The cultivation of collaborative learning, peer leadership and a timeless appreciation for provocative academic discourse are deeply woven into the history and spirit of O’Neal. Faculty department heads lead their colleagues in holistic curricular development across multiple classes, grades and divisions to maintain and strengthen the school’s academic culture - in a way that will benefit every student, every day - throughout their individual educational career and beyond. The yields of these actively-curated interdepartmental endeavors have been described as a “cross pollination of ideas,” a creation of new pathways and connections that enhance the experience of both students and faculty.
The department heads, along with our head of school, director of studies and division heads, are building a community in which everyone is a lifelong learner – especially faculty. With departmental organization strategically designed to maximize school-wide faculty dialogue, the department heads are a source of guidance and leadership as their colleagues collaborate across the proverbial aisles to uncover new teaching techniques, pursue innovative professional development opportunities and make meaningful contributions to the ever-present goal of vertical curriculum alignment. The continuous vertical alignment supports students’ growth and learning between each division. This purposeful mindset creates fantastic opportunities for the entire O’Neal faculty community to share in one another’s successes and take an active role in planning for future student experiences.
Each department has established goals that members work to accomplish every year. Independent thinking and building confidence in students is a common focus.
“The English Department at O'Neal strives foremost to cultivate students who are independent thinkers and confident writers,” says Department Head Dr. Nicole Camastra. “Guided by essential questions, our reading curriculum involves thinking deeply about the importance of storytelling and meaning making. Although we explore works of the Western canon, we also read texts that demonstrate marginalized voices so that students begin to question what they believe to be the horizons of human experience.”
“Building skills and confidence takes time and practice,” says World Language Department Head Heather Weeks, “but we see a lot of proficiency progress throughout the years as we integrate the 5 C’s: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. In both French and Spanish, we encourage our students to use the target language in a wide variety of contexts and we measure progress using reallife applications like interviewing each other, writing and performing dialogs set in simulated environments, reading news articles, listening to and singing authentic music, writing texts and emails, using social media, and making language or cultural comparisons.”
A uniqueness of O’Neal is the ability for faculty and students to interact and collaborate across divisions in order to accomplish objectives.
“Professional development discussions have become a formal part of department meetings and faculty members are getting into the classrooms of teachers in other divisions,” says Science Department Head David Williamson. “This will help us foster an environment that leads to creativity and innovation from a teaching standpoint and allows us to work as a unified department in reaching our K-12 skill development and content acquisition goals.”
“We look forward to building upon several new traditions, including celebrating a school-wide ‘Pi Day’ with students of all ages working together to solve problems,” says Math Department Head Jennifer Isaacs. “New for this school year is a more rigorous observation program to enhance teacher awareness of math programs and instructional methods across divisions. I am inspired daily by the creativity and commitment of my colleagues in the math department, and together we look forward to working across divisions to further cultivate a community of curious, independent, and energetic problem-solvers!”
Most importantly is O’Neal’s ability to design a strong road map for each subject where the journey starts in kindergarten and ends at graduation. Each teacher knows how best to prepare the student for the next level.
“One of our goals this year is to formalize divisional transitions skills for our students,” say History Department Head Ryan Staude. “Lower and middle school teachers will meet to determine what historical thinking skills students have upon leaving the Lower School, and which skills have yet to be introduced, or need to be reinforced. This same process will be duplicated between the eighth and ninth grade teachers. This procedure will provide middle and upper school teachers with a firm grasp of what students are able to do (in terms of skills), and they can then design curricula better suited to students’ needs.”
“The main goal of the Arts Department this year is to examine our vertical alignment to ensure that students progress in the arts as they do in their academics,” says Arts Department Head Virginia Andres. “The arts play a vital role in the education of the whole child. Creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, four essential skills our students will need both in school and in the workforce, are fostered, developed, and carefully nurtured in the arts. Arts classes not only allow students time and space for self-expression and the development of a point of view, they also teach students a lot about persistence, positive risk taking, and failure and success.”
“We have implemented Bridges Math in Kindergarten through 5th, a program that emphasizes conceptual understanding of arithmetic and pre-algebra,” says Jen Isaacs. “The Bridges Program beautifully complements our emphasis on critical thinking and communicating mathematical ideas across all divisions, and we believe that students engaged in Bridges will be poised for success in upper-level math classes that stress application of concepts over simple recall of mathematical facts.”
"Complementing our core reading texts, our writing curriculum overall utilizes a workshop model," explains Dr. Camastra. "In kindergarten through eighth grade, teachers employ Lucy Calkins’ Writer’s Workshop curriculum which was developed at Teachers College in Columbia University. Objectives in the kindergarten classroom reflect different pedagogical expectations from those of the Upper School."
Subject curriculum is ever changing. At O’Neal, colleagues across divisions have the ability to learn from each other. They work together to ensure that their students build skills that lead to lifelong learning and success.
For more stories on O'Neal, read The O'Neal Magazine