With technology rapidly and profoundly changing the world, the very nature of communication and work is changing. The value of an education that promotes collaboration, problem solving, information analysis, adaptability, and intrinsic motivation is greater than ever. Westland students know how to ask good questions, use the right tools to find their answers, and engage their imagination to innovate solutions. They can think across disciplines to see the big picture and are fluent in working in networks of collaborative peers. We have developed and refined our approach to teaching over the last half century so that when our kids graduate from Westland, they are ready to perform and contribute in a number of capacities:
When kids are truly interested in a topic they have taken a role in choosing, they naturally seek information and take pleasure in sharing it with others. Westland encourages this process by providing students with frequent opportunities to find answers to their own questions. They learn that information is everywhere if you know where to look. As students present their ideas to each other and to larger groups, they learn to take responsibility for the quality and accuracy of their findings asthey cement their knowledge. Through the cumulative sharing of each student’s research, the knowledge base for the group expands far beyond what would be possible if everyone were learning the same thing at the same time.
Developing a capacity for empathy allows children to see the world through the eyes of others, assessing situations from multiple perspectives and providing the open-mindedness required for solving complex problems. Empathy is also the root of the strong community that we foster in all aspects of the Westland experience. Teaching partnerships between older and younger students create an atmosphere of kindness, cooperation, and support throughout the school. Classroom and school jobs teach students responsibility to their groups andthe school itself. Students play an important role in our weekly Sings,when children, families, and teachers come together to share and celebrate. The Westland community is truly like no other.
Westland kids learn to communicate in many modes and contexts. They collaborate in small groups to get work done as well as present to larger groups to share ideas and information. They must learn how to listen and how to be clear, flexible, and attentive. Beyond outstanding abilities with language arts, Westland students are also fluent in non-verbal communication,expanding on ideas with graphs, charts, and illustrative drawings and oncreative concepts through art, music, woodworking, block-building, and dramatic performances. Our kids know how to express complex ideas using a range of tools and styles.
In adults, we value people who can think “outside the box.” We cherish risk-taking and the ability to explore, discover, and innovate to bring about positive change. Traditional approaches to education often discourage these qualities by grading children on their ability to conform to a single set of performance criteria. Children learn to play it safe, studying only what they are told will be on the test. The approach at Westland builds on children’s natural sense of curiosity by giving them the opportunity, confidence, and tools to take risks in their work and play—without fear of failure. Our students become self-motivated, enthusiastic learners, comfortable raising a hand, speaking up, and venturing a guess in any situation.
Children work in groups at Westland as often as they do individually. Group projects might involve a small team, a whole class, the school, and even the teacher and parent community. Through this group work, children learn how to collaborate both as contributors and leaders. They learn to give uncommon ideas a chance, to value each other’s unique vision, to build consensus, and persuade others when necessary. By learning effective collaboration skills, Westland kids lay the groundwork for being leaders in large-scale problem solving and positive change in the world.
We challenge students to solve problems in every subject at their individual level, in small groups and even as a whole school. Our teaching approach creates a “need to know” so that problem solving evolves in the context of personal motivation and curiosity. Children learn all the skills they would in a traditional academic education, but with a sense of relevancy. They also learn the benefit of exchanging knowledge with others. These skills aren’t just for the classroom; our kids problem-solve on the playground, using applied thinking and communication skills to resolve conflict, deepen friendships, and approach challenging life situations with confidence.
Westland’s philosophy honors students’ individual differences and develops flexibility, adaptability, and respect for others and oneself.