At a Whole Education event at Quintin Kynaston school in St John's Wood this afternoon, I found out about the amazing stuff that the Nashville school district (yes, I do mean 'Music City, USA') has done in the last few years, with help from the Chamber of Commerce, the Ford Foundation, and many others.
A few years ago, Nashville's schools were in a terrible state. I hadn't realised this, but it's an area with a huge amount of poverty (76% of students on free or reduced school lunches), as well as much more diversity than I realised (as in Leicester, there is no majority race - and, I was intrigued to learn, there are more Kurdish people living in central Tennessee than anywhere else outside the Middle East).
What they did in order to turn them around was, frankly, surprising: first, they split the high schools into what they call 'academies' (note: these are not 'academies' in the British sense), so that students worked in small communities where they could be 'known' as individuals. They introduced project-based learning, with support from the Buck Institute, they integrated subjects according to themes, and they started building powerful relationships to the local businesses. Now, the schools contain 'academies' that include a communications and digital arts academy with its own TV studio (and prime time TV slot) sponsored by Country Music Television, a finance academy that contains a working, student-run credit union, and a health academy, much of which looks like a teaching hospital. Students spend their first year of high school in a special academy, and during that time they decide which specialist academy they will attend - a task made easier by an extensive 'careers fair' with lots of opportunities for hands-on work.
I asked how they'd helped teachers deelop the skills they needed to design extended, multidisciplinary projects. They said the most powerful thing was their summer 'externships', in which groups of teachers spend two weeks in a local business, shadowing members of staff and taking part in the day-to-day work. Afterwards, the teachers create a project based on their experience, which is critiqued by professionals.
Of course, students get the opportunity to do this too - by the time they graduate, every student has done work-based learning, service-learning, or a self-directed research project, and every student has acquired university credit, and/or a professional certification (such as in a programme like Final Cut Pro).
I could go on about it - the fact that students have the same guidance counsellor for three years and graduate with a plan (started in their first year) for their continuing education and career, the collaborative planning time given to all teaches, the fact that 'learning relationships' are their top priority... frankly, it was just an honour to spend the afternoon with associate superintendent Jay Steele, and some of the teachers who are making it all happen.
You can find out more about making schools in the UK more like Nashville's schools at our flipped conferences in Manchester and London! You can read more about our conferences here, and book a spot at the events by clicking on the following links:
To find out more, or book using a school account, call Hannah on 020 7250 8098. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org