Rocky Hill Country Day: Home of Transformative Education
By Diane Rich | January 15, 2020
What drives change? And when it comes upon us, where would we place ourselves on a “change-o-meter?” Pedal to the metal? Carefully holding at the speed limit? Or frantically pumping the brakes? Many of us in independent schools find ourselves asking these questions more and more these days. For us at Rocky Hill Country Day School, the drivers of change were many, both internal and external: our history of testing new ideas, a highly concentrated and competitive education market, the new frontier of the 4th industrial revolution, and the resulting shifts required for the future of education.
Several years ago, as we began to confront these questions, we endeavored to determine which changes we wanted to make and which were inevitable, ultimately embracing the coming revolution, leaning into the future, and shifting our paradigm. RHCD is uniquely poised to continue to evolve. We are intentionally small, allowing us to be nimble and quickly adaptable. We have a legacy of innovation and transformation, such as being at the forefront of the move to 1:1 devices for students. The essence of Rocky Hill Country Day School is expansiveness: an expansive coastal campus, an expansive philosophy of education, an expansive growth mindset. We ‘think outside,’ and my leadership style echos this as I model pushing boundaries and encourage others to push beyond their comfort zone.
I believe children are souls in bloom, and so at RHCD, we help fertilize, prune, and coax them into blossom with our holistic approach through athletics, social-emotional learning, co-curricular activities, and coursework. Moving to what I call a ‘post-content curriculum,’ in consideration of what students need to thrive in a rapidly changing world, we developed our Student Competencies: A Rocky Hill Country Day graduate will be a navigator, critical thinker, citizen, and communicator who is innovative, self-aware, ethical, and globally-minded. These Student Competencies truly embody our mission to educate the mind, body, and spirit of each child, and they drive our students’ experience, which emphasizes process over product. For our students, traditional content serves as a vehicle for developing the Competencies alongside their collaboration on the athletic field, their leadership opportunities in the arts, and the emphasis on self-discovery as part of the college admissions process.
Our expansive thinking led us to make some unusual and dynamic changes. We connected with a local entrepreneurial accelerator, which led to the development of our Embedded Entrepreneurs program (E2). This first in the nation program invites inventors to campus to share with faculty, staff, and students how they went from an idea to a product and encourages our students to follow a similar process. From preK-Grade 12, students develop an entrepreneurial mindset, learning first hand about the value of calculated risk-taking, failure, and iteration with actual international founders as their guides. Entrepreneurs also offer authentic gratitude to students for their insights and feedback, a real world experience that resonates deeply with students and adds a sense of legitimacy to the learning experience. We believe there is little that will better prepare students for a world which increasingly calls for adaptability than an appreciation for, and comfort with, these skills.
Our expansive, non-traditional thinking is woven into all we do, extending to the hiring of unlikely staff members, such as our Global Impact Adviser, who works remotely from another state, and leads a team of consultants also based remotely, some internationally. Her work, along with that of our Director of Innovation, has allowed us to say ‘yes’ to outside the box student ideas, such as hosting the first in the state student-led Hack for Global Good. This, along with a myriad of other student projects, have flipped the leadership model at RHCD to put students in charge of their own learning.
Similarly, our integrated mindfulness program teaches students lifelong tools for resilience. When lower school students practice yoga as a ‘brain break,’ middle school students continue to develop their body-spirit connection by recognizing when they need to ‘TAB out’ (take a break), and upper school students use breathing techniques and the ‘mindfulness room’ to manage stress, they develop habits and self-awareness that will lead to more fulfilling lives. Our motto, “Know Thyself,” comes to life in this transformative model of education.
Naturally, I have made course corrections along the way, and I embrace them. As our evolution continues, we model for our students the capacities we hope they develop through their time with us. As John Dewey noted in My Pedagogic Creed (1897), “to prepare [a student] for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities.” More than a century later, Dewey remains transformational, inspiring us to remain open to the sweeping possibilities revealed in our spectacular, historical, coastal campus.
I invite you to follow this blog, and to check out our website to witness how our, and our students’, transformation continues.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Head of School, Rocky Hill Country Day
Educator and Middle School science teacher with 30+ years experience in K12 education. Degrees from Amherst College (BA, Geology), and Tufts University (MAT, Education). Mike’s passion for science, and in particular the environment is reflected in his outdoor pursuits, including winter backpacking and bagging 4000’ summits in the White Mountains. Under Mike’s leadership, RHCD has developed many long-standing programs, such as Enviroweek and Expositions, as well as new initiatives like LEEP (Learn, Explore, Envision, Present).