Conversations: FAQ from Open House Faculty Panels

Still wondering about a certain topic? You’re in luck! We took frequently asked questions from our Open House faculty panels and put the answers in one place for you.



Is there a typical Bay student, or a kind of student who would thrive at The Bay School?

There is no typical Bay student. Students who thrive at The Bay School are curious, engaged learners who crave intellectual challenge. They share a passionate commitment to giving back to their community and world, and are active leaders, innovators, and collaborators. Bay students are kind and accepting individuals who respect and encourage individual difference.

How do you support student collaborative work? How do you assess the individual within the group? Do you do anything to prevent one student from doing all of the work in a group?

Collaboration is important at The Bay School; it’s a fundamental element of every one of our courses. Being a good collaborator is rarely something we’re born with, though. As such, our teachers know that part of our job is to teach students to be good collaborators. This means learning to do your share of the work, no more and no less. It means taking the time to explain things to others and making a point of asking questions when you’re stuck. It means bringing a lot of diverse perspectives to the table, listening to others’ ideas, and finding a way to move forward as a group. Our teachers provide formal and informal guidance and feedback to students during the process of collaboration to help them develop these skills. At the same time, we know that the group’s end product doesn’t always give a detailed sense of the knowledge and skills of each individual member. Through observations, individual reflections, and peer assessments teachers are often able to get a more detailed sense of each individual’s contributions and mastery. However, we also appreciate the value in combining collaborative learning with individual assessments. Even The Bay School’s most collaboratively-oriented courses (math and Conceptual Physics, for example) gain most of their assessment data from individual assessments, as we know that at the end of the day, each student needs to demonstrate mastery and growth in order for us to be successful.

How are new courses chosen and developed? What role do the students have in determining new courses?

The Bay School’s course catalog is built every year through a comprehensive process of refocusing on the question: “What do our students need in order to thrive as people, as learners, and as leaders in the 21st century?” Every year we rededicate ourselves to making sure that our elective program represents a balance between depth and breadth, a synthesis of student interest and teacher passion, attention to the issues facing our world, and an overarching belief that a meaningful schoolwide curriculum is one that includes as many diverse voices and perspectives as possible. This conversation takes into account administrator, teacher, and student voices through a number of channels. Student, administrator, and faculty ideas are solicited early in the process. Working in discipline teams and in cross-disciplinary pairs, teachers develop ideas for new courses and consider which courses to remove from the rotation in order to make room for new topics. Once faculty members and administrators have come to final decisions about which courses to offer, students register for courses. Student interest drives scheduling; we are proud that in the vast majority of cases we are able to enroll students in their top-choice electives while maintaining small class sizes, expert teachers, and a balance of courses.

How does having a trimester “off” from math and/or language impact students’ retention/speed of progress?

Having a trimester away from math or language is similar to having summer vacation or a long winter break: there is some rust and dust that accumulates, but the things you learned really well before the break tend to come back quickly once you are asked to use them again. Bay’s teachers are familiar with the challenge of having a term away from the subject, and have a variety of ways to integrate review in order to knock off the rust and get students back up to speed quickly. It is also with the trimester gap in mind that The Bay School’s teachers focus on ways of teaching that build deep learning and retention. The advantage of an 80-minute class period is that one can study a mathematical concept or a complicated verb tense in depth and in detail, “locking in” that concept through activities, discussions, experiments, performances and the like. We leverage our long blocks to deliver instruction—multimodal, spiraled, investigation-based. Doing so helps students remember big ideas better over the long haul: not just through the summer or over a trimester away from the subject, but also for years to come.

How is technology utilized across the curriculum?

At The Bay School, students use technology the way adults do in the professional world. Just as we see learning as a process of asking students to tackle authentic problems and learn skills for the 21st century, we see technology not as a flashy gimmick, but rather as a tool that helps us bring the world’s complexity and richness into our classrooms. Students use their computers to collect information: experimental data using USB probes in science, primary and secondary documents from around the world in Humanities courses and instructional videos (those created by our teachers and by third parties) in a variety of subjects. They use their computers to build skills: online tutorials in foreign language classes, web-based interactive algebra practice in math classes and lab simulators in science classes. They use their computers to create content and share information: microblogging historical events in U.S. History; creating online portfolios in Senior Signature Projects; and creating and editing videos, photos, and electronic music compositions for classes throughout the curriculum. Our goal is for our students to be flexible and fluent when it comes to technology, so we give them opportunities to use their computers and the web in as many different and authentic ways as possible. At the same time, being a successful user of technology means being mindful of the role of technology in our lives. We consciously ask students sometimes to do things the “old-fashioned way”, as digital does not, in one way or another, always mean “better.”

How do you help students find their passion? How do you help students select their electives?

For rising juniors and seniors, course selection is a process of reflection: Who am I? What matters to me? What excites me? How do I want to grow as a person? Fortunately, our students receive great guidance in considering these questions. Their advisor is a crucial resource here, as someone with whom they have worked closely for several years and who has attended to their success and growth with a watchful eye. The course selection process features dedicated time every year for conversations between the student and the advisor, as well as guidance for parents, whose role in discussing courses with students is fundamental to the process. We ask students to begin thinking as ninth-graders about their electives for junior and senior year, not to overwhelm them, but to familiarize them with all the options available. Students value the support they get from advisors and parents; they also receive less formal but often equally important guidance from teachers, who have seen the students in action in the classroom and make a point of saying, “Hey, have you thought about Engineering 2? You’ve really got a knack for this…”, or “You’ve grown so much as a writer, I’d love you to think about taking Advanced Composition to keep that momentum going.” Finally, relationships between students of different grade levels allow older students to provide advice to younger ones. At a small school like The Bay School, where relationships and community are so important, it’s the collection of wise voices that helps students begin to uncover their unique passions as learners.

