Chapter Two: Teaching & Learning

Dear Harding Academy Learning Community,

I hope you all have had a great week. Last week I left one person off of the list of new faces who will be joining us at Harding Academy. Jordan Graham will be our second full time substitute and coach for the 2021-22 school year. Jordan comes to us most recently from Winston Academy in Louisville, MS where he taught 7th grade World History, high school health, and elementary physical education. He was also the Head Coach of the Boys’ Basketball Team. Jordan earned his Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from Mississippi State University and a Masters in Educational Leadership of Independent Schools from Mississippi College.  Jordan will be coaching football, basketball, and track here at Harding Academy. 

This week I will focus on how we will approach our teaching and learning in response to the changing circumstances of the pandemic. Last year, we were forced to manage cohorts with no mixing of students, we significantly reduced our small group work, and developed a hybrid learning model just to name a few of the most significant changes. I will address how we will focus our teaching and learning time and resources for the 2021-22 school year below, but, again, I think it is important to reiterate the important understandings I laid out last week, which are informing our decision making in general. 

  • There is still the possibility of localized surges in cases of COVID-19 and we are prepared to bring back various health and safety measures to address this should the need arise. 
  • We continue to be quite optimistic that we won’t need to bring those measures back because as we make decisions, we are taking into account the case count and vaccination rate of our Harding Academy, as well as our peer independent school communities. From what I can gather it is likely that we are in a stronger position on these two fronts than the broader Davidson County and certainly the Tennessee state communities. 
  • Things change and evolve and we will respond with the best information and expert input as we can - as we have done throughout this challenging time. 
  • We are working towards as regular a school year as possible as it relates to the day-to-day experience for our families. 

So, with those understandings out there again let’s lay out the framework for teaching and learning for 2021-22. Key to all of this is the incredible passion and dedication of our faculty. As we all witnessed last year, they are incredible craftspeople when it comes to creating learning experiences - despite significant constraints. As parents, we are incredibly lucky to have a faculty of this caliber teaching our children each day. But we also know last year was really, really hard on them. The adaptations we were forced to make meant they had less planning time, more contact time, and had to juggle both in person and online learning at the same time. 

Remote Learning
Last year also affirmed that learning is best done in person - especially at the younger ages. And so our default position next year will be that school is in person and we will NOT offer remote learning except in serious extenuating circumstances. We will have an application process by which a family can make their case for the need to enter remote learning and a small panel of senior administrators will decide. To be clear and to serve as an example of this policy at work: we will not approve a request for remote learning because a family decides to spend time at a vacation home outside of the school holidays thus interfering with the rhythm of in person classroom learning, but we will approve the family who needs to relocate to Baltimore for a month because a sibling needs to receive specialized medical treatment from Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Additionally, in the case of a quarantine due to COVID-19 we will offer remote learning. 

Digital Platforms
Last year, we developed a strong practice of materials being accessible from our digital platforms: Showbie, Google Classroom, and CompassNet. We will continue to leverage those platforms should students need to access work while away or as part of our in person instruction. 

We will reduce our Kindergarten back to three homerooms, from the four we had last year. Additionally, we will return to our pre-pandemic practice of mixing those cohorts for things like recess, PE, lunch, and other events. In middle school, when there is the option for grade levels to mix, we will allow them to do so. 

Small Group Work/Collaboration Work/Cross-Curricular Work
Prior to last year, we had been moving towards much more collaborative type instructional practices. The pandemic forced us into rows, six feet apart. This year, we will move back towards our small group work approach and begin to implement some of the ideas from the Dynamic and Teaching pillar of the Embracing the Future Strategic Plan

Buddies and House System
One of the aspects of our community connections we missed the most last year was not being able to continue our Buddy and House programs. Our Kindergarten students have Buddies in 4th and 8th grades, our 1st graders connect with their 5th grade buddies, and so forth. All students, staff, and faculty of all ages are assigned a House when they arrive at Harding and 8th graders lead their Houses in activities four or five times a year, thus building relationships across our K-8 model. We will bring both of these programs back this year. 

Next week I will outline our health and safety protocols and our framework as it relates to hygiene, symptomatic individuals, ventilation, masks, contact tracing, and quarantine - to name some of the topics. We know that people fall on various parts of the caution/risk spectrum when it comes to this topic, so please know that we are in communication with public health experts and physicians as we develop a reasonable and balanced approach to keeping our students safe while moving to as normal a school year as possible. We believe that vaccines represent the safest and fastest way out of this pandemic and we highly recommend you consider getting your family vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have not already done so. 

Have a great weekend. 

David Skeen
Head of School

Inspiring The Mind  •  Nurturing The Spirit