New View EDU Episode 27: Full Transcript

Read the full transcript of Episode 27 of the NAIS New View EDU podcast, which features Julia Griffin, founding director of the Mastery School of Hawken (OH). She joins host Tim Fish to share how she and a team of innovative educators have launched the Mastery School at Hawken—an alternative learning experience within a well-established independent high school.

Tim Fish: As our listeners know, in past episodes, we've explored some of the big ideas surrounding transformative learning design. Together we've dug into agency and adulting, failure and improv, citizenship and inclusion. Today we're gonna take a look at what happens when you put these concepts into action. What happens when you put mastery at the center of the designed experience?

To get there, we are so fortunate to welcome Julia Griffin to the conversation. Julia is the founding director of the Mastery School of Hawken, a new ungraded project and problem based high school attached to a century old independent school. After helping develop innovative programming at Hawken for more than a decade, Julia was tapped to help build the team to build this new school, which opened in 2020 and will graduate its first class of seniors next spring. Julia, I am so pumped for this conversation. Thank you so much for joining us, and welcome to New View EDU.

Julia Griffin: Oh, it's such a pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for asking me.

Tim Fish: So let's get started on this idea of like, what is mastery? What is mastery learning? I hear lots and lots of people talking about, certainly there's the Mastery Transcript Consortium, which lots of schools are part of, that also came out of Hawken in its beginning. But help us, help me understand, what is mastery learning all about?

Julia Griffin: Well, I guess the first thing to say is that there are all kinds of people, that the mastery learning movement is a big movement, much bigger than the Mastery Transcript Consortium or the Mastery School. And I think something that the folks in that movement really have in common is that they think that school and learning should be organized around what a student knows and can do, and what they can demonstrate that they know and can do, rather than organized around seat time and sitting approximate to learning. Or to put it another way, and I'll quote Doris Korda, who's one of the sort of founding partners and really the architect of the learning model that we use—

Tim Fish:—Her work is amazing.

Julia Griffin: Incredible. And her learning methodology is the foundation of the work that we do at the Mastery School. And she's built the whole school with us. She often says that a system organizes around—itself around the highest goal. And that that highest goal, in what I'll call traditional school, is really that everybody learns the same things at about the same time. And as a mastery learning school, what we've taken as our goal, our highest goal is maximizing the individual growth of every student. And when you take that as your goal, then the systems that you end up building look really different.

Tim Fish: I love that.

Julia Griffin: And I think that shift is really at the core what mastery learning is all about.

Tim Fish: So I love it. It's, we've been talking about on this podcast, it's like, what do you put in the center of school design, like what do you put in the center? And what you're saying is that when I was in school, and I a hundred percent agree, what was in the center was everybody learning the same thing at the same time. That was it. Like, and we're gonna march, and the bells, and the da da da da, was all about getting there. And what you're saying is the progress of the individual student, right? Is that how you put it, was in the center? 

Julia Griffin: Yeah. And again, and this is, you know, this is Doris's language and idea, but it really is what lives at the center of our school, is that it's about maximizing individual growth. And we know that people grow when they learn new things. And also we know that in a group of people, a class or any group that you're in where the goal is learning, that everybody comes in with their own growing to do, and what that growing might be is really different for different students.

So how do you build a system and structure or systems and structures, really a lot of them, that support that goal? No, it's completely different, because school, as we know, is organized right now primarily around efficiency and at times the, you know, I hate to say it, you know, around the convenience of adults. So I'm gonna stay in my, you know, humanities room and teach my humanities things. And everybody cycles through and comes to me, and I have my plan and I have, here's the stuff that I wanna teach them, and organized in whatever clever way. That's a really different system from one that's actually centering what the needs are of every student, and capturing and engaging the interest of every student, which we know is so crucial for getting learning to, to happen.

Tim Fish: So, all right, so when you put the student, the progress of the individual student, maximizing the progress of the student in the center. Then I'm curious, what does school look like? What's a day look like? What's the role of a teacher in this model? What's the role of a student in this model? How do you know? As I said in the intro to the show, it's ungraded, so there's a lot of people that are gonna go "Ungraded! Oh man, this thing's all just fluffy. There's no accountability. No one knows what's going on. This is some Bohemian experience, right?" So what, what is it if it's not that, right?

Julia Griffin: Well, you know, first of all, it's very reasonable to say, well, individual growth in what? Right? So we're maximizing individual growth. You know, Tell, tell me more about that. What, how do you get all of these students and all of these adults organized in any way? And so one of the first things to know, and it's one of the first things that we did after assembling the initial design team now several years ago, three, four years ago, is to start to define what are those learning outcomes that we would want for every student, right?

