For the upcoming 2021-22 academic year, the School is incredibly excited to announce Dr. Brandon Wiley’s new title of Chief Academic Officer. The change for this position, originally Director of Teaching and Learning, is due to the large breadth of responsibilities and comprehensive understanding of student learning and success, educational research, and program integrity required and demonstrated to make ours a school ready for the future.
Necessary for this complex school leadership role is the flexibility, vulnerability, motivation, and drive to propel the School forward, as well as the ability to make difficult but necessary decisions; find and secure in-demand resources related to technology, people, time, and much more; the awareness and empathy required to address inequities so teachers can teach and students can learn; and the foresight to create an intentionally shared learning environment where collaboration, innovation, and reflection can thrive on an ongoing basis.
Our faculty and staff were first introduced to Dr. Wiley
during our annual February Teacher Academy in 2017. He visited campus with two other specialized teacher educators to facilitate a professional development seminar about how Dawson can continue to grow a transformative learning environment that is student-centered, inquiry-based, and globally connected across an ever-changing pedagogical landscape.
“There were three things that stood out to me during the visit that left me with such a positive impression of the School,” reminisces Dr. Wiley. “First, I’ve worked with thousands of educators around the world, and the Dawson teachers were memorable in all the right ways. They were curious, eager, and open to feedback, and they seemed genuinely interested in exploring how they could revamp the curriculum to include authentic, real-world learning experiences. I could see collaboration and creativity were part of the culture here.
Second, the leadership. From my first planning call with Roxanne, of all the school leaders I’ve collaborated with over the years, she left a powerful, positive impression on me. When I heard she was going to become head of school, I was drawn to apply to the director of teaching and learning position with the hope that I could work alongside her to help realize her vision. Now, one academic year into my tenure, I’m even more impressed by the courage, compassion, and enthusiasm she exhibits every day. Third, it’s hard to walk across campus and not be impressed by the facilities and resources we are fortunate to afford our students. I would put our campus up against any other independent school locally or nationally.”
On paper, Dr. Wiley is obviously quite extraordinary; he holds both a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from State University of New York at Fredonia, a doctoral degree in educational and organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, numerous academic and administrative certifications, plus his significant experience as a teacher and global educational leader is incomparable: He spent the last 10 years working for national education non-profits helping schools improve their academic programs.
In person, he is even more compelling; his magnanimous, patient, and kind demeanor makes him approachable, engaging, and personable in both regular conversation and when facilitating leadership-level presentations that inform and inspire our entire community. His welcoming and heartening attitude, coupled with his desire to always seek and analyze feedback to better help and support our faculty and staff, are why he is such an amazing fit for Dawson in a tremendously vital and impactful role.
It’s also certainly impressive that, considering his packed schedule, Dr. Wiley happily still makes the time to meet with kids. Recently, he popped into Ms. Moore’s third-grade classroom to share fun stories about his time visiting Egypt, which the class was researching for Country Studies. “He told us all about the pyramids and showed us pictures,” says third-grader Noah. “He told us a lot of cool facts. It was really interesting, and Dr. Wiley was so nice.”
In the encouragement of their growth and development, Dr. Wiley keenly comprehends how important it is for kids to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. “I hope Dawson families feel that their children are known and cared for by our faculty and staff. Personal connections are at the heart of our program and what I believe sets us apart as a school. Knowing our students includes a deep appreciation for their strengths, areas of growth, and personal needs as learners.” Forever a true teacher, Dr. Wiley’s recognition of kids as valued individuals is what really drives his notion of success as chief academic officer.
Modern learning, the philosophy Dawson applies when evolving our curriculum and classroom experiences, involves looking at the world and its universal challenges through a lens of curiosity, versatility, innovation, and abstract thought. Viewing education as a multifaceted, dynamic entity means teachers must know and apply the most current techniques and methods proven to help students become true independent learners, thinkers, and problem solvers, all while navigating seismic shifts within long-standing academic practices.
Dr. Wiley wants Dawson to set the standard when it comes to Project-Based Learning (PBL), a teaching method he introduced to our faculty and staff in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects to develop deep content knowledge and critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication skills.
“Over the next three to five years, Dawson will increase its focus on embedding high-quality PBL across the curriculum, from early childhood through eighth grade, where it makes sense to go deeper into the content through a project,” explains Dr. Wiley. “We’re exploring an opportunity to host a national PBL Institute conference in February of 2022, welcoming educators from around the country to attend the conference on our campus. We hope this will become an annual event, allowing our teachers to deepen their knowledge about PBL each year, network with educators from around the globe, and allow us to showcase our program and student work to the world. We hope that by increasing Dawson visibility, we will continue to attract the very best educators to our school, with an emphasis on diversity in the broadest sense of the word.”
Dr. Wiley’s insight with regard to the ongoing development and application of modern learning – in conjunction with the important need for supporting a connected, caring environment – further involves his five major approaches toward school leadership. For ongoing accountability, he sees it as important to continue to ask reflective questions of our Dawson programs:
Vision: To what extent is everyone in the School and school community on the same page about what success looks like for our students?
Culture: As school culture evolves and adapts to new conditions, to what extent are we exploring student agency, risk-taking, and trust?
Capacity Building: What does high-quality instruction look like, and how are we giving feedback?
Infrastructure: How is our school, including the use of time, structured? How are we allocating resources and ensuring our facilities are maximized to provide optimal teaching and learning experiences?
Continuous Improvement: What attainable and achievable goals can be set to ensure teachers have the professional development opportunities they need? How can we move the School toward the goal of meeting student achievement outcomes?
And with an ambitious and determined blueprint for the future, “I believe there are a few goals we should focus on as we move forward with modern learning. We will continue to develop a program that threads the needle between providing an academically challenging program, social-emotional development, and fostering the mindsets and dispositions students will need to be successful in school, career, and life. In addition to PBL, we will increase our focus on literacy instruction – reading, writing, speaking, and listening – from EC through eighth grade. This focus begins with the implementation of the Being a Reader (K-2) and Being a Writer (K-8) programs.”
Dr. Wiley’s remarkable grasp of the intentional and transformative application of modern learning, including what this already means for Dawson and what this will look like well into the future, is providing limitless opportunities for our school and students. Along with his extensive background in PBL, Dr. Wiley’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion work; social-emotional learning; and instructional technology is cementing Dawson’s status as a center of academic excellence rooted in rigorous, intellectually, and personally challenging expectations and experiences for our entire community. “I can’t say enough about our faculty and staff, who’ve really gone above and beyond this year trying to meet the needs of our students. We will continue to focus on developing a teaching faculty and staff that is culturally responsive and shares a deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This goes far beyond ensuring that we have a racially diverse community, but involves understanding how we treat one another and create an inclusive learning environment.”
Dawson is pretty lucky to have Dr. Wiley's immeasurable knowledge and skills guiding the School as we construct our future, and the programs he is building will continue to support our upward momentum as a premier modern learning institution on a global scale. And most importantly, “Dawson is poised to provide a world-class educational experience for all of our students because we want to know what our students are passionate about and who they aspire to be beyond Dawson,” since what’s best for kids will always remain the very foundation of Dr. Wiley’s academic designs.
By Rachael Lachhwani
Advancement ManagerOriginally published in Dawson's Spring + Summer 2021 Petroglyph Magazine