Category Archives: School Stories

Harwood Union High School

By | 2014-15, School Stories | No Comments

Harwood Union High School, located in Moretown, serves approximately 800 students from Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield, Warren, and Waterbury Vermont.

Harwood Union High School was one of the pioneering teams, who took the Communicating School Redesign Course during the 2013-14 school year. A larger team, including the Co-Principal and three students, enrolled in the CSR class during the 2014-15 school year to continue their work.

The 2014-15 Harwood Communications Team was comprised of: Cole Lavoie, Sophia Minter, Alexa Widschwenter, and Asah Whalen (students), Amy Rex (Co-Principal), Ellen Berrings (Next Step teacher and pioneering team member), and Marcus Grace (World Language teacher).

Harwood Union is committed to creating an equitable, personalized learning environment, rooted in a collectively developed vision for personalized learning. That vision begins with the student point of view: “I am a student who cares about my learning and needs to have ownership because how I want to learn matters.” The school believes that all students do care and that the core challenge is to ensure there is a pathway that inspires individual engagement, personal growth, and efficacy via relevancy, meaningful relationships and high, clearly articulated expectations for learning. The school aspires to offer as many pathways as they have students.

A critical component in the development of student pathways is ownership. Students must be provided an opportunity to participate in the personalization process along with the knowledge, resources and supports necessary to make informed pathway decisions. At Harwood, ownership is fostered through Personal Learning Plans (PLPs) supported by a network of adults who help students learn about their individual strengths, challenges, and interests; set goals; create a plan and carry it out; assess, reflect and revise that plan as needed. Student ownership is nurtured by the values, mindsets, and beliefs of the school culture, and the Communications Team contributes to student, staff, parent and community understanding through Community Forums and faculty-student Dialogue Circles.

The Harwood CSR team’s major accomplishment was orchestrating an all-school dialogue with all 800 students (both the middle and high school), with student facilitators taking a major role it its design and implementation. The “Student Voice and Choice: All School Dialogue Spring 2015” video below provides an excellent snapshot of this experience. The team collected schoolwide data in the process of this session, and then shared the findings with the school community. There was a notable shift in the school climate subsequent to this event. The inclusion of students as initiators in this effort reinforced the school’s commitment to elevating student voice in the change process and in learning itself.

The team secured funding to expand their communications efforts this 2015-2016 year. They have launched a community dialogue effort, in conjunction with Everyday Democracy, creating community-based study circles to explore school redesign. This work has been grounded by prior CSR work, utilizing the strategic framing approach and mental models research.

Student Voice & Choice: All School Dialogue Spring 2015: In the spring of 2015 Harwood held an all school dialogue day where both students and faculty members engaged in structured dialogue to better understand their perspectives of education at Harwood.

The Personalization of Learning: A video created by Harwood Union High School to introduce personalized learning plans.

Pioneering Year

By | Pioneering Year, School Stories | No Comments

Youth and Adults Transforming School Together (YATST) is the signature initiative of UP for Learning in high schools schools throughout Vermont. The goal of youth-adult school teams is to increase engagement in learning through an action research model. After five years of developing this approach, the one frustration most frequently cited by YATST schools was their inability to better communicate the need for school change within their own schools and communities. In response, in 2013 Helen Beattie (UP for Learning Executive Director) enlisted the expertise of Jane Feinberg (Full Frame Communications) in order to co-create a course that would help address this need.

Four YATST schools engaged in the resulting year long credit-bearing course (masters level credit for adults, dual enrollment or high school credit for high school participants): Harwood Union, Hazen Union, Peoples Academy and South Burlington High School – Big Picture Program. Jane brought a breadth of expertise in a strategic framing approach to communications and a wealth of experience in supporting schools throughout New England in the redesign process. Her background in research regarding mental models of education and learning, and effective communications strategies based on extensive research, grounded the participants’ communications development. Helen contributed her experience with the youth-adult partnership model, school psychology background and school change consulting vantage point.

One significant contribution to the field of communicating school change arose when the CSR teams realized that although there was research regarding adult mental models of education and learning that informed communications strategies, virtually no communications research had been done to profile student mental models of the same. Committed to filling this void, the class implemented an extensive qualitative research effort, interviewing and recording 39 student interviews. They then analyzed and synthesized this data to inform their communications plans. The composite data was further analyzed and summarized by Penn State researcher Dr. Catharine Biddle (click here to see analysis).

In the course of the pioneering year, individual schools produced tools and dialogue strategies to introduce school change to key stakeholder groups and the South Burlington High School – Big Picture team created a highly effective Public Service Announcement (PSA) as a catalyst for organizing community dialogue. The class closed the year by leading a statewide communications conference for schools throughout Vermont engaged in school change efforts, We learned a great deal this first year, best captured in the evaluation of a Penn State researcher who conducted an outside evaluation on the process and outcomes of the course.

During the winter months of 2014, it became evident that the Agency of Education (AOE) was developing numerous resources to help schools implement Act 77: Flexible Pathways, but had no identified method to help schools communicate the compelling reasons for this change. CSR faculty shared our pioneering model and a partnership was formed with both the AOE and the Vermont School Boards Association to offer statewide communications training and support the subsequent year. Daniel Baron joined the Communicating School Redesign’s faculty to better support building the participants’ capacity to lead effective dialogue – one of the key elements of the CSR change paradigm.

Five schools signed on to CSR for the 2014-15 year, and their local efforts were augmented by a concurrent statewide communications campaign – hence the birth of “Shaping Our Future Together: Communicating School Redesign”.