And so for us as a mastery transcript school, those are our foundational mastery credits. The credits that every student at the school needs to earn by showing their, a portfolio of their best work, that what they know and can do in alignment with these big skill areas, and they're organized into six major mastery credit areas: critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication, cultivation of self, you know, sort of those, those kinds of big areas. And then within that there are more specific sub skills. And those we took as the, the foundational goals that we would want every student to be continuously practicing and developing in these areas, in whatever learning experiences they might have. And that really was the, that was really our North Star in a lot of ways.

And then the, in terms of the how, like the vehicle for, what does that look like on a day to day basis at our school, really the backbone of a student's academic experience at the Mastery School happens in something that we call macros. And in the development of the methodology for the Korda Institute, the macro at Hawken was originally kind of a, the original proof point, proof of concept of this very different methodology for teaching and learning. So in macros, students learn real academic content and skills while they work on a challenge with a local partner, community partner, often local, that's a real and urgent challenge for their organization.

So when this first started out, and this was back in the early pilot days, and I know I'll get to talk later about how this, you know, how does, how is the Mastery School part of this larger institution? One of the big ways that we've benefited for sure, from being part of a larger institution is that we had a decade to pilot and develop what this looked like.

And so Doris Korda started in an entrepreneurship class, piloting these, in this macro sort of course where students would work over the course of a semester with a series of business leaders, CEOs, often, on different real and urgent challenges for their organizations. That ultimately ended up in students pitching their own business. But doing that once they'd already learned a ton about entrepreneurship by working with real leaders. 

What we find is that students, and anyone who's worked with high school students knows this to be true, students know when something is real and when something has been invented by the teacher. They can, like, smell the difference from a mile away. And so what part of what is really compelling to students at our school is that, you know, right away in their first week of classes, they are typically out of the building, going on site at some local business or organization where they meet with a leader of that organization who shares a little about themselves, about their organization and the, its goals, what it's trying to do, what problem it’s trying to solve in the community, and then shares about what's something that they really need help with, something that they're really trying to figure out, and invites the students to work on that with them. And to, and to come up with a solution that they're going to share back a few weeks later with that leader. 

And then back at the farm, back at home over the next few weeks, the students are working in teams with all kinds of activities and assignments structured by their teacher, and with a lot of student driven inquiry and research where they're developing ideas and getting feedback, so that at the end of that time, they are as well positioned as possible to have something to share that might be helpful, that might offer something that that leader hadn't thought about, that might, by virtue of the research that they've done, the prototyping that they've done, the creative problem solving, all of that might be something that could make a contribution. 

And so that macro, that is really at the backbone of a student's experience. For any given semester, a student would be in a, in a macro with a particular focus. So, it might be aerospace engineering, it might be civic engagement, might be architecture, any of a lot of different things. And over the course of that semester, a student works on multiple teams, works maybe with a number of different organizations or mentors. And along the way, there are all sorts of things that in order to do a good job with those challenges, that the student needs to learn. So they might need to learn some history, they might need to learn some math. They would be doing a ton of reading and writing and research, all of that, and that all sort of fits into their, this broad experience that is the, their macro.

Tim Fish: I love it. So the macro's not all day though. Is it?

Julia Griffin: It's not, it's a little more than half of their time. So it's, and, and we've run many different daily schedules in our first couple years, but we end up, we end up with usually about half a day in the macro and then the other half of the day in some of the other pieces that, building blocks that make up a student's experience.

So some of those are micros. In micros, students work in individual and smaller group projects of different kinds in areas that can do a couple different things. They might, it might be something that helps to complement what they're doing in their macro, so maybe they're in their aerospace engineering macro, but then they're also working on a writing project, and so they're using their micro for some writing projects that aren't particularly connected to their macro.

Or they might be working on something that, a lot of our students use that for, for math of different kinds. They use that, that microspace, where they learn an additional language. Micros are also a space where there are certain times set aside in the week for students to work on projects that they themselves develop and that are really student designed. And increasingly over time, as students get more and more experience in the model, they're more and more skilled and ready and eager to be designing their own projects.

And then another core piece of what a student does at the Mastery School is in a program called wayfinding. In this very different school, as you can imagine, where the paths are so much more personalized, having somebody who is your wayfinding mentor, who is that go-to adult for you, who meets with you one on one once a week, and then also in a small group once a week, is really a crucial part of students as they are making sense of their experience, they’re processing what their goals are and what they wanna work on next academically and personally, holistically. And that person is a really key sort of support for them as well. 

