A team of teachers sits around a table, writing intently.

It is May, and the birds are chirping outside after a spring rainstorm. We are writing about each one of our students from the fall pilot class, “PHD” — as in Physics, Humanities and Design.

For each one, we consider: How did this student grow? What, specifically, was it about the way we structured the class that allowed that student to grow in extraordinary ways?

One after the other, we go down our roster. The girl who was completely reticent and wouldn’t speak in class, even in small groups, who built her confidence over the course of the semester and nailed the explanation of a complex technical concept in final presentations.

The boy who started the semester with an unassailable confidence in his own quantitative ability, who over the course of the semester came to appreciate the value of working with someone who had design skills he didn’t have and realized that his idea wasn’t always the best or the only one.

As we go on, student by student, it is clear that each student grew in dramatically different ways, not only in their understanding of content or skills, but also in their fundamental approach to school and work.

This is what it looks like to build a school that is deeply centered on student growth. Just as we coach students to reflect after each challenge they undertake, we as teachers reflect after each new experience about what caused students to grow the most.

As we continue to build the Mastery School, the single most critical thing we are doing is deepening our team’s understanding of what it means to teach well in a completely different model.  As the design thinking process and models of experiential learning make clear, we learn by doing, but only if we reflect in a very intentional way afterwards and apply what we’ve learned to our next iteration.

This iterative process of development at Hawken, guided by Doris Korda, CEO of Korda Institute for Teaching, is central to developing the curriculum and instructional practice for the Mastery School.  

And that’s where we are at this precise moment; the Mastery School design team is developing the learning experiences for our future students, learning experiences that will inspire them and reveal to them their strengths and areas of growth.

These learning experiences will also — and this is really important — intentionally lead them to build the skills and knowledge base needed to earn the mastery credits needed to demonstrate to others and to themselves what they truly know and all they can truly do.

As a design team, we’re building our library of Mastery Credits, some of which will be Foundational, meaning every student will need to accrue them, and some of which will be Advanced, meaning students will be able to dig deep, go big, and build wide berths for their interests, talents, and curiosities.

At the center of all of it: the individual student. The ones we’ve already met in previous classes and ones we hope to meet in 16 short months when The Mastery School of Hawken opens its doors.

Julia Griffin

Julia Griffin

I'm the Director of the Mastery School of Hawken, and I was born in New Hampshire, love yoga, Shakespeare, Thai food, The Office, and seeing new places. I studied political theory at Harvard University (A.B. 2003) and went on to grad school at the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College, spending most of my time studying global literature and theater. Along with John Dewey, I believe that “education is a process of living, not a preparation for future living,” and I’ve always learned more by getting actively involved than by sitting and listening. As an educator, my goal is to help all students discover and cultivate their unique strengths in order to make a difference in their community.