Visit to HTHCV – day 2

HTHCV is a school deeply connected with its local community.  I start the day attending a 7.30am planning meeting with two aims; to prepare for end of term tPOLs or transitionary presentations of learning and to debrief teachers on the networking power lunch for educators and the community that was happening in the afternoon.  tPOLs are reflective presentations of about 30 minutes (they span over 5 days to allow all students to present to their teachers) that students prepare/present to parents as part of the graduation to the next grade level.  They are an essential element that allow students to articulate their progress in a meaningful way.  This is a school with huge levels of social capital and deep levels of collaboration between its staff and the community.    I was struck by the level of community engagement in classroom projects.  There are so many projects the students are working on that provide a service to the Chula Vista community.  Community mapping is something that could be done far more effectively in the UK.  This is a collective of creative teachers working together to design projects.

The second part of my morning I visited a 7th grade Humanities/Science-Math class.  The teaching partners Kyle Linnik and Edrick Macalaguim had combined their classes to work on their ‘Meals and Muppets’ project.  Talking to Kyle in particular, he had a real passion for design thinking and was studying a masters at HTH Graduate School of Education where he has learned about the processes.  The students in 7th grade were excited to be exhibiting that night.  The project was a muppets performance where students had created plays and their puppets to educate the elementary students on issues they had researched around food.

The classroom space reminded me a little of a primary school classroom, with a tarantula in a tank that students I assume feed and plants to water.  The teachers and students definitely owned their space and made it their home.  7th grade is the equivalent of year 8 in the UK.  I wonder why we feel the need to have to move students so quickly into ‘specialised’ classrooms so quickly when they arrive in year 7.  To jump from having one teacher supporting your needs and knowing you so well to 10 different teachers who can’t possibly support all students as effectively should be reconsidered.  Employing primary school teachers with a more generic approach and slowly introducing students in year 7 to specialist teachers could make transitioning more beneficial perhaps?  The 7th grade students at HTHCV will have 3 teachers in total.  The timetable allows much more flexibility for the teachers to prioritise what needs to be done on a day.  The only time set in stone is lunch.  Would they learn any more at this stage having several specialists?  I’m not so sure.  The students also had access to Macbooks and I was talking to a student called Evan who used them to research for his projects, using adobe design tools and also accessed Khan Academy and Judo Math to learn his Math requirements for example.

I interviewed the High School Director Tim McNamara and asked him the following questions with some discussion around them;

  1. What is the leadership structure of the school?
  2. How are teachers made accountable?
  3. How do you hire and choose which teachers to employ?
  4. How do you induct teachers into the HTH way?
  5. How do you ensure the constant development of staff at HTH?

The school has a flat structure.  It is simple, each school, elementary, middle and high have a Director who oversees the school and there are the teachers (about 35 at HTHCV).  Tim tells me that the idea is that there is a common intellectual mission between all staff and everyone is on an equal footing to ensure innovation. Teachers will work collaboratively using protocols to overcome problems and challenges faced such as ‘project tuning’ and ‘dilemma consultancy’ protocols.  I guess this is an area I could go deeply into and look at the research behind this form of collective.  I can definitely see the pros in terms of teacher voice and the cons through how decisions are made.  The challenges in the UK would be to overcome the obvious promotion routes to HoD and to SLT but at the same time could keep the best in the classroom.

Hiring is very similar to what a school would do in the UK, they will have a hiring bonanza day where about 6 candidates for a position using a lesson observation, interviews with students and the Director and so on.  But they will definitely be hiring for attitude, strong relationships with students and the ability to collaborate effectively.  For the current staff, monitoring and evaluation is fairly informal, where observations 3 times a year would be one tool used with a follow up conversation.  But as you can imagine in a PBL school, the work produced by the students can be the best accountability measure for HTH staff.  The attributes of high quality work from Expeditionary Learning Schools provides a good rubric for this.  This could be a great tool to use in the UK beyond or replacing the book scrutiny, I haven’t seen an exercise book this week actually….. Teachers are also accountable to their students for example through the Youth Truth survey that gives teachers their feedback from students.  Teachers are all on one year contracts which I would say is in the the interests of all parties.  Not sure if that would work in the UK with union representation for example?

New teachers partake in induction to get them onboard through a 7 day odyssey.  Teachers will take part in a project about the US/Mexican border.  They will take part in a ‘significant learning’ experience activity and finally create a project that is assessed and given feedback from veteran teachers through a POL.  100% of students at HTHCV go onto 4 year college courses but external validation is challenged further through their own internal data and by looking at constant improvements in the standards of work produced by students.

Through these amazing opportunities and simply designed systems comes a better quality of life for the teachers, students and their local communities.  There are no workload debates here or obsession with standardising and measuring students through constant tests (tests do happen here to assess learning).  I think it is a simple formulae that empowers teachers that could work in the UK.

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