And then there are all sorts of things that are just normally part of being in a high school. We have clubs, we have a school meeting that's student led. We have, you know, a morning break was one of the innovations in the schedule that the students were wildly excited about this year. So, so that's, that's kind of what it looks like. And then at the end of the day, for students who want to participate in athletics or co-curriculars up at the upper school campus, there's a shuttle that can take them up so that they can play on the field hockey team with all the students at the other high school. 

Tim Fish: So they can be on the field hockey team, they could be in the play, they could sing in the choir...

Julia Griffin: Speech and debate, all of that. Mm-hm.

Tim Fish: All that stuff. So the Mastery School is that intensive macro, micro and wayfinding experiences, plus a little bit of clubs and breaks and lunch and all those kind of high schooly things mixed in.

Wow. I wanna get in a time machine and I want to go back in time and I wanna go to this school, cuz I think it would be such a cool experience! And I wanna go back in a time machine not quite as far, and I'd love to teach in that environment. And so I guess my second question is, what does it mean to teach at the Mastery School? As you look at this and you're sort of hiring teachers for it, what are those key attributes that a teacher needs to be successful?

You know, I can think about this, the skill of being, helping students with wayfinding, or the skill of designing a micro or supporting students in the design and implementation of a macro. I think there's a, it seems to me you need a, you need to be sort of aligned with the idea of giving lots of agency to students, seems to me to be a key piece of this, but please tell me more about what you’ve found.

Julia Griffin: Absolutely. Well, I think what you just said is really important. Philosophical alignment is huge and necessary and really aligned with giving students a lot of agency. Absolutely. What we've found in the last several years of hiring for the, for the Mastery School is actually that the people who most readily take to teaching this way and love it and wanna keep doing it, many, not all, but many of them fall into a certain pattern.
It's actually really interesting. It's not people with zero years of teaching experience, the sort of classic profile that we have learned. It's also often not people with a whole lot of teaching experience, but there's a certain sweet spot of a little bit of teaching experience, enough to know that you like spending your day with, in our case, since we're a high school, with high school students. That, cuz that's, you know, people might think that they like that and then learn that it's actually not for them. But people who've had enough teaching experience to know that that is really the way that they wanna spend their time. And then people who have actually a significant experience solving problems in the real world, whatever those problems might be.

So people on our team, people we've hired to our team in these last few years, come from a wide range of backgrounds. They, maybe they've been a practicing licensed architect. Maybe they've worked in a lab for quite a while and did a little bit of teaching many years ago, but then hadn't pursued it professionally. Maybe they've, you know, run their own sort of business as an independent contractor, videographer, visual artist, writing and, you know, and publishing their own work. But people who have some, enough experience that's actually not in schools, it turns out that that's actually interestingly really helpful for the kind of curriculum that's organized around problem solving that we use. 

And then for folks who come, and this is me. This is my experience. I'm someone who's been in schools for my whole career, for people who come through schools in their whole career, there really is this phenomenon of the traditional school muscle memory that you have to fight against. Because the, the rhythms of teaching, if you've been teaching for a while, there are things that you mostly subconsciously have very likely learned how to do, that are kind of wrapped around the traditional paradigm that we were talking about before.

And so it really does require kind of radical humility and openness and interest in learning how to do something different. And here's, and I think the other piece that sometimes get—that is underemphasized, but that we find is really crucial, is you have to really have a reason for why you want to change.

Like if you are somebody who just sort of idly thinks that it would be interesting to try mastery learning, teaching the way that we are is not gonna be for you. But if you really believe that, that you think that there's something that school could be doing better to serve students, you really believe that there's... you, you have a why, in essence, for why you would want to be doing something that's quite different, then that's, that's really a good sign.

Tim Fish: That's going to kind of propel you through the cold nights, right? You gotta have—

Julia Griffin:—Very much.

Tim Fish:—that desire to really be doing it. That's such a, such an important piece and it seems like, what I love about it is you, it seems to me that one of the characteristics is folks who have been really active in their, they've had a lot of agency in their own work.

Julia Griffin: Absolutely.

Tim Fish: And so they know what it feels like to have it or not have it. Right? So they're, they want to design in for it, right?

Julia Griffin: Right. Agency and, and collaboration as well. 

Tim Fish: Oh, yeah. So, so this interdependent agency is sort of a key piece, right? That we're doing. We, we sort of have collective agency as well to do some really interesting things together, and this fundamental belief that we can get out into the community more.

