Education today evolves at an accelerating rate. Faculty increasingly value their role as teaching facilitators, as opposed to classroom directors, to encourage dialogue and group problem solving. Gone are the days of operating in silos, as departments team up to become more efficient, effective educators. Meanwhile, students are more focused on becoming better learners. They are embracing a new mindset – and a new world – marked more by collaboration and process than facts and formulas. And that’s just the beginning.
How is SLUH embracing change not just for the sake of doing so, but to open new doors to frontiers illuminated by opportunity and possibility?
In 2013-14, the school underwent a comprehensive strategic thinking process known as Imagining 18. The overarching goal of this visioning exercise was to become a “model in academic achievement and faith formation for the nation and the world.” Curriculum featured prominently on the roadmap to becoming a model school and ultimately led to the development of the Summer Curriculum Institutes.
SLUH’s Summer Curriculum Institutes enhance programming in specific focus areas through thorough research, creative brainstorming across multiple departments, and the recommendation and implementation of initiatives. The end product? A better curriculum – and experience – for students, one that best equips them for success in college and beyond. Jr. Bills will have a greater awareness of how their brains work and use this knowledge to improve their ability to learn and lead productive adult lives. They will be more willing to take risks in – and increase their ownership of – their education, while developing an increased sense of curiosity that leads to more independent learning.
FRESHMAN CURRICULUM INSTITUTE
A reflection by Kevin Foy, social studies teacher and Chair of the FCI
Many SLUH students will tell you that the beginning of freshman year is tough – so many things in their lives changed over one short summer. They go from the top of the heap as 8th grade leaders in their schools to inexperienced 9th graders in a much larger environment. Their academic preparation varies widely and many of them are being academically challenged in a serious way for the first time. Some of their study habits, skills and self perceptions are put to the test, and some students fear that the success they have enjoyed is now beyond their reach.
Imagine a new Jr. Bill sitting down at the table in the evening after a difficult two-hour practice, staring at his to-do list and seeing several assignments, quizzes, tests, and long-term projects. Where does he start? Maybe with what he finds most challenging or what is due soonest; perhaps with what he likes the most or what is the easiest so he can at least check something off the list.
The Freshman Curriculum Institute seeks to better understand and give language to all of us – students, faculty, staff and parents – that will help SLUH address the challenges facing our students as they become leaders in a world that evolves at an ever-increasing pace.
We want students to take risks in their education, but we can’t reasonably expect them to do so if failure carries a penalty they can’t overcome. We want them to love learning, but that is difficult if their curiosity is stifled by a list of academic chores that they need to “get through.” We want them to believe in themselves as noble men of God, regardless of what they produce. We want all of this without losing the tradition of academic excellence that so many graduates have worked to achieve over the last 200 years.
By reading books, learning from an expert and working together, the FCI learned about specific habits and skills (called Executive Functioning Skills) that academic research has shown help students achieve their potential. We studied how to encourage a mindset among students that is oriented toward growth and discovery. Finally, we learned about how to use assessments in ways that give opportunities to grow in mastery of fundamental concepts.
So we focus on the beginning – the new freshman student who walks through the halls of Backer Memorial ready and excited for whatever the school has to offer. That young man is ready and willing, and all of the adults here are ready to help him become the best version of himself. For 200 years, SLUH has carefully considered how to grow and adapt. We don’t jump on the latest fad; rather, we study and change only when we well understand how the student experience will improve. We believe that students will benefit from what the FCI learned and look forward to the real work of implementation.
Innovation in Planning
The Summer Curriculum Institutes tap into new and inventive thinking while empowering faculty to collaborate across disciplines and shape planning. In addition to the freshman experience, interdepartmental teams are focusing on other key areas, including:
- The Civil Rights and Human Dignity Curriculum Institute seeks to better understand the deep historical roots and systemic reality of racial injustice, and to identify ways in which that injustice manifests itself at SLUH. Faculty are developing a passion and vision for racial justice at SLUH and designing concrete strategies for implementing that vision. By building connections with each other and a shared understanding, they will strengthen SLUH’s efforts at equity and inclusion.
- The STEM Curriculum Institute is investigating ways to implement Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at SLUH by visiting other schools throughout the country and looking at related curriculum, best practices and makerspaces. Faculty team members aim to fully understand design principles and implement a program that allows students to better imagine, design, create and promote their ideas.
- The Common Home Curriculum Institute is exploring the intersection of sustainability and the student experience. The Institute’s team is creating a cross-disciplinary curriculum framework that integrates Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals into problembased and project-based curricular resources, programs and opportunities for students.