Much discussion in education today centers on academies, or focused learning communities. Freshmen academies, or academies that focus on the transition from middle to high school, get a lot of play. Our good neighbors at Jacksonville High School are out front with this reconceptualization of high school.
Academies can be thematic. Over 15 years ago, I worked at Benjamin Banneker Model Academic HS in Wash, DC. The theme was college prep. Therefore, it was an early version of a thematic academy.
Academies can be specialized on career. Jacksonville HS boasts three other academies: Education and Training Academy, Health Sciences Academy, and International Studies Academy.
One academy that is getting a lot of play right now is the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadephia. It has a dynamic, future-forward leader in Chris Lehman. The school embraces technology assets like1:1, Moodle and Drupal. It hosted EduCon 2.0 .
But one thing I recognize quick about SLA is the way its leadership enables the over-the-top and transparent academic freedom of its teachers.
Just watch this embedded YouTube video below to admire the technique of the SLA science teacher as he gives a compelling, entertaining, and relevant treatment of Global Warming for his students and a global audience.
As Dave Sherman points out in Good Teaching Trumps Everything (LeaderTalk):
To start, the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) is an incredible high school. If I am ever presented with the privilege of starting a new school from the ground up, I would model it based on the way the SLA was created. Forget the fact that this is a high school, and my interests lie at the elementary level. Good teaching is a constant, regardless of the level or age of the students, and deep learning can and should take place at all grade levels, and beyond the walls of the school.
Real teaching is about creating opportunities for students to become involved in critical thinking, questioning, problem solving, inquiring, researching, and authentic learning. It involves teachers setting up situations where students become self-directed in their learning; where students feel safe to take risks, and possibly fail, before some new knowledge becomes ingrained. Excellent teachers recognize that different students learn differently, and that one size does not fit all.
And good leadership trumps that which is suspect. Awesome school leadership is about empowering teachers with the resources, habits, logistics, and mindset to enable 21st century teaching and learning.