You know, one of the things that I find so interesting about the school, when I talk about strategy a lot with schools, it's one of the key things that I really build on is, is an idea from Michael Porter, which is this idea that when you boil strategy down, right, it's essentially competing to be unique. It really, like, it's what are the things we need to do? What are the things we need to start doing and stop doing? Where do we need to invest in order to be even more us, uniquely us? And to sort of continue to define that? And one of the things I like so much about the Mastery School is that you know who you are. You know what you're about. And in saying that, you also know what you're not about. And you also have this very clear understanding that you are not going to be for everyone. There are going to be people, parents, family, students who come and look and staff, potential staff who come and look and go, “Good luck with that, but it's not for me.”

And that's OK. Right. And one of the questions I'm wondering about, it's what have you noticed in your first, first few years with attracting people? What I often find is schools are like, we don't wanna, we need to be all things to all people. Because we wanna be yes for everybody. Cuz we're afraid that if we're too focused, we won't attract anyone. Right. We, we'll, we'll narrow our market too much. So what have you found, cuz you really do have it, are you finding that people are finding you, that the word is spreading and that people are kind of knocking on your door?

Julia Griffin: It's such a good question. And what we've found is that of all the students, all the young people and all the adults who are drawn to the Mastery School, the single thing that everyone has in common is that they're interested in doing things differently.

If you love everything about the way school is currently set up, if it's working perfectly for you, Then you would be really uncomfortable here and you would, you would really probably not like it at all. And so what that means is that there are all kinds of students, families, and you know, adults who are drawn to wanting to come to work here, who come from such a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. But in every case they have this kind of curiosity that animates them, and this wondering about like, well, you know, OK, but well, is that the best way that you could possibly do things? Like, I wonder, I wonder what would happen if, you know, I wonder what would happen if you did it a little differently.

That, I will say, makes for quite an exciting community of people to spend your time with. Because, you know, nobody, nobody's here because it was just the next thing for them, right? Like everyone has actively, was actively looking for something that would feel a little different. And so what that does mean in terms of being part of a broader Hawken community is that people want us to define, like, who should go to the Mastery School and who should go to the upper school. Part of our kind of legacy. The mothership, if you will. And we say like, we can't actually answer that question for you. And believe me, we tried, like we spent a long time thinking maybe, maybe there are quizzes, maybe there's some way that we could figure, we could help you figure it out.

And we come back every time to like, you actually have to kind of come and experience it. We've designed our admissions process so you can come and have a visit day and you get to have a learning experience that gives you just a tiny taste of what it would be like to be at the Mastery School. And after that, you're either more or less interested in being here. And then we say, OK, so now we're all about relationships and community, and so come get to know the students and come get to know who your teachers would be. And then see like, are these people I'd want to be spending time in community with? Right? So we, we, we've developed a process over time that's, shocker, it's experiential. But that, that's how we help people figure it out.

Tim Fish: That's so cool. And you know, one of the things that I think is so powerful about it is that I think often when schools are thinking about trying something quite different that I find so inspiring, they also feel like, well, in order to have a school that has all the infrastructure of a school and to be able to have this model, boy that's risky. That feels risky because I'm not sure we're gonna be able to get it to work. I'm not sure there's enough people that want that really different thing to make it all work. But you don't have that, actually, you're quite different, because you are connected to a much larger school, to Hawken. And so tell me a little bit, if you would, about that relationship between the Mastery School of Hawken and Hawken School.

What things doesn't the Mastery School have to worry about, because you're connected to Hawken?

Julia Griffin: Well, I mean, you hit the nail on the head. Right? And that's why so many small visionary startup schools really have such a hard time getting out of the gate, is because they don't have all of the extraordinary resources that, and support that we do. There is no way that the Mastery School of Hawken would exist were it not for more than a decade of leadership, vision, planning and making things possible led by Scott Looney, our head of school at Hawken School who, along with Doris Korda, really believed that as an independent school, we have an obligation to be creating models that might be useful, might be useful to the field of education, might be useful to others beyond our school.

And that's really where the genesis was of the long, sort of long stream of work that led to the development of the Mastery School. So, that was what led to the board of the school signing off on creating this school, you know, organized around a completely new learning model. And yes, we, there are so many things that we get to benefit from because we're part of a hundred plus year old independent school, that's the largest independent school and top ranked independent school in, I think, the state of Ohio.

