Ted Talks: Let's Try and See What Happens

Ted Graf
Since its inception, Headwaters has always been willing to try different approaches to "doing school," especially when our students speak up and speak out. Before it was popular, the school was actively teaching and practicing mindfulness. Intuitively, we knew that students who could self-regulate would be better prepared to learn. Furthermore, we knew that social and emotional learning was important to us and that it was an "inside job," and that emotionally intelligent people could become peacemakers.
Vibrant schools try things, and that attitude of wonder and experimentation is more important than ever when you consider the array of educational options in Austin. I count at least 12 Montessori schools, a handful of for-profit schools emphasizing entrepreneurialism; there are micro schools, progressive schools, rigorous private schools, parochial schools, and other faith-based schools, to say nothing of the public schools and selective publics that are emerging. Another option for learning, at least for high-school-age children, involves the rapidly expanding choice of online schools. With such a broad variety of schools, it's important that families and students get radically clear about what they need. 

With that reality and backdrop in mind, we made some clear and intentional choices about both program and preparation for this academic year. We decided we needed to do a better job of teaching and supporting a diverse range of students; given our values, and as our city and state become more diverse, we needed to be better attuned to racial and ethnic diversity, and we needed to be clearer with our students with learning differences and how we can better support them. We also chose to emphasize a deep and important attribute of Headwaters--a rededication to a close-knit community and emphasis on meaningful relationships. 

Here's a brief summary of programs and initiatives we're prototyping this year. Many of these efforts emerged in response to feedback and/or suggestions from students, faculty or parents.

On the River Campus, we recently completed our first Flex Day--a day where students design their time and have an opportunity to practice executive function (that's ed-speak for organizing and managing one's self) and test their abilities around self-directed learning. As many of you know, we're also conducting prototypes with the River Schedule through February, so we will have the data to make informed and inspired decisions about next year's daily schedule. We're also fortunate to prototype a new course, "Engineer Your World," so students can explore the exciting connection between math, physics, and design as they learn to solve problems. In the middle school, we have done a lot of work to reinvent movement and that resulted in PACTivity, and we have expanded our sex education classes across all three grade levels with the aim of increasing student awareness and simultaneously reinforcing social and emotional learning.

Guides on the Creek Campus are engaged in prototyping lessons in gender diversity--focused on giving young children, who are naturally curious, the language to express their questions about gender and the roles many of us adopt. We're also expanding our lessons on identity and how we engage with the children about history, human rights, and civil rights. 

Last year, on the Springs Campus, an experiment began in dual language instruction in the Young Children's Community (YCC) and it continues this year as guides in both classrooms are using both English and Spanish in the classroom. The prototype of snack and food preparation also continues--a key part of a Montessori classroom for younger children. Lastly, we're experimenting with creating a calmer and more intentional beginning to the day by welcoming the children into the classrooms when they arrive at school.

Across the school, we have prototyped a new organizational structure and roles so we could better develop and support community and so we can focus more deliberately on the student and family experience. Additionally, we're piloting a relationship with Launch Code (an after-school coding class) and an after-school acting workshop (thanks to the generous support of a current family). 

What each of these efforts have in common is a focus on the student experience--what's best for the student? How can we ensure that their days are as meaningful as possible? How can we put the kids in a position to love learning and be curious? We're also making these efforts because prototyping, adjusting, and learning are what the school has always been about.

Springs Campus

18 months to Pre-K
6305 Manchaca Rd.
Austin, TX 78745
Phone: 512-443-8843

Creek Campus

Elementary School
9607 Brodie Ln.
Austin, TX 78748
Phone: 512-804-2708
Fax: 512-628-4810

River Campus

Middle & High School
807 Rio Grande St.
Austin, TX 78701
Phone: 512-480-8142
Fax: 512-480-0278