How do you know if the students are getting it, i.e. how do you assess students?

Assessments at The Bay School run the gamut, from the more traditional (tests, quizzes, essays) to the less traditional (performances of re-interpreted scenes from Shakespeare, math papers, videos in Spanish, etc.) The common thread in terms of our assessments is not the format then, but the intention: we want our assessments to balance measurement of student mastery of basic skills and knowledge with measurement of critical thinking and application. How are students adding value to the content and skills they have learned, not simply regurgitating but instead applying, extending, and synthesizing? An equally important element of our assessment systems is the notion that growth, not one-off performance, is the most important element. Many of our assessments involve opportunities to receive feedback and demonstrate improvement, through drafts, corrections, resubmissions, or retakes. Our goal is for all of our students to demonstrate mastery; we know that for students, as with adults, this sometimes requires more than one attempt.

What exactly is the investigative approach to math and science and what evidence do you have of its effectiveness?

The investigative approach is built upon the idea that if we ask students the right questions and point them in the right direction, they will be able to assemble key concepts themselves in ways that will help them better understand course content in the long run. Investigations often consist of four phases: an initial question or problem that guides the investigation; a set of leading questions that helps students come to key conclusions and understandings of the topic at hand; a teacher-led discussion where key investigation findings are reviewed, clarified, and “set in stone;” and an individual practice phase where students confirm their understanding of the content from the investigation. Educational and cognitive research from a variety of universities and other institutions has long supported the idea that being able to make deep connections between fundamental concepts yourself leads to better understanding, fewer misconceptions, stronger ability to apply what one has learned, and improved long-term recall of important ideas. Moreover, research suggests that student engagement (as seen when students work together on a problem, rather than watching and mimicking a teacher at the board) supports student mastery of skills and content. Within the The Bay School’s student body, we have seen that the investigative approach helps our students become exceptionally strong problem solvers, confident tackling novel problems that initially seem impossible. They are able to explain their ideas eloquently, apply concepts in creative and non-traditional ways, and construct solutions from first principles rather than relying on memorized steps in a solution process.

What kind of professional development is available to your teachers? How do you ensure teachers continue to grow?

Perhaps the greatest contributor to faculty development at The Bay School is our culture of collaboration. We see one another as resources and mentors, and any teacher is welcome at any time to observe a colleague’s class. We also support collaboration structurally. Because teachers’ offices are not comprised of teachers from only one discipline, teachers can learn from one another’s different approaches. Every teacher at The Bay School is also a member of at least one collaborative course team. This means the teacher works to develop curriculum, lesson plans, teaching strategies and assessments with two to three other teachers who are teaching the same course. The collaborative teams meet once or twice a week to plan and evaluate the course. Teachers work with their teams to improve the course and their own pedagogy. For more formal professional development, each teacher meets annually with the dean of faculty to develop professional goals for the year. The dean of faculty uses these goals to identify appropriate professional development opportunities for the teacher, inform classroom observations and provide specific coaching. In addition to participating in personalized professional development (such as attending a conference, workshop or class class), The Bay School’s teachers attend full faculty workshops (on topics ranging from the latest brain research to inclusive pedagogy) and may join faculty-led teaching seminars during the year.

How do you teach creativity and innovation?

Within the faculty and the student body, we try to utilize a “take it and make it better” approach. We believe that creativity and innovation are taught when we do the following: seek out multiple perspectives; encourage risk-taking; invent and refine; foster curiosity; and collaborate. This happens in many places at The Bay School: in the classroom, where teachers develop project or inquiry-based courses to do just that; in Research in the Community and Senior Signature Projects, where students identify and clarify community problems and design solutions; and in clubs, where students pursue a passion and help to educate others.

How do you teach ethics?

The first aspect of teaching ethics is the recognition that virtually every problem and every solution has an ethical component to it. The Bay School’s teachers do not shy away from engaging in discussions of ethical considerations and implications. We also have a number of courses—such as Bioethics, Comparative Philosophy and Power and Participation, to name a few—in which ethical questions are at the core of the course. Ethics and spirituality are foundations of The Bay School: we aspire to live up to a set of precepts—which we discuss in some form weekly , if not daily—offering students and adults the opportunity to practice living a mindful, ethical life.

What is diversity like at The Bay School?

At The Bay School, we believe diversity (of perspective, experience, background) is essential to an education that prepares students for today and for the 21st century. Diversity challenges, teaches and enriches each of us. Understanding that, we do not measure diversity simply in numerical terms.  We will never achieve “diversity” with a number: diversity is an ongoing goal and way of being. Diversity is experienced in The Bay School’s classrooms and on the stage and athletic fields, where variety and difference help us achieve creative, ethical solutions and more sophisticated understandings. Diversity is experienced in clubs that reflect the breadth of student interest. Diversity is experienced through our precepts which ask each of us to attend to our perceptions and actions.  Moreover, diversity goes hand in hand with equity and inclusion. We provide all of our students and faculty with the same laptop computer, multi-course lunch, and opportunities to participate in activities like Intersession. At  The Bay School, we are always working to ensure that every member of our community—student, faculty, staff, parent/guardian—feels seen, heard and valued. Ours is not a school where you have to fit in; The Bay School IS who you are.

3 Replies to “Conversations: FAQ from Open House Faculty Panels”

  1. Great questions/answers!

    Is your speaker event with Alex Filippenko open to applicants?

    Thank you,

    Merrilee Harris

  2. This was very insightful, and reestablished my admiration of and confidence in The Bay School. This school seems lightyears ahead of other bay area schools in terms of vision and philosophy.

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