So we have, for one thing, the Hawken name, which is certainly a big part of what convinces people that they should trust us, right? With all of these, all of these things that it's project based and ungraded in Cleveland, Ohio, right? Yeah, you better have some, some sort of guarantee that we know what we're doing. And, and that's, that's not to be underestimated at all. And then, you know, one of the biggest challenges, as we were speaking about a little earlier, for small high schools, is that in high school, you know, students want that experience of being on a sports team, of going to the homecoming dance, of being part of a bigger community. And when, when we're at full scale, we'll be between a hundred and sixty and two hundred students down on this campus, most likely. There are 500 students at the upper school campus that's a little over half an hour away from here. 

So students... it's interesting, the students on our campus will choose to, some of them really love the small school feel and really they do their clubs and their after school activities and all of that really down here. Many others play on sports teams or participate in all those co-curriculars. So there's a huge benefit in terms of the student experience. And I should say too, that academically we do have, too, we have our intensive program, which we launched more than a decade ago in our upper school, and that now encompasses both the upper school and the Mastery School. And so twice a year for three weeks each time, students and teachers are cross enrolled and can take classes or teach classes on either campus. So that's another way you can get that experience of being part of something much bigger and have a much bigger catalog to draw from and just have all kind, access to all kinds of opportunities that a student just at a smaller school wouldn't have the opportunity to, to access.

And then of course, as you mentioned, so many of the layers of support from the team, from the administration, from the staff were part of a broader, you know, network for facilities and for dining and for the business office and so many things that we don't have to, we really don't have to worry about on a day to day basis. 

Tim Fish: But you're, but you're part of this larger entity, right? So you're, you really can draft off sort of the resources of that or of that entity. And be yourselves, right. Be uniquely you. And that's just such a, it's such a powerful model. And I think, and to, to, to quote back Scott Looney's sort of thing about this, a responsibility for us to create that. Is your tuition the same as tuition at upper school at Hawken, or do you, are you, do you think about that differently as well?

Julia Griffin: It's, it's a little, it's about 25% lower. And we started it out and that was partly a recognition that, hey, we don't have the, onsite, all of the tremendous facilities, athletic facilities, pool, and all the fields and all of those all of those kinds of things that the upper school does. Was also a little bit of a recognition that it's something new and we're putting out, and it's not just a new campus, right? It's a totally new, bringing a totally new product to market, to use this sort of business language. And so, so we were aware of that. Ultimately over time, it's possible that we may end up bringing them into alignment and retroactively declaring this to be more of a pioneer discount. But that'll be something that the board will decide over time. 

Tim Fish: So one of the things I'm fascinated by, and you talked about being essential, was the dec– there was the decade of prototyping at Hawken before the Mastery School started. And what I'm curious about is if, imagine I'm a humanities teacher at a, one of our independent schools, and I'm listening to this today, and I think, I wanna start prototyping. I sort of have the disposition, but I'm not in a place where there is a mastery school where I can go and teach. So I wanna try a little bit in my humanities classroom. What advice do you have for a teacher who wants to start moving away, feels that imperative to move from what has been traditionally school to something that's a little more project and problem and mastery based.

How should they get started, do you think?

Julia Griffin: There are so many wonderful professional learning resources and so many people who offer kind of incremental things that you can try, like here's something to try in your classroom tomorrow or next week, or, you know, here are like little things that you can try that could make you, your, that could give you 5% better sort of in some way sort of experience for the students in your class right now.

And you know, I'm happy to share some of my favorites of those and I–

Tim Fish: –We'll put some in the show notes. That'll be awesome.

Julia Griffin: Happily. And I spent a decade teaching and constantly looking for those things in, you know, in Hawken's upper school. More than a decade. But certainly in like always on the quest for what was that kind of next thing to try that could help me move a little further in this direction.

What, what we're doing is really, it, it's not incremental, like what we're doing at the Mastery School. It isn't. And so, a couple things, because people do ask us this all the time, of course. So we say, if, if you're interested in learning more about what we are doing, we say a couple things.

We host a few educator visits every year and we say, Come see, like, really see our students in action, hear from our students, meet our faculty, come visit us if you're curious about learning more, right? You heard the macros and the micros and the wayfinding, and that's all fine and sounds great maybe, but you know, what, what does it, what is it actually like?

And then for teachers who are interested in learning how to teach this way, the Korda Institute sort of professional learning offerings have a really lovely way. They, there are these terrific online modules that walk you through everything you need to do an initial sort of three-ish week pilot experience within one of your existing classes.

And that really is, it's, it's a training experience for the teacher more than anything else. It's a chance to get a little taste of what this kind of teaching and learning is like. And after you do that, people are either like, on fire, how do I do more of this? Oh my gosh, like this is the way I've been wanting to teach and I didn't have the tools. I didn't know how. Or they might say, Oh, that was cool, and I'm gonna go on to other things. And neither one is right or wrong. But that would really be my, that would really be my suggestion.

