“This vision is about a mindset for the future,” declares Head of School Dr. Scott D. Fech. “It’s a new approach to say that we embrace the fact that there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the future will hold, and that we can prepare our students to be able to adapt to whatever that looks like.”
And, it is a remarkable evolution from plans guiding WT in the past.
Part of the Everyday Work
“There are priorities that speak to the long-term vision of the school and other priorities that are smaller and actionable in each individual’s practice,” adds Assistant Head for Educational Strategy Adam Nye, who led the development process. “We wanted a strategic process that is continuous, that is part of our everyday work, that is dynamic and always evolving.”
And, the priorities are purposely intertwined with the intention to instill a sense of innovation and curiosity into the community while creating the structures and processes that empower people to always be improving.
“It’s self-evident that if the world is changing, we need to reimagine learning to account for that. And, in order for that to happen, we have to look differently at classroom space—and the definition of a school day and a school year,” Fech notes. “Likewise, if we don’t have a strong community, and we’re not supporting a highly talented, highly committed group of people, then we can’t possibly reimagine learning. Now that we’ve identified these priorities, there’s no way for me to separate one from the other.”
Undergirding the strategic design’s four priorities is WT’s Philosophy of Teaching and Learning—Learn Passionately, Foster Community, Embrace Diversity, Break Boundaries, and Create Change—a set of guiding principles that is, at its core, the school’s Mission in practice.
“I see our Philosophy of Teaching and Learning as a way to hold ourselves accountable to what we say we’re going to do. So when we think about Reimagine Learning, for example, the Philosophy of Teaching and Learning gives us license to be bold around that and say, let’s look at this differently than what other schools are doing. Let’s really embrace City as Our Campus and progressive education and place-based learning, so that when people take a peek inside WT, they say, ‘Wow, there really is something different and unique about what they are doing,’” observes Fech.
The WT Difference
The difference exemplified by WT’s strategic priorities is due in large part to the novel, inclusive, and deeply comprehensive process by which the plan was developed. Input was sought from every WT constituency in the form of focus groups, listening sessions, surveys, and individual conversations. One vision emerged, derived and distilled from those many voices.
WT faculty are gratified—and galvanized—by the opportunity to contribute their voices, experiences, and expertise to the shaping of that evolution.
“We are reconsidering how we learn and teach. This means we have to step into new experiences in order to figure out how we can help one another be better,” enthuses Middle School Math teacher Charis Walker. “I am excited to engage in work that is new and exploratory as we redesign our learning environment.”
“I see my input most reflected in the Reimagine Learning section of the strategic design,” adds North Campus Science teacher Brock Perkins. “During a conversation with Adam [Nye], I suggested that we carefully consider the research about learning and the brain, and use it to inform teaching and learning at WT. I am thrilled that the intention to ‘deepen and expand our commitment to innovative student-centered pedagogy, curricula, and practice anchored in real-world connections’ is woven into the fabric of this design.”
Through the Lens of Equity and Inclusion
Also woven into the fabric of the design—intentionally, inextricably, incontrovertibly—is WT’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Instead of assigning DEI a specific priority, the strategic priorities in their entirety are designed to be viewed through the lens of Equity and Inclusion.
“When we put equity and inclusion in its own silo, it makes it harder for it to impact the other pieces—like instruction, like our outreach with our alums, like our engagement with our parents—because different people need different things, and so just like we differentiate instruction for all students, we need to differentiate our approach in everything that we’re doing,” declares Fech.
“Our youngest generations have more diversity of identity and perspective than any other generation in our country’s history,” Nye points out. “Their expectations for us, and the incredibly difficult issues they will have to address in the future, give us a mandate to evolve as a school so that they can properly tackle those issues.”
“What I like about this is….”
The egalitarian, inclusive approach to developing WT’s new strategic priorities is one that Fech intends will continue to define his work at WT. “This is my 17th year as an administrator, 27th year or so as an educator,” he notes. “Never have I witnessed in the presentation of strategic priorities that the first words out of people’s mouths in reaction to it are, ‘What I like about this is…’ That’s so exciting. That tells me we’re on to something.”
To learn more about WT’s strategic vision, visit winchesterthurston.org/strategicvision.
The Untold Stories Around Identity:
DEI Work Launches New Academic Year
uring the opening meetings for the 2019-2020 school year, the building blocks of WT’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices shaped an extraordinary in-service workshop inspired in part by Brea Heidelberg ’02. Heidelberg had contacted Head of School Dr. Scott D. Fech to ask if he was ready to put action behind his promise to make DEI a key component of WT’s strategic vision. The answer—an unequivocal yes—led to the groundbreaking session for faculty and staff that opened with a frank conversation between Heidelberg and Fech, and culminated in a discussion among students of diverse identities.
“The decision to have Brea speak to the community was a direct result of her honest and candid reflection of how race defined her WT experience in ways the community was unaware,” explains Director of Equity and Inclusion Diane Nichols.
Among the issues addressed was the critical distinction between genuine allies or advocates versus well-meaning people being nice. “Brea talked about people—both inside and outside the school—who supported her in ways that allowed her to navigate the space successfully, who taught her lessons about how to remain engaged, despite discomfort, and who created spaces and engaged in dialogue that demonstrated awareness and authentic curiosity about Heidelberg’s struggles,” notes Nichols.
“That whole day helped all of us to think about the layers of stories that are not told, the untold stories around identity and their impact on a student’s ability to learn.”
Current students then took center stage, participating in a “fishbowl exercise” to share how identity impacts their learning experience at WT. In this exercise, the students engaged in discussion with each other while faculty and staff listened intently as stories flowed: about learning differences, mental health and wellness, having an international background, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and more.
“Students spoke about ways in which the school supports and affirms their identities, and ways in which they feel they’re not reflected in the curriculum, activities, or programming that exists in the school,” says Nichols. “That whole day helped all of us to think about the layers of stories that are not told, the untold stories around identity and their impact on a student’s ability to learn.”
In the end, says Nichols, “We have to think about how people experience life based on their identity. At WT, we are developing an infrastructure and opportunities to ensure that equitable and inclusive practices become second nature. We have to remain vigilant and aware because we are all more than what others assume we are.”