As I have taken on a new role at Walker this year, one common (and very reasonable) question I hear is, “What is a Director of Studies?” Officially, my role as Director of Studies includes leading the implementation of our long-term self-study goals identified last year and leading the vertical alignment of our Pre-K through 12 curriculum. I am also maintaining my responsibilities as Upper School Academic Dean. More simply, though, I am charged with helping us take better advantage of the gift of being a Pre-K through 12 school.
Being a Pre-K through 12 school means that we have students ages 4 to 18 all on the same campus being guided by faculty that have expertise in developing learners at all ages. These circumstances set the stage for inspiring interactions between students of different ages. Starting last year, our teachers have been meeting monthly in vertical teams, which include all of the teachers that teach the same subject from Preschool to Upper School. One of the main initiatives for the vertical teams this fall is to facilitate meaningful cross-divisional student collaborations. What value do these collaborative moments bring?
A second grade student can remind a Middle School student of the curiosity and wonder that can be found in everyday materials while they both construct cardboard arcade games that will later be played by Preschool students.
A sixth grade student can apply her knowledge of grammar to mentor a first grade student as they read, write, and edit fables.
Seventh grade students alongside fifth grade STEM students can interweave history and botany as they learn natural techniques for clearing weeds in preparation for planting their “culturally significant species” garden.
Preschool students and Upper School students can both enhance their appreciation of music as the chorus class performs Italian arias for their young audience.
An Upper School student – in this case “Science Gabi” as she is called in Mrs. Waddington’s class – can deepen her understanding of core scientific concepts by assisting instruction in the Lower School Science Lab. As anyone who has helped their child with homework can attest, nothing deepens your understanding like teaching a concept to others.
Kindergarten students can stretch their bodies as well as their minds by participating in a ballet class with the Upper School dance students. Those dancers returned to serve as models in the Preschool art class later in the week.
All of the pictures above are a sample of the cross-divisional student collaborations that took place just in the last week, and they are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the interactions that will be taking place over the course of this year. Older students are seeing themselves as mentors and role models and finding deeper understanding through teaching others. Younger students are sharing their knowledge confidently with older students – finding mentors that they naturally look up to in the process. These moments are the true gift of a Pre-K through 12 school – all students have the opportunity to learn through collaboration and shared experience.