Tim Fish: I think that's such a good point, right? That if you did try it and you sort of said, I'm gonna, I think the way I'm going now makes more sense or my own version or whatever. That's not wrong. It's not wrong. It's not what we're doing is wrong. It's just that what you're creating is another path. Right?

Julia Griffin: That's right.

Tim Fish: So you are a high school, and so you're for students nine through 12. Do you, what do you think? Could, could there be a Mastery Middle School of Hawken? Could there be a mastery lower school of Hawken? You know, cuz people I think often will go, Well, you know, we need the foundation that we're gonna get, because before you could ever sort of have students work in macros, middle schoolers couldn't handle a macro. I tend to disagree on that, but I would love to hear what you think on, to that idea.

Julia Griffin: Yeah. Well, I'll say a couple things. For one thing, in my experience with lower school and early childhood teachers, they tend to take much more readily to working and learning this way than high school teachers do. Saying this as a high school teacher, right? That it tends to be much more like, yes, of course, of course that's how you would want to set things up, that there would be a problem and they would work together and try to come up with a solution. Like I think that there's a lot, there are a lot of ways in which that fits with the really, like, child centered listening to the child sort of approach that lower schools take.

Tim Fish: And there's a lot of philosophies that already do it. 

Julia Griffin: Absolutely. And, and, and by the way, students who come out of programs like that often are some of the ones, there's still plenty to, for them to adjust to and learn when they come to the Mastery School. But they are often students who are drawn to the Mastery School for sure. Students from Montessori schools locally, for instance.

But I think that something can be organized around mastery and organized around problem solving, which again, I think is really what the, the mastery learning that we do at the, at this school. That's really what distinguishes it, is that it is organized around problem solving. There are ways to organize learning around problem solving that might look really different, that don't all have to be organized like a macro, that could work at any age range. 

And even at Hawken where the, you know, the direction of the entire school is organized and oriented toward progress toward mastery learning. That's a decision we've made as a school. And the Mastery School is just the, the tip of the sphere. So we're one model and we're out ahead because we don't have the constraints or restrictions that other parts of Hawken still have.

But the lower school, the middle school, the upper school, all of them are evolving toward mastery learning. And, and so that, like what that journey will look like, I think will be really exciting for us as we continue to evolve as a larger organization, knowing that, that lower and middle school then will funnel into the, the upper school and the Mastery School.

Tim Fish: Yeah, so as you've been starting this up, what were some of the things that you would say, OK, I would definitely do that again? And is there anything that comes to mind you say, I definitely wouldn't do that again. That was maybe something that we could have learned from. 

I'm speaking specifically about not only the idea of launching a mastery school, but also this notion of creating a school that's connected to, to a larger school, to a, to an existing independent school.

Julia Griffin: Well, first of all, I would say I would recommend not starting, if you could possibly help it, in a pandemic.

Tim Fish: Yeah.

Julia Griffin: Wouldn't recommend that. Hadn't properly factored that into our planning. Yeah, do not do. And I, you know, that's a whole other conversation. But there are so many things about the launch in these last few years that have just been completely different from anything we would've imagined due to that, right? And we've all lived that in many ways, in, in our different contexts. 

But I think, you know, something we really grappled with before the launch was how to explain internally to our constituents at, at Hawken of a wide variety of folks, you know, alumni and current students and employees, and to help them understand what the Mastery School was about, feel a sense of sort of ownership and connection and pride in it as something that Hawken was doing, whether or not it was something that they were directly involved with. And then because we weren't just, you know, expanding and adding a campus, but we were really trying to build a new model of school and wanted to, to, to say that, part of what's really challenging there is, if you're building a new model, by implication, whether you say it or not, you think that there's something that could be improved about the old model. And that's actually kind of a, kind of a little bit of a daring thing to say. 

And so there were lots of large and small decisions that we made about how we handled that in the launch that were geared toward, you know, helping the people who love this school feel like they're part of the journey of the Mastery School. And so something that Scott has always done a beautiful job of is connecting the innovation at Hawken in this last decade and a half that he's been leading it to the roots of the school.

