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Guest Interview: Innovative Programming at Miss Porter’s School
In the constantly changing landscape of the 21st century, questions about how humans learn, think, and apply knowledge take on increasing importance. Fortunately, we live in a dynamic era for brain science, when advances in brain imaging and new ways of modeling are filling in profound pieces of this puzzle. Researchers are also approaching this question holistically, exploring what types of environments and stimuli best facilitate the growth mindset that fosters lifelong learning. With this in mind, some independent schools are making a significant investment in professional development and evaluating their programs so that they can be thought leaders in applying the latest educational best practices to serve students. I am excited to offer this guest interview about curricular innovations at Miss Porter’s School, a boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut.
Chief Academic Officer and Dean of Faculty
Miss Porter’s School
How is educational research inspiring innovation at Miss Porter’s?
Predictions about the changing world and research on how people learn both suggest that education needs to change in order to prepare students for success and happiness in the future. There is also a lot of evidence suggesting that educational programs that are interdisciplinary, experiential, and relevant will be what help students achieve those goals. Since our founding, we have been a school that does not rest on its laurels and is willing to do things differently. As the world changes, we are adapting our programs to reflect the outcomes students need to flourish. This work aligns naturally with our mission to educate young women to become informed, bold, resourceful, and ethical global citizens.
What are examples of innovation at Miss Porter’s?
We have developed InterMission, a three-week winter term that offers unique experiences to foster connectedness, confidence, and challenge. Each year has a different emphasis: 9th grade students engage in meaningful service learning, 10th graders have a team-based outdoor adventure, 11th graders travel for an international immersion experience, and seniors explore a profession through internships and job shadowing. The collective goal is to encourage students to think about how they might shape the future of the world.
We have also created two interdisciplinary institutes that offer certificates for focused work beyond the graduation requirements. The Institute for Global Education examines the role of individuals in the global community, considering our shared responsibilities and risks on a global scale. The Institute for Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship emphasizes skills for success in a technologically-driven society and economy. Both of these programs require a concentration of coursework in designated areas, related cocurricular activities, and a senior capstone project. While the courses involved in these programs are open to any students, those who pursue the certificates make these areas a priority for their time here.
How do you anticipate colleges responding to these programs on students’ transcripts?
Colleges are also offering more interdisciplinary majors and capstone projects, based on feedback they hear from industries. They recognize that we are creating authentic, real-life opportunities. Ultimately, colleges love what we are doing because we are giving our students opportunities to distinguish themselves in ways that aren’t available at other schools.
What other initiatives do you have relating to enhancing learning?
Great teachers have always focused on competency-based education, emphasizing skills they want students to be able to do. In all of our classes, faculty are becoming more transparent in articulating these desired outcomes. While our transcripts will continue to have traditional grades, we want students to recognize that growing their skills and understanding is the path to learning, and in order to do that we need more clearly outline our learning outcomes and give more targeted feedback that is useful to students.