The World Learns from Wildwood

IMG_0323It happens every time I’m out on the road, working with teachers, students, and administrators at other schools on their advisory programs. This week, the road took me to Mexico City, as I made a return trip to work with the faculty at the American School Foundation (ASF)—at 125 years, the oldest American School outside of the United States.

When I visit and work with schools like ASF, I’ll spend my first day absorbing each school’s unique atmosphere; I visit and observe classes and I listen to students, parents, and teachers. In the course of my travels, people invariably ask me, “How does advisory work at Wildwood?”  Knowing what I do about Wildwood’s advisory program, I can predict the reactions to my answers: they’ll range from disbelief, to admiration, to envy.

ASF High School students enjoy a mid-morning break from classes

ASF High School students enjoy a mid-morning break from classes

Yes, it’s true, I say, that advisory is at the core of our middle and upper school programs. Indeed, middle and upper school students do have advisory five times a week. It’s also true that each advisor’s main responsibilities include getting to know each advisee and the advisor is the main point of contact between home and school. And, yes, we actually do hire teachers at Wildwood with a view toward their potential as advisors.

I sometimes take for granted that Wildwood is known across the United States and, increasingly, around the world as an educational leader in Advisory and other programs, like Life Skills, Habits of Mind and Heart, project-based learning, and multicultural education. My experience this week was an affirming reminder of what a powerful example Wildwood’s advisory program is for so many schools—both public and private.

ASF High School faculty working to choose goals for their advisory program

ASF High School faculty working to choose goals for their advisory program

Ironically, it was a public school connection in Los Angeles that first brought me to Mexico City. Gabriel Lemmon, the Dean of Students at ASF’s Upper School, was formerly the Principal of the Humanities Magnet Program at Cleveland High School, a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school in Reseda. I met Gabriel when he visited Wildwood back in 2010. He had come to learn about our upper school program—which he had been hearing about from his colleagues in LAUSD for years. He also came to visit two of his former Cleveland colleagues, Division Three humanities teachers, Ariane White and Jason David.  Gabriel and I talked at length about the Humanities Program at Cleveland, Wildwood, and what our schools could learn from each other.

The next year, Gabriel left Los Angeles to take his Dean’s position at ASF. He remembered our conversation and when his new school was ready for an advisory tune-up, he felt Wildwood had, hands-down, the model that could best inspire and guide his faculty. I made an initial trip to ASF in January 2012, and continued the work on the return trip I made to Mexico City this week.

ASF teachers and administrators work together to re-envision their advisory program with help from The Wildwood Outreach Center

ASF teachers and administrators work together to re-envision their advisory program with help from The Wildwood Outreach Center

The takeaway for this week emerged as I listened to the AFS faculty. They are committed to creating a more robust advisory program, based on a real appreciation for Wildwood as a leader in educational best practice. And I was reminded that learning is a two-way street. Among the ideas I’m bringing back to Wildwood from the teachers and students at ASF: insights from teachers on effective training for new advisors and reminders from students that advisory needs to be a place to think deeply.

Seeing our school’s core ideals played out in a variety of settings around the country and even around the world is a privilege I am afforded in my work, and an occasional snapshot of Wildwood’s collective work in the world seems worth sharing.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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