So our founder, James A. Hawken, was a John Dewey acolyte. And really so grounded in that sort of whole child philosophy that, that was when Scott arrived as head of school and really reoriented the school toward more that progressive vision. He rooted it in the vision of James A. Hawken. And now in start, in restarting our, in, in, in opening the Mastery School in the neighborhood in Cleveland that we're in, we're actually, you know, less than a mile away from where James A. Hawken started Hawken School back in 1915. And so there's a part of that really coming full circle. We actually, on the first day, on the day the school opened in August, 2020, we took a picture that was a little bit of a sort of mirror picture of the famous picture from the early years of Hawken School with the teachers and students standing on the steps of this old house. And we took a picture of our little group of students and teachers standing on the steps of, it's, you know, really an old house. We're like, we're in some old historic homes down in the University Circle area of Cleveland. And so we weren't, we were doing that really, you know, to capture it for the archives, but I think there's some storytelling there as well that is trying to connect it to what are we as a school, you know, what do we value most as a school? What do we care about and how is what we're doing in the Mastery School part of that bigger vision and bigger story. 

Tim Fish: It's, it's to say that we're, we're extending the way that we can understand learning in multiple different models, and we're not, by doing this, we're not suggesting that what we're doing here is wrong or that the people that are doing it are wrong. And that's a really strong point and one that I, I super appreciate you talking about because I do think it is in that experimentation, we can all get kind of wrapped up in just kind of, you know, Oh, we need to do this more, do this more, and therefore sort of this insinuation that what we're doing is wrong. And there's so much good that's going on at Hawken and in all of our schools that I think we can continue to learn from.

The other one I wonder about, and I think folks really need to hear, is this idea of the 10 years of prototyping that was taking place, right? That this was not something you just sort of dreamed up and ran and did, that you really developed the methodology, the thinking, the discipline, the ideas. You tested out this notion of macros and what does that look like and how does it work, and what kind of partnerships can we build? Before you sort of started a school. Because I think sometimes it's super easy to be like, all of a sudden this school just popped up, right? And there was an awful lot that was happening before it, that was so key. 

And it was really key, Julia, I wonder if another kind of thing to do here was that you were embedded in a lot of that work and a lot of those prototypes at Hawken before taking on the leadership role at the Mastery School. Where if you had all just brought somebody in from the outside, I'm not sure, maybe that would've worked, but it feels to me that might've been a real challenge because culture is everything here at Hawken in total, and the culture of Hawken, the main campus and Hawken Mastery School, you gotta get all that right and you need to have people that understand it, would be my sense.

Julia Griffin: I mean, I, I completely agree. And I think that, you know, those choices as Scott made them, and Scott and Doris made them, about how to, you know, how long to take in piloting and developing and building the, the proof that this kind of learning was real learning, was really powerful for students, and might look and feel different from what we were doing within the mothership, but that was, it was every bit as valid and powerful and life transforming, if not more so for, in some cases and for some students. And so I think that, that, that was huge in convincing the board and the community that it was worth, you know, taking this leap of faith that Scott ultimately got everybody to believe in, to, to launch this school. 

And then with, you know, with the culture, absolutely. The fact that we took, that we took our time and that we were piloting along the way was crucial. So, so few schools and teams get the opportunity to do something like that where you are actually, you know, we were piloting for years. Doris and her entrepreneurship classroom, and then, for really three full years before the launch, there were at least one or two of us on the team and a growing number of people whom we were sort of recruiting to this project who were piloting within our existing high school and learning a lot about how this learning model works. Things that we started working on in 2018 at the upper school that we're now doing in, you know, their latest iteration right now as we speak in the introductory, you know, macro that our new students take now, they've benefited so much from that opportunity to refine. And, and I think that really underscores the limitation of a planning process that is all about, you know, let's lock ourselves in a room for a year and envision what a perfect school would be. And then we sh- and make a bunch of plans, and then we show up and two or three weeks into the school year, you know what happens, right?

Like none of the plans are actually worth anything. So this is the whole, you know, idea that Doris has driven all along, of building the school through agile development. And so that means that those sprints of, we design something, we pilot, we gather data, we learn a lot, we reflect, and then we go again. That's been, been crucial.
And, and with the culture thing, I, you know, I, I couldn't be more grateful that I had the opportunity to be along for the long journey. The long journey of Hawken and of the Mastery School. And I don't wanna underestimate the challenges that the, that even with all of the best of intentions and thinking and planning, that, that doing something this bold poses for a school. I mean, it's not a small thing to open a new, a new second high school campus. And I think that there have been great things, and there have been challenging things for the community in grappling with what that looks like. 

So as we, you know, in many ways this year, as we're looking ahead to graduating that first class of seniors, my hope is that this year we'll be able to really bring some unity to the whole community, and that sense of these eight students who are graduating from the Mastery School this year, coming from Hawken and being Hawken graduates and being part of this much bigger thing while also being their own small group. That's really, my, my hope is that this year will be, you know, a milestone in that journey toward the Mastery School becoming part of the big narrative of Hawken.

