3 Takeaways from Two Rivers Public Charter School

In February, Kyle and I had the incredible opportunity to visit Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, DC. We were blown away by students' deep knowledge of the academic content AND of themselves as learners and people. My brain and my heart were completely full by the end of our visit, and while I could talk for hours about the experience and everything I learned, I can synthesize it in three three key takeaways:

1) Great schools share leadership and the cognitive workload evenly between students, teachers, and school leaders. At Two Rivers, students brains were working hard--reading complex texts, solving real world problems through their problem-based math tasks and expedition guiding questions, and creating beautiful artwork. Teachers were working hard to facilitate this high-level thinking and learning. They plan purposeful activities and probing questions to lead students to the learning. They monitor progress constantly, and collaborate with their grade level teams to determine successes, challenges, and next steps to ensure that all students are learning. School leaders set staff members up for success by working hard to develop a scope and sequence for professional development that meets the needs of all teachers while focusing on the biggest school-wide priorities. This means that everyone on Two Rivers' campuses is engaged in exciting, challenging work of teaching and learning!

2) It's okay to fail fast and try again. Two Rivers is one of the few schools I've visited that really walks the walk on learning from mistakes. From the youngest learners in the building, students are constantly making mistakes as they move toward discovery and mastery of concepts. Instead of correcting students, teachers ask questions to prompt deeper thinking so that students adjust course and try again. We also got to see the student dance competition--an exciting and adorable event at Two Rivers--where one of the explicit goals is that kids learn to process the feelings that come up when you don't win. Not only is this an important lesson for character development, but also about how to dust yourself off after failure and try again next time. Staff members are allowed the space to make meaning of their experiences and learn without fear--many teachers mentioned feeling a lot of trust from administrators and coaches when it came to addressing failures or challenges. They aren't afraid to ask for help because it's received without judgment, and instead is seen as an opportunity to grow. Teachers are constantly giving one another feedback, doing peer observations, and sharing resources and plans. The trust among adults in the building is strong. 

3) Schools that play together stay together! JOY permeates every square inch at Two Rivers. The All-School Community Crew meeting led by the Pre-K students kicked off the day and included at least four different songs (one in Spanish!), a dance activity, a Black History Month lesson, and shout outs for students who had shown kindness that week. In each classroom, there was an element of fun--whether it was a friendly competition, games at centers, exciting read-a-louds, or math lessons that involved movement and choice. At the professional development session we observed, staff members laughed with one another and shared "good news" shout outs to kick off the afternoon. One of the parents described the culture at Two Rivers as the feeling of a gigantic hug--I can't describe it any better!

I'm incredibly grateful to Two Rivers for being such welcoming and gracious hosts during our visit and for giving us so many ideas to bring back to our students, staff, and families at Detroit Prep!