Eight Harwood Union students and teachers recently attended the 2019 New England Secondary Schools Consortium (NESSC) in Norwood, Massachusetts, on Saturday, March 23.
The two-day conference brings together schools from across New England and aims to promote techniques that enhance education and student opportunity both in and outside the classroom.
For the past four years, Harwood has been collaborating with the Great Schools Partnership, a Maine nonprofit that works to provide school and district coaching to improve educational services in public schools. Recently, Great Schools has been using Harwood’s proficiency-based learning transcript as an exemplar for other schools working toward implementing this grading system.
This year, Harwood made history as one of the few schools accepted to send two presentation teams to the conference. In attendance were Carlton Cummiskey, Kaia Levey, Winter Haberle and Lili Platt, four student members in Kathy Cadwell’s Strategies for Classroom Dialogue class, along with Cadwell herself. Members of the Leadership Team were present as well, including junior Julianne Young, teachers Jessica Deane and Timothy Gershon and Principal Sam Krotinger.
The Leadership Team, which pioneers the proficiency process at Harwood, delivered a presentation explaining their senior Capstone projects, freshman and sophomore Exhibitions of Learning, Flexible Pathways such as job shadows, internships and early college, and the overall application of proficiency-based learning components at Harwood.
Cadwell’s Strategies for Classroom Dialogue class works to build skills needed for successful student-led discussions in the classrooms around Harwood and beyond. The group presented on using the Harkness Method of student-led dialogue to improve student voice and involvement. Each of the four students reflected on their experience with the Harkness pedagogy and on their journey as a student leader. Following their presentation, the students facilitated smaller group discussions where their audience explored promoting student agency at their own schools.
After the Harkness presentation, multiple teachers from around New England approached Cadwell and her students asking for more tips about using these innovative teaching strategies in their own classrooms. Krotinger said after returning to Vermont, multiple schools have contacted him to get more information about incorporating components of HU’s proficiency-based learning transcript into their school’s reporting system.
Although many of the schools in attendance were adept with this newer grading and learning system, they were definitely all at different places with their utilization and understanding of it. As Krotinger put it, they were exploring what proficiency-based learning really means, both to students and their teachers.
Recently, Harwood was chosen as one of five schools in the nation to work with Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire to further develop techniques centered around the Harkness pedagogy. Throughout the coming years, Harwood hopes to continue serving as a leader for this transformation of learning, both with proficiencies and student-led dialogue.