As a kid, when something silly would happen, (think accidentally reaching for salt instead of sugar when baking cookies) my mom would often laugh and say, “well, you’re making a memory.”
Schooling experiences are often very preoccupied with memorizing, but not so much with being memorable. Troublesome when one considers what education scholar Tony Wagner points out in his book entitled Most Likely to Succeed - that:
“Consequential and retained learning comes, to a very large extent, from applying knowledge to new situations or problems, research on questions and issues that students consider important, peer interactions, activities, and projects. Experiences, rather than short-term memorization, help students develop the skills and motivation that transforms lives.”
In short, quality learning experiences are the ones that stick with you. Lucky for me, indeed lucky for all of the lifelong learners that inhabit every corner of the Village, Grove, and Garden, The Harbour School has received that memo. Every day I feel gratified to be a part of a community that prioritizes authentic engagement in the task of broadening minds, and through that practice, continuously expanding our individual and collective capacity.
Be it 3D printing a mathematically and topographically precise model of Ap Lei Chau in the Foundry, examining the bacteria content in local water sources in the Marine Science Center’s research tanks, or enrolling in classes entitled Political Imagery in Harry Potter and Fizzy, Fizzy, Bang, Bang! (a chemistry course, in case you were wondering), I am always amazed by the highly interactive experience THS students take part in on a daily basis, especially when compared against the “sit and get” model so many of us on the faculty experienced in our own school years.
Another key feature that has always set THS apart, and which is so readily apparent in the bustle of the first days of school, is its emphasis on collaboration. Collaboration across content areas and between adults, sure. But more importantly, the intergenerational collaboration that takes place when teachers authentically engage students in discussion about what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.
Every year, our high school students are surveyed in advance of the course catalog drop around what topics they are interested in engaging with for the upcoming school year. While there are knowledge and skill frameworks that make up the backbone of the curriculum every year, the packaging is catered to the target audience. No marketer worth their salt would design a product without considering how to engage the client, but in this dimension schools do so all of the time.
At THS, we place a high value on engaging students in work that is not only relevant but meaningful to them. In addition to the catalog, this value shines strongly in the primary school’s passion projects that evolve into high school independent study modules. These kinds of learning experiences ensure that the first time our students are asked what they care about, what they want to learn, and what motivates them to thrive, will not be when they are in college or at their first jobs.
This approach not only produces more efficacious learners, it also promotes authentic relationships. Students at THS know that their opinions are valued and it is through being shown respect that they learn to respect and trust themselves and others. I was struck once again this year by how many students showed up thirty minutes early to High School Orientation, to track down the teachers they knew would be there beforehand to catch up on how their summer had been.
Fast forward a few years and it is easy to see why THS graduates are not only being placed in some of the world’s finest universities, they are also gravitating toward programs that are the best fit for them. They come from an environment in which they are encouraged not only to be themselves but to cultivate those selves and to extract as much joy from that process as possible. In the ever-wise words of Winnie the Pooh: “We didn't realize we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun."
Welcome back for what promises to be another tremendous year of learning and growing together!