February 26, 2021

A Partnership Reflection: Working with The Westminster Schools

Precourt Director of Partnerships shares the parallels between good teaching and good partnership.
by Eric Roland

“I wanted to learn.”

Those were the words offered by Clara Isaza-Bishop, Spanish department chair and Tang Fellow, in a recent conversation with colleagues from The Westminster Schools. Isaza-Bishop’s statement perfectly captured the sentiment of those gathered to discuss Purpose and Proficiency in Spanish Curricula, a multi-year Tang project that she has skillfully led. These words set the tone for conversations between educators at these two schools that focused on the impact of this project on student learning and ways to jointly develop curriculum. The discussions were the fruits of an ongoing conversation and collaboration between Westminster and Andover on matters of pedagogy.

Purpose and Proficiency develops curricula that moves beyond the traditional approach to language study, with its reliance on textbooks and outdated resources, and instead engages students with authentic and meaningful curricula that better prepares them to interact and engage in real-life situations in Spanish. Isaza-Bishop and colleagues have already revamped lower level Spanish courses to include more authentic multimedia resources while also utilizing best practices related to the science of learning. This approach has yielded promising results for the department: in recent years, students have increasingly elected to continue studying Spanish beyond the intermediate level, and those who have experienced the revised curriculum point to the authenticity of experience as particularly engaging. As well, department faculty report that the project has inspired deeper thinking about pedagogy and preparation for student learning.

Westminster and Andover colleagues discuss innovative approaches to language study.

These specific conversations were just one of the ways in which Westminster and Andover have exchanged ideas over the past several years. The initial connection between our schools was made at the 2018 National Network of Schools in Partnership (NNSP) conference when Bob Ryshke, Westminster’s Center for Teaching executive director, connected with the Tang Institute’s Precourt director of partnerships. Over time, those conversations have evolved from broad explorations of impactful education to the more recent dialogues regarding Spanish language pedagogy.

Ryshke’s own work with his Westminster colleagues on raising teaching and learning standards in collaboration with partner schools served as the basis for his 2018 NNSP presentation, and subsequent conversations between our schools made clear that Westminster has prioritized partnership engagement in a manner closely aligned with the Tang Institute’s approach. Recognizing that committed teachers in conversation across institutions can generate positive outcomes - for students, for faculty, and the culture of teaching more broadly - Westminster and Andover share a point of common practice: a desire to be in regular dialogue with educators and others in order to share, to learn, and to grow.

That growth depends on a fundamental willingness to learn - for the teachers to be learners themselves, eager to inquire, be curious, and explore new and impactful ways to connect with students and support their development as engaged, lifelong learners. Even amid the many challenges of the pandemic, dedicated colleagues representing Westminster’s modern languages department, administration, and Center for Teaching have met with Andover’s Spanish department faculty to learn about each other’s work and imagine collaborative teaching activities.

As they do so, the parallels between good teaching and good partnership become evident. Reflected in the Westminster-Andover conversations, and embodied in Isaza-Bishop’s words, approaching classroom practice with humility and a willingness to grow serve as important starting points for the process of strengthening student learning. So, too, do they represent the origin of meaningful partnership. As conversations between our schools have demonstrated, the work is proceeding from a strong foundation: a place of wanting to learn.

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