Adaptive Schools at ISY

Last month, we were fortunate to have worked with Dr. Bob Garmston, a very influential educator and academic whose work has had a profound impact on teaching and learning around the world.

Dr. Garmston, with the support of Dr. Hedger and Mr. Simpson, facilitated a series of workshops for teachers that went deeper into some key Adaptive Schools ‘Norms of Collaboration’ upon which we base so much of our instructional practice in the classroom.

Dr. Garmston is a co-developer of Adaptive Schools. Adaptive Schools ‘presents a productive, practical set of ideas and tools for developing collaborative groups in becoming effective and better equipped to resolve complex issues around student learning.

Prior to Dr. Garmston’s visit, all of our teaching faculty had completed four days of training in Adaptive Schools practices. This four day seminar was facilitated by Adaptive Schools trainer, Mr. Jim Roussin, again with the support of Dr. Hedger and Mr. Simpson.

Adaptive Schools strategies help teachers collaborate effectively in planning to meet the needs of all of our students. Also, and very importantly, these strategies can be used in the classroom with the students to create meaning and facilitate learning. 

Adaptive Schools strategies can be very simple or quite complex but they are all grounded in research around the science of learning. Adaptive School strategies build upon best practices, creating a consistency in how instruction happens and learning occurs throughout the school.

Adaptive Schools strategies can be divided into three categories – learning, talking, and facilitating groups.

You may have noticed some examples of Adaptive Schools strategies on our Facebook page. These include structured reading activities in which students read and respond in pairs or small groups using a very clear structure. This structure ensures participation and understanding from all students.

Another group strategy featured on our Facebook Page is a Museum Tour in which students develop expertise and confidence on a topic to teach and learn from other students. This is an example of a facilitated learning strategy.

The success of all Adaptive Schools strategies comes from a clear focus on the ‘What, Why and How’ of each strategy. In introducing any learning strategy or activity to students, our teachers will always explain why they are doing it and how they will do it. This is a simple idea but a very important concept!

Learning is a collaborative process at ISY and to ensure that we are collaborating effectively with each other and our students, we use the Adaptive Schools’ Seven Norms of Collaboration:

  • Presuming positive intentions
  • Paying attention to self and others
  • Pausing
  • Paraphrasing 
  • Posing Questions
  • Putting ideas on the table
  • Providing Data

Dr. Garmston provided us with extra understanding and practice in the first four norms. Again, learning how to pause and paraphrase in conversation has a proven positive impact on student learning. The power of presuming that all students want to and are able to learn and paying attention to how our students are reacting to what we are doing also has an incredible impact. Dr. Garmston reminded us of how powerful these ideas are and how they can support the Adaptive Schools strategies we use to meet the needs of every student.

While Dr. Garmston was with us, we were able to ask him how Adaptive Schools came to be and why it has made such a direct and positive impact on student learning in schools all around the world. 

Dr. Garmston co-developed Adaptive Schools with his good friend and colleague, Bruce Wellman. Leveraging his extensive background as an elementary education teacher, principal, director of instruction, acting superintendent, and professor, Dr. Garmston brought practical educational experience to the table. Wellman, whose background is rooted in science, contributed to the concept of adaptivity.

During their collaboration, Garmston and Wellman were working together to train teacher union officials in New York. Throughout this process, they observed that individuals who excelled as coaches in one-to-one settings often struggled to maintain those skills in a group or meeting setting.

Upon reflecting on this phenomenon, the two educators recognized the need for organizations to be not only effective in the present but also adaptable to change. This reflection underscores the impermanent nature of organizational and human dynamics. The concept aimed to equip individuals and organizations with the capacity to navigate and thrive in evolving environments.

Adaptive Schools has provided ISY with a common language for our instructional practices both in and out of the classroom. Which means from grade to grade and class to class students are hearing the same thing and having the same experiences as they learn the material. It is very rare that a school has a common approach to instruction throughout the entire school. We are fortunate to have this at ISY and Adaptive Schools has provided us with the means to make that happen.