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From the Quad

Guest Interview: Innovative Programming at Pomfret 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 Pomfret School, a boarding school in Pomfret, Connecticut.

Gwyneth Connell
Director of the Grauer Family Institute
Pomfret School

What inspires innovation at Pomfret?

Innovation comes from constantly asking how we can we achieve our goal even more successfully. In 2014 Pomfret launched the Grauer Family Institute for Excellence and Innovation in Education to reimagine our daily schedule, academic offerings, and teaching methodologies. Our goal is to think about the overall learning arc for every student, in and outside the classroom, with a strong emphasis on cultivating self-directed learners.

What are recent examples of innovation?

Through the Grauer Institute, Pomfret has launched many new initiatives. We moved to a block schedule with 70-minute class periods. We launched Project Pomfret, which is a 10-day design-thinking experience that engages all of our students in complex questions in a variety of fields. Everyone also participates in our QUEST program, which explores topics about character, community, social justice and diversity, and health and wellness. About twenty percent of students participate in our specialized certificate programs to build a depth of knowledge in one of domain areas: Social Justice, STEM Exploration, Sustainability, Artistic Expression and Design, and Global Citizenship and Awareness.

These and other initiatives create more opportunities to work across disciplines and to challenge students to provide evidence of their learning in authentic ways. We are inviting students to take a stand about what motivates them and to build work portfolios, experiences, and transcripts that demonstrate their learning in an area.

What has been the response to Pomfret’s innovations?

Parents and students recognize that we offer experiences that both challenge and inspire—and that is what leads to love of learning. We have recently started using a tool developed by The Wellington School in Ohio to gather student perspectives on both curricular and co-curricular activities. For each activity, students record their opinions along a graph, with y axis scored from “unchallenged” to “challenged” and the x axis scored from “hate it” to “love it.” Most of the students’ dots are in the upper right quadrant, which is the goal for truly engaged learning.

What is the latest initiative?

Having launched so many initiatives in recent years, we are currently focused on alignment. We are reviewing our programs across the board to ensure that objectives are cohesive and clearly articulated, and that our implementation lives up to those goals. For example, we are currently working on a shared language about what makes effective teaching in any subject, which we will use to promote consistency in every subject and in every classroom. We are also processing data from the student responses mentioned above. Assessing our work is important because it brings a rigor to our pedagogy and helps to identify the next opportunity for innovation.

Audrey Noyes Ludemann helps families seek independent school education, including day schools and boarding schools, from elementary to secondary grades. She also is an invaluable resource for addressing different learning styles—serving families whose students are gifted and/or have moderate learning differences. She can be reached at audrey@thebertramgroup.com