And then five years from now, we'll look back and we'll say, Oh yeah, I can remember, you know, it took a little while for people to get used to this idea. You know, now my, my daughter's in fourth grade and so when I talk with fourth grade parents about it, they're, they're sort of like, Oh yeah, there are two high schools. Right? There's a Mastery School and the upper school. Yeah. They could go to either. And so, you know, by that time, by the time she's in high school, I, you know, I hope that it'll be much more just a part of, of what we do at Hawken and how we do things.

Tim Fish: Love it. I love it. I also love the muscle that, that the school has built at, the innovation muscle that the school has built. Right? Whether it be through the Mastery Transcripts Consortium, or the, this work with Mastery School and many, many other things that Hawken has done that you sort of all have built this sort of muscle around prototyping, refining, trying, taking a risk, telling a story, being on the move. And that, that muscle, that energy, you're gonna be able to apply to whatever other challenges come down the road for the school, or whatever other responsibilities, as you put it early in the conversation, come down the road that you need to live into.

That is so exciting. I'm curious, Julia, this has just been such a great conversation. I'm curious as you look at your hopes for the school, maybe for the next five or 10 years, and also your hopes for education. I love hope. I think hope is a great way to end these conversations. What are some things that resonate for you?

Julia Griffin: Yeah. Well I think, you know, in, in this moment, in these last few years, I think we've really had the opportunity to appreciate community and relationship and purpose as things that bring us, and ground us, and give us a sense of, of, why we are getting out of bed in the morning and what we're here to do.

And those are really at the core of what we are doing here at the Mastery School. And so, you know, I, I hope that models—many models. Not only this model, right. But that many models for education that, that center those things and our humanity become much more common. And then I, you know, I think about, I think about, this is my 20th year in, in high schools, and so I think about how many things are very different than when I started teaching. And then I also, and I think about, you know, what young people are experiencing, what their, what worries they're carrying on a day to day basis. And there's a lot that feels very different from what it did when, you know, when I was starting out teaching humanity. Humanities. And humanity. But all of it.

But I, but I do think that the thing that compels me so much here is that as a whole, I think that young people are capable of so much more than school tends to give them credit for. They're ready. You know, high school students are ready to, they're ready to be working on things that are real. They're ready to do things and see them actually get implemented and make an impact.

And man, designing a school and figuring out how to build a school that can center that is really hard. And there's a lot that we haven't figured out yet. But that to me is like the school that young people deserve. And so that's what I hope we will, I hope that that is when you come back five years from now and interview a Mastery School student, that they would be, that they would feel that sense of agency and empowerment around the, not only what their school, but what their community is and, and can be.

Tim Fish: I love it. You know, it reminds me I had the opportunity to do an entrepreneurship class when I worked at McDonogh School, with a parent. We ran it at night, and I never forget, we had students designing their own businesses and pitching them and doing all the research. And I remember one night I was walking down the hallway and a couple students were sitting in the hallway and they had a phone and they had the phone sitting in the middle, and they were on a conference call.

And as I sort of came by, I noticed it seemed like they were really talking to somebody. I was like, man! And later on I said, What were you guys, who were you talking to? And they said, Oh, we were talking to this gentleman we had set an appointment up with, cuz we, they wanted to do this thing to make flight more enjoyable for young people. Right. And so they were, they wanted to start their own airline. And they were like, we were talking to somebody about how you go about buying a 737, Right? And it was just, and what was so interesting to me was that it was so matter of fact. They were just like, Yeah, we were just like talking about how you buy a 737.

Like anybody could buy a 737. And it was this, it was just, I just loved it. I loved that sort of empowerment that they felt. They just found the person and they made the call. You know? And I think that that kind of thing is what I imagine when I have an opportunity to visit the Mastery School. That's what I'm gonna see. That's what I'm gonna feel. Which I always find charges me up. And I agree with you a hundred percent. Young people in, in lower schools, middle schools, upper schools, have way more ability to, to do real work that matters than we sometimes think. And so I love that you're doing it. What a gift.

What a great conversation. Thank you so much for spending some time with us and for putting your work into the world, for making a difference, for being part of this adventure to figure out what school really needs to be and can be for young people and for our communities. I just, I'm completely inspired by the work that you and the team at Hawken are doing.

Julia Griffin: Such a pleasure. Thank you so much. You gotta come visit us.

Tim Fish: Oh, I will. Don't worry. I will. Thank you so much, Julia, for the conversation.

Julia Griffin: Thank you.