This is because the Academic Committee involves general staff in curriculum development and extension (widening and deepening), and takes this as far as allowing them to establish policies and run projects that impact the whole school, although standard checks and balances are still applied. This, unprecedented degree of influence for general staff has helped establish an excitingly generative environment.
The benefits of the Committee are several fold. Firstly, the fact that it has many members (eighteen at last count and still eager to welcome new members) means that many projects can be tackled simultaneously. It also means that objectives can be pursued in teams so that work does not have to cease or be put on hold when individuals experience increased volumes of work in their core areas of responsibility.
Furthermore, it gives all projects access to many sources of feedback and constructive review or criticism so that ideas, approaches and systems can be refined together and in a non-threatening environment. Additionally the Committee embodies the ideal of policy formulation, and project creation and management by teachers for teachers and their students. It’s not a case of “management” imposing policies on teachers or assigning them extra work. When teachers design and allocate their own extra work (under peer oversight), they are more likely to do that work with conviction, insight and enthusiasm.
The Academic Committee’s work can be separated into two distinct but complementary areas: staff development, and student development. For staff our stated goals are “to connect teachers with internal and external sources of knowledge, experience, expertise and qualifications that will assist them in enhancing their professional standing and in developing their careers.” For students, they are “to promote critical thinking, to promote general knowledge and social consciousness, to develop students’ personal voices by improving their range and quality of expression, and thinking, and to connect students with content and speakers from the worlds of work and tertiary academics.”
To these ends, the Academic Committee has so far provided the following for staff: Jstor training and access; HOD files to assist HODs in meeting administrative requirements and challenges; CPTD registration for HODs; CPTD registration for general teaching staff; a Turnitin subscription to help combat plagiarism; a staff development programme called Learning Partnerships that involves staff in teaching teams that reflect on educational research and, together, apply it to their teaching; at least twelve staff development workshops ranging from sessions on policy formulation, to HOD training, to the identification of, and responses to, learning difficulties amongst students, to fun, team-building activities like macaroon baking. The Academic Committee has also established, and continues to run, the Senior School’s roll-call system.
For students the Academic Committee has: established, and continues to support the running of, the SRC; established and run a programme of extension electives for Grades 10 and 11; established ConnectEd, a mentorship programme for students that connects them with Somerset College alumni from a range of professions and vocations; run the Current Affairs programme which brings outside speakers in to address the school on topics of interest; sourced and overseen the procurement of Turnitin; overseen student training and participation in the external debating league; facilitated enrolment with the Yale Young African Scholars programme.
The Academic Committee’s next phase of projects includes: the establishment of internal debating and general knowledge leagues; participation in external general knowledge competitions; contributions to developing lateral thinking and problem solving amongst the Grade 8s and 9s; workshops on critical thinking for staff; providing material to support the teaching of critical thinking; a pilot programme of modified bookings for parent-teacher meetings; changes to the assessment policy and assessment timetable; a mentorship system for HODs; a mentorship system for new teachers; a sabbatical and study grants system for teachers.
We invite all staff to join us in running our current projects or in bringing our next phase of projects to fruition. There is plenty of exciting room for improvement and innovation through collaboration, as long as we maintain our creative environment, of which the cornerstones are respect, reciprocity, responsibility and reflection.
Mr Graham Sayer: Director of Academics