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Growing a New Program inside an Existing Culture

Graduate Program Manager Natasha returns to dive deeper into the College for School Culture at UCDS. She shares the process of its development and what she hopes the program will provide for educators world wide. -Ed.

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Envisioning the College for School Culture began all the way back in 2009 as the Board of Trustees created a long term strategic vision for UCDS. At that time, the Board was determined to “lay the groundwork for an accredited Master Teacher Program.” The initial groundwork was research and mission-making. How can we start a graduate program? Wait, can we start a graduate program? What will it take? Our entire faculty and staff discussed what we believe about learning as adults, our values and aspirations for the program and its purpose, and how to capture the best attributes of learning and teaching at UCDS in a deep and comprehensive learning experience for educators and educational leaders. We leaned into and evolved our organizational knowledge about adult learning built over decades of engaging in teacher professional development across the country (and world)! We envisioned that our program will be relevant and meaningful because practicing educators will create and teach it. We envisioned that students in our program will learn by doing as they will spend time collaborating in classrooms and schools throughout the program. We examined and learned from other programs around the country that share characteristics with our vision for the program: are located inside a practicing school for children, heavily focus on practice and practicum, and offer students the opportunity to progress through their learning with a cohort of professional colleagues.  

For awhile, the program was mostly just that, a vision, an idea. It didn’t occupy much space. As we started to build the tangibles and we could feel the program taking shape, we needed a way to ensure that we weaved the new program into our existing organizational culture. UCDS has a culture of collaboration, inquiry, innovation, communication and shared reflection. So, we started conversations and asked questions. In fact, we became the collectors and curators of questions, which grew up everywhere. We formed an advisory committee with people inside and outside of UCDS who asked hard questions and tried out answers. We formed groups inside UCDS to build frameworks and systems for continuing design and collaboration. We discovered that we wanted to sustain questions as a building block of the design of the program. Our faculty committee chairs dedicated a committee to facilitate much of this work and keep the dialogue going with the faculty as a whole. We documented our ideas as they took shape in visuals, frameworks and processes so that we could see, share and refine them. We tried out the work by designing some quarter-long courses and invited our first group of students to join us this fall for this experience. We asked the students about their experience throughout the course and reflected on how to shape the course in response. We reflected afterwards on what we learned and how this trying it would shape the work moving forward.

Through all of these iterations, communications, working it out, revising it, asking more questions, wondering aloud, trying again, the program is now occupying space. It’s becoming real. This work is inspiring, stretching and growing us. This new program is reminding us of the best aspects of our culture and reaffirming our identity as an organization.