Like a seed in a hotbed of tropic intensity, the idea of integrated units of study have been germinating in our building. Last spring we decided that we would dive into a commitment to develop our first iteration of grade level integrated units this winter.
Utilizing what would be identified as design thinking strategies, we began meeting as grade levels to grow these projects.
The evolution from end of the year meetings (with fatigued and perhaps creativity – sapped teachers), to August meetings with rejuvenated creativity – rich teachers was inspiring.
In those August meetings, we explored the next steps of the process with 6-8 grade teams in that order. We framed the meetings with a few important philosophical nuggets:
1. This is the first iteration. It can and will be great because of the people in this room. They will be flawed and have areas for great improvement. Get excited but be okay when it gets messy!
2. All about (growth) mindset! When we roll out with the kids, if the teachers get excited and bring the passion, the kids will respond to that stimulus.
3. Model the collaborative spirit we want our kids to learn.
4. Model the resilience and creativity we want our kids to develop.
5. Have fun.
At that point we talked about length, timing, themes, launch, and integration strategies.
The 6th grade meeting started where the spring meeting left off considering a novel as the basis. But upon deciding on a week long process, that lost steam, so we shifted to the story, Through the Tunnel, that has tremendous potential for integration, and that is likewise grounded in our core values as a school. In an instance the meeting became one of the most passionate, creative, intellectual collaborations in my 20 years in independent school education. Sitting back and listening to the talented group learn and build their vision together had us feeling tremendous optimism.
At the same time, we knew lightning would never strike twice as we moved on to the 7th grade meeting.
We were wrong. With the same framing, we had a different group of people in the room who directed their own process leading to the core being the movie Life is Beautiful. A thematic unit revolving around looking at different disciplines through different lenses and from various perspectives is a perfect fit for this group of deep- thinking, intellectual, learning- journey guides.
Unfortunately, we were certain that 8th grade wouldn’t find the same spark 6th and 7th found. Sparks that had the bunch of us walking around in a stunned euphoria at what had transpired in those gatherings.
Again, we were happily proven wrong as this team went in a different direction entirely, basing their unit on the simple questions What is valuable and what is value?
So while we all agreed on a thematic unit in winter based on some core element with planned launch activities and a liberated mindset, we now stand on the precipice of our first iteration.
There have been other steps in the interim, some lukewarm conversations at times when teachers were too focused on the present to think about a project 3 months away, some logistical tweaks and twiddles to bring vision as close to manifestation as possible, and some hiccups and ahas that will most certainly make the experience more meaningful for students and teachers, alike.
After this first pass, we will do what we always do.
We will celebrate
We will reflect
We will seek feedback
We will revise
We will make it better for the next iteration
In essence, we will be the learners we want our students to be, and model the processes of learning we want them to embrace and emulate.