Faces of Learning San Diego — High Tech High

A little over a month ago, I spent a few days on the campus of High Tech High (HTH), a remarkable network of schools in San Diego that are, simply, among the best examples of public education our country has to offer.

As you can see from the video, what distinguishes HTH is its ability to think differently about what a public education should look like — and accomplish. The schools are all housed in former Navy barracks, giving the school and its hallways an airy, open, almost half-finished sort of feel. Student artwork is EVERYWHERE, as are engineering and design projects, from robots to a whole wall of bicycle wheels, all connected via a long, single chain. It’s impossible not to feel creative — or at least to want to try something new.

Beyond the aesthetics, I asked Ben Daley, HTH’s Chief Operating Officer, to help me understand the keys to their special sauce. “We make sure our teachers have time to plan with each other,” he began. “Their day always starts earlier than the students, so there’s built-in time for teachers to coordinate what they’re doing and provide the kids a more integrated learning experience. We’re also doing a lot with videos of our own teaching, so we can study our own practices and find better ways to improve our teaching. And of course we have our own graduate school of education, so the overall learning culture for adults is of such a quality that it can’t help but be passed down to our kids.”

Indeed, HTH is the first school I’ve ever visited that literally houses its own graduate program on site. (Could anything be more logical?) As Ben and I talked, we ran into Stacy Caillier, who runs the program. Smiling as she spoke, Stacy explained what makes the program distinct. “For over 75 years, the average American High School has followed three critical assumptions that have become deeply ingrained in our understanding of what school needs to look like: segregate students by class, race, gender, or perceived academic ability; separate academic from technical learning; and separate adolescents from the adult world they are about to enter. Here, we try to overturn all of these tenets — we group students heterogeneously; we integrate our curriculum; and we embed students in the adult world of work and learning. By extension, our graduate program is designed to prepare educators to both design and assume leadership in this sort of learning environment, and to do so in a learning community that is collaborative, challenging, and very much grounded in the day-to-day world of the classroom.”

As part of its missionary spirit, HTH had spent the previous months building an impressive and eclectic local coalition of individuals and organizations, as the San Diego manifestation of the Faces of Learning campaign. I was in town to bear witness to its first public gathering, an impressive evening of storytelling and strategic planning.

Interested in learning more? Check out this short video of the event — and join us in imagining the possibilities of a movement of adults and young people — in search of better places to work and learn.

Categories: Leadership, Learning, Organizational Change

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