By Ryan Hall
Transcend was founded just over a year ago. Our aim is to partner with the country’s most visionary educators to help accelerate their innovation toward new models of learning. We looked for high-impact partnerships to provide the R&D capacity needed to build, codify, and spread the kinds of school models that have the potential to create wildly different outcomes for kids.
Over the past year, we talked to dozens of education leaders from district, charter, and independent schools to learn more about their goals for innovation and school design and explore whether a partnership with Transcend might be the right fit to help them achieve their goals. We couldn’t be more excited that one of these conversations was with Todd Dickson from Valor Collegiate Academies in Nashville.
Our R&D partnership with Valor will help deepen, codify, and share their unique approach to social emotional learning and growth, called Compass, and the supporting SEL-integrated academics and professional learning.
Here are five reasons we’re pumped about this partnership:
At Valor, SEL is foundational. At many schools, social emotional learning (SEL) is provided as an add-on to the core academic programming, if at all. Valor was designed with SEL not as something additional or as a wrap-around, but as the very core of the model itself. Todd Dickson, the Founder and CEO, convinced his twin brother Daren to leave his job working with vulnerable youth and communities in the Bay Area and leverage his background as a therapist and social worker to launch Valor. Daren is now the Chief Culture Officer and oversees the SEL program and its development.
SEL reinforces academics. Valor took a risk in dedicating a significant amount of time each week to SEL-related activities. But instead of seeing the SEL time as lost instructional time, Valor believes that having happier, more balanced students will make them more successful academically as well. So far that bet appears to have paid off, as Valor’s inaugural class of 5th graders performed in the top 1% of Tennessee schools for both achievement and growth in 2015.
And vice versa. Just like the SEL programming has fueled strong academic achievement, Valor believes that the academics can contribute to students’ broader SEL growth as well. This integration of SEL and academics happens in a number of ways. In core classes, for example, students read texts that align with key aspects of SEL. In “Stretch” and “Flip” blocks, students are given opportunities to learn in different types of environments (self-directed, project-based, blended, etc.) and to develop agency-related skills and mindsets. And on Fridays, students have Expeditions, where they are provided with authentic learning experiences in project-based, elective courses. These “real contexts” give students the venue to demonstrate the mindsets and skills they have been working on.
Valor seeks out, celebrates, and leverages diversity. Valor is diverse-by-design, with no majority race or ethnicity and a mix of socioeconomic backgrounds. But more important than just being diverse, Valor actively celebrates this diversity and intentionally leverages it to deepen students’ growth. Valor believes that having an inclusive community that seeks out and values multiple perspectives, stories, and backgrounds will help students develop critical thinking skills and better prepare them to learn, live, and work in diverse communities in the future. You can read more about Valor’s approach to diversity in this article from The 74.
The adults do the social and emotional work too! The social emotional learning isn’t limited to the students. The professional learning at Valor includes social and emotional development for adults as well. Wednesday staff meetings include a Faculty Circle in which staff members are able to celebrate personal growth, work on relationships, and bring up issues that relate to the community. (Students do this as well on Friday mornings in their single-sex mentor groups. You can read more about Student Circle in this EdSurge article by Alex Hernandez.) This year, faculty are also joining students in doing Phase work, which is a personalized, competency-based progression of SEL skills. Valor believes that the adult SEL work is not only good for personal growth and community building, but it also has the double benefit of making the adults better able to facilitate the SEL work for the students.
From our many conversations with others in the field, we know that people are hungry for bold and effective new approaches to social and emotional learning. We are excited to be working with Valor so that others can benefit from their approach and continue to build on it in their own learning environments.