Phillips Academy’s Global Perspectives Group (GPG) hosted its first-ever public conference entitled, “Sharing Best Classroom Practices: Contexts for Change” this past week, addressing universal challenges in education such as managing class size and narrowing the gap between students with different educational backgrounds.
GPG is a multidisciplinary faculty group created in 2006 by Temba Maqubela, Dean of Faculty and Assistant Head of Academics, intended to help Andover prepare students for an increasingly globalized world.
According to Peter Merrill, Coordinator of GPG and Instructor in Russian, the group has had many opportunities to visit different schools and work with various organizations.
“The goal of the conference was to bring to campus some of the most interesting people and groups GPG had met and to share with all these groups the best educational practices GPG had observed over its five years of existence,” said Merrill.
Presenters included educators from the High School Affiliated with Renmin University in Beijing, Datong High School in Shanghai, Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science in Washington, DC, Scarsdale High School in Scarsdale, NY, the LEAP Science and Math Schools in Cape Town and Phillips Academy.
Andover faculty presented on the ACE program, the Andover Bread Loaf organization, the Niswarth summer service-learning program, the on-campus role of the Peabody and Addison Museums and various faculty advisory groups on campus.
The conference’s keynote speakers were Fernando Reimers, professor of International Education at Harvard University, Sherman Teichman, director of the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University and John Gilmour, founder of the LEAP Schools.
Presentations were followed by various workshops and discussion panels.
According to Merrill, a topic from the discussion especially relevant to Andover was the importance of global education.
“Reimers believes that understanding global issues really needs to have its own space in the curriculum like a discipline would. At Andover, we’re constantly talking in GPG and more broadly as faculty, about how to structure the school’s program overall. If you’ve got something that is really important such as global studies, do you deal with it as a separate strand of curriculum or do you find interesting ways to make sure it is covered throughout the curriculum?” said Merrill.
Merrill also said that GPG was concerned with making sure that the audience would represent a broad range of schools, beyond the normal group of peer preparatory schools that Andover frequently communicates with.
In his speech, Gilmour described how he, after creating the LEAP schools for kids from local townships, found that students had trouble learning because of turbulence in their personal lives.
In response, Gilmour created daily, 40-minute life orientation sessions, in which students can honestly and openly discuss what is going on in their lives with their peers and teachers.
“LEAP students don’t shy away from things so many other cultures do. We don’t want to make people uncomfortable so we back off from saying uncomfortable things. For me, that approach of saying uncomfortable things that need to be said is something that Andover, as a school, would benefit from hugely,” said Merrill
Merrill also said that another goal of the conference was to present opposite perspectives on prevalent issues related to education.
“We wanted to try to help people think about the extremes and then help them think about the middle ground more easily,” he said.
According to Merrill, ideas for the conference began to form a year ago and planning took place in the fall and winter.
“People on campus were incredibly helpful. One of the realizations was that we really have the infrastructure to host events like this conference. We have communications, Public Safety, a fabulous food service, the Andover Inn, an A-V program that can set up this incredibly complicated microphone system to do translation and students that can do simultaneous translation for us,” he said.
Andover students fluent in Mandarin translated all the presentations from English to Chinese or Chinese to English, depending on who was speaking.
“My expectations for the conference were certainly exceeded, and all of the attendees were people who really cared about the educational issues discussed and were willing to think about things in unconventional ways.”
For next year, Howard University Middle School has offered to host the follow-up conference.
Merrill said, “One of our goals setting this up was for this conference to not become an Andover thing. We intentionally wanted this to be a shared responsibility.”
Thomas Qi Yang, Instructor in Chinese at the Ethel Walker School of Simsbury, CT, hopes to propose the idea of having multidisciplinary faculty at his school.
At the conference, Yang also met representatives from Shanghai Datong High School, and they have already planned to further discuss an exchange program between the two schools.
Jackie Bonenfant, Instructor in Math at Milton Academy, took a special interest in learning about Andover’s ACE program and looks forward to discuss this idea of starting the program at Milton with fellow faculty members.
Nate Gee, Instructor in English at the Isidore Newman School of New Orleans, said, “ I have made connections with other schools through the conference and even learned about a program I hadn’t known about, located right down the street from my school.”