Big Picture Learning
Doing School Differently
Big Picture Learning schools exist throughout the country and the world. They are in rural environments and urban environments. They serve both large and small populations of students. Some Big Picture schools exist in gleaming new buildings, while some can be found in retrofitted structures which haven’t been in use for some time. In short, Big Picture schools (like the students they serve) often look dramatically different than one another. Each is its own unique environment where students can flourish as individuals within a community of learners. However, there are many elements within our learning design that are uncommon and distinct, which pull our network together and distinguish them from most other schools.
At the heart of Big Picture Learning Schools
1. ONE STUDENT AT A TIME
The entire learning experience is personalized to each student’s interests, talents and needs. Personalization expands beyond mere academic work and involves looking at each student holistically.
2. ADVISORY STRUCTURE
Advisory is the core organizational and relational structure of a Big Picture Learning school, its heart and soul, often described as a “second family” by students. Students stay with an advisor and a group of fellow classmates for four years, building close personal relationships that last a lifetime.
3. LEARNING THROUGH INTERESTS AND INTERNSHIPS (LTIs)
Real world learning is best accomplished in the real world. Big Picture students intern--often twice a week for an entire school day--with experts in their field of interest, completing authentic projects and gaining experience and exposure to how their interests intersect with the real world.
4. PARENT AND FAMILY ENGAGEMENT
Parents are welcome and valued members of the school community and play a proactive role in their children’s learning, collaborating in the planning and assessment of student work. They use their assets to support the work of the school, and often play an integral role in building relationships with potential LTI mentors.
5. SCHOOL CULTURE
In Big Picture schools, there is palpable trust, respect and equality between and among students and adults. Students take leadership roles in the school, and teamwork defines the adult culture. Student voice is valued in the school decision making process and visitors are struck by the ease with which students interact with adults.
6. AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT
Students are assessed not by tests, but by public displays of learning that track growth and progress in the student’s area of interest. Assessment criteria are individualized to the student and the real world standards of a project. Students present multiple exhibitions each year and discuss their learning growth with staff, parents, peers, and mentors.
7. SCHOOL ORGANIZATION
Schools are organized around a culture of collaboration and communication. They are not bound by the structures of buildings, schedules, bells, or calendars. There is an interdependence between school and community.
Leadership is shared and spread between a strong, visionary principal; a dedicated, responsible team of advisors and other staff; and students. The community functions as a democracy. A pervasive sense of shared ownership drives a positive culture dedicated to ongoing improvement.
9. POST-SECONDARY PLANNING
Students develop plans that contribute to their future success--be it through college, trades, schools, travel, the military, or the workforce.
10. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Regular advisor PD is conducted at each school by principals, other school staff, and BPL staff and coaches. A Big Picture School is a community of lifelong learners who embrace continuous improvement.