Strategic Framework: Engagement and Evolution

A Framework for Engagement and Evolution

At Northwest School, we believe passionately in the importance of intellectual vigor as vital to every classroom experience; of instilling and preserving a love of learning in each student; of the centrality of the arts in any meaningful education; of deep engagement with issues of social justice and environmental stewardship; of developing in kids a truly global perspective; and of the essential role a genuinely diverse and inclusive community must play in realizing any of these commitments.

Ultimately, our aim is straightforward and unwavering: to cultivate in young people a sense of wonder, purpose, and agency in order that they might leave The House able "to think and act with integrity, believing they have a positive impact on the world." This Framework reinforces our commitment to that ambitious goal.

This document, built on nine months of community engagement, is a Strategic Framework, not just a plan with specific goals. The distinction is important. The Framework is designed to drive continuous engagement from the community that created it. It is the strategy that will guide Northwest’s work now and into the future.

The Framework is thoughtful, elegant, and inspiring. We believe it captures both the essence of the school now and the directions we hope to travel together, enabling us to better achieve our vision, support our mission, and leverage our many strengths.

Mike McGill

Head of School

Our Visual Inspiration

We chose as the Framework's visual expression the camera lens, a powerful metaphor that implies a capacity for focusing broadly, at a distance, and close-up, and that symbolizes the complementary disciplines of art, science, and technology. Unlike more traditional strategic plans, our Framework is not simply a to-do list, but a holistic way of thinking about the school's identity, its values, and its evolution.

Mission

The Strategic Framework works in service of our mission, guiding our efforts to fulfill the school’s potential within the current context while honoring the intent of the founders.

Our Mission
The Northwest School offers a faculty who engage each student in sequential, cross-disciplinary study in the Humanities, Sciences, and the Arts.

We are a diverse community of people who challenge each other to learn in a healthy, creative, and collaborative atmosphere of respect for ourselves, others, and the environment.

We graduate students with historical, scientific, artistic, and global perspective, enabling them to think and act with integrity, believing they have a positive impact on the world.

Distinctions

These are aspects of The Northwest School that differentiate us regionally and, in some cases, nationally—the unique qualities and programs that distinguish us from our peers.

  1. Liberal arts and sciences animated by intellectual vitality, joy, and humor
  2. Education as a commitment to humanity
  3. The transformative power of the arts
  4. The ecological imperative of an urban environmental education
  5. A vibrant international school community and global network

Deep engagement with the arts is essential to an exceptional educational experience, which is why they are so fundamental to Northwest’s curriculum and culture.

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1: Liberal arts and sciences animated by intellectual vitality, joy, and humor

We favor a generous definition of liberal arts, one that develops the capacity to think critically, systemically, and creatively; to make connections across disciplines and synthesize; to communicate effectively; and to work well both independently and collaboratively. We relish ideas and believe they’re worth our deepest consideration. We love a good debate. We embrace paradox and complexity. We develop strong intellects, not (merely) “good students,” and reach beyond traditional college preparation. Our ambition to cultivate a life-long love of learning guides our approach, which is as much about educating the whole person as it is about academics. Proceeding from the optimistic view that children are innately curious and naturally responsive to high  expectations, we believe that education can be joyful and compelling; similarly, we reject the idea that in order to be challenging, the experience of school must necessarily be competitive or stress-inducing.

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2: Education as a commitment to humanity

We believe education is all encompassing: it should encourage a student to stretch in many directions, rather than choose a single path, as they simultaneously develop a sense of identity as people and learners. We encourage all to come as they are—to show up authentically—and expect that, given the intentional ways we’ve built a community in The House, they will be embraced for their unique perspectives and contributions.

At the same time, even as we endeavor to meet students where they are, we recognize the importance of pushing them to reach beyond themselves, helping them to discover purpose and meaning in their lives. This combination—supporting the mindful development of self while inculcating a sense of responsibility to the larger community—prepares young people to understand themselves, their place in the world, and the capacity they have to create positive change.

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3: The transformative power of the arts

Deep engagement with the arts is essential to an exceptional educational experience, which is why they are so fundamental to Northwest’s curriculum and culture. The breadth of our program, and the high expectations of the inspiring artists who teach in it, ensure that all students will participate in and express themselves across all of the disciplines: Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts. At Northwest, then, classical musicians will find themselves throwing pots in ceramics; actors will sing a cappella and learn to tango. These experiences develop in students critical dispositions and habits of mind like creativity and innovation, flexibility and risk-taking, mindfulness, empathy, persistence, and more. They enhance academic achievement, foster self-discovery, and help students understand their unique connection to history and humanity. Regardless of their career paths, our graduates regularly cite their experience in the arts as having powerfully influenced their lives after Northwest.

