, I welcome a chance to speak with you.

Shahana Sarkar
Dean of Academics and Community


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