Holderness School

Please Pass the Pedagogy: “Teaching Topics” Becomes a Thanksgiving Tradition

Greg Kwasnik
Not satisfied with holiday leftovers, Holderness School faculty met on the Monday after Thanksgiving break to dig into “Teaching Topics,” a smorgasbord of important questions about teaching and learning.
As one of several in-service days during the school year, “Teaching Topics” provided a forum for faculty to discuss nearly two dozen wide-ranging topics. Like Thanksgiving itself, “Teacher Topics” was an opportunity for family – the Holderness family – to gather and talk about their shared experiences and hopes for the future. In this case, discussions focused on the life of the mind and the work faculty do in and around the classroom.
Meeting in small groups in Weld, faculty held discussions on a range of topics, from the challenges created by grade compression and effort-based grading to essential questions such as “What do 9th graders need?” Crucially, the day’s “Teacher Topics” format allowed faculty to engage in organic conversations, discuss important issues, and engage in good-natured debates – both philosophical and practical - about how to best meet the educational needs of students.

“It’s important to spend time talking with teachers about teaching, and to give them the space for that,” said Director of Teaching and Learning Kelsey Berry, who facilitated the in-service day. “These are philosophical questions that are really good for our teachers to have the space and time to talk about, even if it doesn’t lead to an initiative.” 
One discussion, centered around homework, was particularly spirited. Several faculty members engaged in a back-and-forth about the disparity in homework load between 9th grade students and seniors; how to prevent students from Googling homework answers; the challenges of study hall; and how much homework to assign each night. Another group tackled the difficult topic of creativity in education. In a system that rewards students with a final letter grade, teachers asked, how should creativity be encouraged? Several teachers noted that productive failure is an integral part of the learning process and should be rewarded in some way.
While opinions naturally differed on each of the day’s topics, the discussions sparked important conversations that could determine the future of teaching and learning at Holderness. In many cases, Kelsey said, the school’s administrators will use the “Teaching Topics” discussions as a starting point for the development of future educational programs and initiatives at the school. 
“We want these to be faculty-informed issues, so we’re not moving forward with a new grading rubric or a new effort rubric without giving teachers a chance to weigh in,” Kelsey said. “We’re a very faculty-led place, and I like that.”

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    Changing the status quo can be an uncomfortable task – especially if you benefit from it. That was the message to students from the Rev. Peter Jarrett-Schell, the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker and the white author of Seeing My Skin, a personal examination of the role of whiteness in his own life.
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    The Honor Roll recognizes and commends outstanding achievement and effort in the academic program. Holderness School recognizes that each student's growth and progress is complex. Quarterly comments written by faculty better reflect the unique path traveled by each student, and the Honor Roll and Effort Honor Roll are simplified but significant markers of the engagement of our students in the most recent marking interval.
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    Affirming Holderness School’s position as the premier snow sports school in the country and committing to the school’s multi-sport athletic philosophy, the New Hampshire boarding school recently received a transformational $6 million gift.  Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, Holderness School is able to jumpstart fundraising initiatives that will better support world-class outdoor athletic facilities and impact every athletic team and snow sports discipline.
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Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness, NH 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257