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4: The ecological imperative of an urban environmental education

From the school’s founding, our curriculum, practices, policies, and partnerships have reflected an environmental consciousness that runs deep. A commitment to caring for our planet informs virtually every aspect of our program and operations, based on the premise that we have an obligation to educate our students to live sustainably. We continue to experiment at the leading edge of what schools can do to promote environmental stewardship. Thanks to high community engagement, our gardens thrive and campus operations continually evolve, helping us to understand and reduce our impact on the planet. In so doing, students build their capacity to apply systems thinking in the choices they make and learn to negotiate the complex challenges facing our social and natural systems. We take this commitment one step further by pioneering a socially responsible approach to investing our endowment and reserve funds.

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5: A vibrant international school community and global network

As a day and boarding school whose student population hails from around the world, we live and learn together in a community infused with cross-cultural perspectives, diverse identities and countries of origin, and real-time engagement on global issues, internally and with partner organizations all over the world. In a commitment spanning three decades, we invest in and cultivate a community that accepts no geographic boundaries and creates dynamic opportunities to develop empathy, understanding, and the capacity for positive impact.

A commitment to caring for our planet informs virtually every aspect of our program and operations, based on the premise that we have an obligation to educate our students to live sustainably.

We strive to develop active, informed citizens who understand the natural and social systems on which we depend; our ability to affect those systems for good or ill; and the complex interconnections that characterize our most urgent challenges, both locally and globally.

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1: Student-centered learning leads to a sense of wonder, purpose, and agency.

“The Northwest School offers a faculty who engage each student...” As our mission implies, the student-teacher relationship is at the very heart of our efforts. To successfully reach—and inspire—all students, we will redouble our efforts to keep their needs, as individuals with diverse identities and learning profiles, at the center of every decision we make.

We constantly seek new means and methods for promoting student agency, beyond the boundaries of the classroom setting, through community and civic engagement. Because we truly want to develop in our students both a sense of purpose and the confidence that they can act as a force for good in the world, we provide them myriad opportunities to practice and experiment, both in The House and beyond its familiar confines. They are encouraged to take increasing responsibility for their own educational journeys.

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2: Our diverse community works relentlessly to advance equity and inclusion so that all can thrive.

We assure that Northwest’s policies, practices, curriculum, communication efforts, and partnerships reflect a commitment to making ours a community where all feel welcome, included, and treated equitably. As a school, we provide culturally responsive pedagogy, effective learning resources, a robust health and wellness curriculum, and a comprehensive advisory program. Moreover, the composition and engagement of our student population, faculty, and Board reflect the high value we place on diversity in many forms.

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3: Our technology integration model empowers all students, fostering creativity and capacity for complex problem-solving.

We view technology as a contemporary set of tools and processes used to solve increasingly complex and interdisciplinary academic and societal challenges. We are integrating technology into the creative process that has always been a core part of our pedagogy, and using it to connect the community, collaborate and share skills and knowledge, and build systemic solutions that move our mission forward.

The Northwest School strives to be a role model for using technology for good, which implies purpose and positive impact. To fully realize that potential, we seek to incorporate technology into our curriculum, prepare and support our staff to use it, and assure that it is accessible to, and approachable by, all students. Culturally, we are well-suited to embrace the iterative nature of technology, which demands that we try new things, fail, learn from our mistakes, and try again.

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4: We work at the forefront of social justice, environmental stewardship, and global perspective, passionately engaged at their critical intersection.

We feel a sense of urgency in our work toward integration of these priorities in our curriculum, policies, and practices. We strive to develop active, informed citizens who understand the natural and social systems on which we depend; our ability to affect those systems for good or ill; and the complex interconnections that characterize our most urgent challenges, both locally and globally. Therefore, now more than ever, our curriculum, programs, and pedagogy must foster a systems-oriented, collaborative approach to problem-solving, rooted in the values of social justice, environmental sustainability, and global perspective, that will enable our students to “think and act with integrity, believing they have a positive impact on the world.”

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5: Our urban campus reflects our educational philosophy—bold, imaginative, and consistent with our environmental values.

