by Andrew Powell, Head of Ascham School
In 2022 we are celebrating 100 years of the Dalton Plan at Ascham. This unique teaching and learning framework is proven to guide girls’ intellectual and personal growth, enriching their School years and life beyond.
To be a Dalton teacher is to be an agile thinker, an expert in your field, someone who is flexible in their approach. With a School day that fluctuates between Lessons and Studies, there’s rarely a dull moment for our teachers, who must frequently move between formalised group-based learning and more individual targeted teaching. Of course, there is the written work too—the marking and writing of Assignments and the preparation of lessons and coursework. Just like our students, Dalton teachers need to be super organised!
There are incredible rewards for Dalton teachers. Professionally, one of the biggest advantages is the ability to develop a strong understanding of each student’s knowledge in your subject, as well as their learning style. It really is a dynamic partnership. For instance, if a student is finding a concept difficult to grasp in class, teachers can ask their students to see them in a Study to get extra help, or the student can seek this help themselves. At this point the teacher can tailor their style of teaching to the student’s needs, be it via a conversation, a more probing question and answer which can uncover the gaps, or the implementation of practical learning via examples or group work.
The Dalton Study also provides the teacher with feedback on a student’s learning and, in some cases, the entire class’s progress. If the same question crops up with several students, a teacher quickly finds out if the class is struggling with a new concept and can decide if they need to explain it again in the next lesson. I have personally experienced this indirect feedback on my own teaching and relished it as an opportunity to inform me about how I could explain a new topic better the next time.
For me, one of the most exciting aspects of being a Dalton teacher is that learning is so often driven by the student. Our focus on independent learning and responsibility means that our students and teachers share a joint interest in the student’s learning, which makes the experience both engaging and refreshing for the teacher.
With over 100 years of Dalton teaching now at Ascham, our teachers have honed their teaching skills. When a new teacher starts here, we ensure they are well supported. The new teacher must learn how to mark an assignment and how to give appropriate and dedicated feedback, for instance, the comment ‘good work’ is not adequate in a Dalton environment. All assignments are evaluated after they are taught, and the staff set their own learning goals to continue to develop their skills.
A very important skill our new teachers must learn is how to best engage with students in a Study. For instance, you can’t just ask a student ‘Are you okay?’ You need to see what they are working on and ask clarifying questions to get a feel for their level of understanding. Our more experienced teachers help less experienced Dalton teachers through both formal and informal Professional Development.
I am often asked why there aren’t more schools teaching with Dalton. A Dalton School requires a lot of resources as each staff member has their own classroom. This enables flexibility in the timetable. Dalton’s methods can be demanding of staff as they are in their classroom for the entire day. We have worked out the best way to support our teachers and ensure we have good communication between them. Classrooms in each department are placed nearby to each other, for example, all History teachers are in the same building. This helps create a collegiate atmosphere and enables our teachers to support each other, collaborate and share ideas.
Ascham teachers are incredibly dedicated. The framework of the Dalton system naturally ensures this. The rewards for our teacher are reflected in the positive, enriching daily interactions they have with our students and the growth they see in them. Teaching is a rewarding profession and I believe that Dalton only serves to enhance this reward.
For more information about Ascham School and the Dalton Plan, please visit our website: https://www.ascham.nsw.edu.au/