March 3, 2016
(This is adapted from ICG executive director Peter Gow’s column from the early March newsletter.)

Like many of us, I’m just back from the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference in San Francisco. It was a very good conference, from my perspective, and it was hard to be there without being struck at every turn by presentations and conversations that seemed to resonate strongly with the ICG Principles of Independent Curriculum. Even the keynotes seemed in tune.

I often come home from that conference feeling that there is some kind of educational zeitgeist, but this year its winds seemed to be blowing a bit more strongly than usual. Even the people looked a bit different: fewer men in funereal suits, fewer women with scarves. People had the look about them of being engaged in work requiring spirit, energy, and presence–requiring that they not hide behind a “uniform.” Faces were more open, more alert than usual–and I don’t think it was just the unseasonably congenial weather.

Of particular interest to me was the buzz around some new ideas related to curriculum, highlighted by the “mastery transcript” project introduced by head Scott Looney of Hawken School as a means of getting us away from the tawdry tyranny of grades and into a mindset of thinking more deeply about what it truly means to be competent in a particular skill or discipline; see Grant Lichtman’s blog post on this here. At the very moment Scott was presenting on this, Rick Weissbourd was speaking with college counselors in Boston on Turning the Tide; it feels as though we may be on the verge of bringing the conversation about teaching and learning back home to schools and not just twisting ourselves–and our curricula and our students–into whatever pretzel shapes we think colleges prefer.

In April I will be a part of further conversations on the mastery transcript representing the Independent Curriculum Group, and in that role I plan to be part of whatever comes next in the discussions about making Turning the Tide into a reality. All of this work seems to me to presage a new era in how we interface with the many external audiences for our work, and all of it seems to call for even greater energy and intentionality around truly mission-driven curriculum.

I like to think that one big sign of change was the interest that conference-goers showed in our own ICG-themed 3-hour workshop on “truly mission-driven curriculum.” Although registration is supposed to be limited and rather carefully coordinated, the room was SRO when Josie Holford, Elise London, Sean Raymond, and I began our session. Before long, staff were wheeling in more chairs and tables, and we even ran out of materials, having planned for 50 with a pre-conference count of 40. It seemed as though people are interested in what the ICG has to say, and I am still following up on the questions of attendees.

So the ICG is in the sweet spot these days. Matching programs to mission and values ought to be a no-brainer, but to do this requires liberating ourselves from old attitudes like the idea that external agencies control what all that we do, leaving us as little more than puppets on the curriculum-and-assessment stage. Great schools, like all of those in the ICG Partner community, can create great programs on their own, and they don’t need to ask permission from anyone to do so.

What schools do need, I believe, are ways to draw on one another’s ideas and expertise, and that’s what the Independent Curriculum Group is here to provide.

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