Our campus environment and facilities provide the ideal conditions for our particular approach to teaching and learning, balancing our experiential learning ambitions with a commitment to responsible growth—maintaining a footprint that is environmentally sound. Our philanthropic community aligns its support with our priorities and program. That support comes to life in a campus master plan, including new facilities, that will embody the many qualities that make the school unique. In order to make these ambitions a sustainable reality, we work to deepen and diversify our philanthropic community, renewing, expanding, and nurturing relationships with the school’s many existing constituencies, and creating new partnerships that help us amplify our mission.

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6: Exceptional faculty—our greatest resource—continue to choose The Northwest School.

Just as they founded the school, teachers continue to animate its mission, providing a superlative liberal arts education that manifests as a commitment to humanity. In order to attract and retain a diverse faculty of the highest caliber, passionate about their vocation, the school continues to invest in its teachers, ensuring they have the resources they need, including:

  • A sense of possibility in terms of their professional growth over the course of a career
  • Professional development that is both strategic and collective, focusing on technology, culturally responsive teaching, and curriculum development related to the intersection of social justice, environmental sustainability, and global perspective
  • Inspiring spaces in which to ply their craft
  • Collaborative colleagues with similarly high standards
  • Peace of mind: that they can live comfortably in Seattle, given challenges related to demographics and cost of living

Because we truly want to develop in our students both a sense of purpose and the confidence that they can act as a force for good in the world, we provide them myriad opportunities to practice and experiment, both in The House and beyond its familiar confines.

Principles

These guide our work, with student experience and outcomes at the center of our efforts.

    1. Social Justice
    2. Teaching Excellence
    3. Small is Beautiful
    4. Agile Mindset
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    1: Social Justice

    Our foundational commitment informs our actions, choices, and direction. We recognize that fidelity to these values—and to excellence in education, generally—requires us to nurture a culture that examines history, the current environment, and our role in shaping a more sustainable, just, and equitable world. We further understand that this commitment must begin with a deep examination of our own institutional practices, policies, and programs.

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    2: Teaching Excellence

    Passionate, dedicated teachers foster Northwest’s engaged culture and educational experience. We believe that our faculty—an extraordinary and diverse collection of scholars, scientists, artists, writers, and activists whose commitment to our students, to Northwest’s mission, and to their own ongoing growth—are our single greatest resource. As such, we dedicate ourselves to providing a thoughtful, vigorous, supportive environment for teaching and learning, with all of the resources faculty need to deliver a superlative education in the liberal arts and sciences.

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    Small is Beautiful

    Education works best at an intimate scale, small enough that every person feels truly known and every resource is used wisely, reflecting an ethic of caring stewardship. Our decision to eschew substantial growth in the size of our student body defies trends, but enables us to achieve two distinct, but related aims. First, it allows us to balance the dynamic commitment we have to individual growth and development with the responsibility we all share to foster a sense of community. Just as important, though, this stance helps us to live up to our ideals around the conservation of resources and the concept “less is more.”

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    Agile Mindset

    We evolve to meet the changing demands of a complex world. Guided by the example of Northwest’s founders, we thoughtfully seek to balance respect for tradition with the curiosity, creativity, and courage necessary to innovate. By remaining true to our mission and values, we are able to respond in a timely way to contemporary challenges and meaningful opportunities, while avoiding the tendency to overreact to trends and short-term threats.

    Education works best at an intimate scale, small enough that every person feels truly known and every resource is used wisely, reflecting an ethic of caring stewardship.

    Strategic Framework Task Force 2018

    Leading the endeavor was a task force of dedicated faculty, administrators, and board members who devoted hours of time and energy to the cause. This strong group represented many facets of the school’s leadership, operations, culture, and values. Here were the members:

    Board of Trustees

    Mike Anderson, Vice President & Treasurer

    Ian Blaine, Task Force Co-Chair

    Ann Bradford, Task Force Co-Chair

    Felicia Job

    Lynda Lopez

    Mark Malamud

    Cynthia Tee

    Kathleen Wareham, President


    Administration & Faculty

    Shie Benaderet, Educational Technology Coordinator

    Erica Bergamini, Middle School Math & Science Faculty

    Tuney Kannapell, Assistant Head of School

    Harumi LaDuke, Upper School Humanities Faculty

    Mike McGill, Head of School

    Maria Moses, Middle School Dean of Students & Math Faculty

    Randy Silver, Middle School & Upper School Arts Faculty

    Chance Sims, Upper School Director