Interview: What’s Behind the NWPHS Philosophy | NWPHS

Our director Peter Wieczorek recently sat down for an interview with Education Reimagined to discuss the NWPHS philosophy. From Student-Centered Learning to staff onboarding, the conversation was wide ranging and offered detailed perspective one of the key figures in the NWPHS Ecosystem.

We are happy to have you read the whole thing via Education Reimagined, or check out our key takeaways below.

The NWPHS Philosophy is “Student-Centered, Student-Led Education”

We’re able to create a personal learning model in which students are the owners of their education. And, as educators, it’s really exciting because it’s not teaching the same lesson over and over. It’s working with those individual students to create projects, build personal learning plans, and support them with their portfolio work to really take learning in the direction students want to go.

I talk a lot with staff about finding those subtle gems—those areas that students are interested in. Our role really is to find out how we can connect those things with student learning and create personal learning plans. We have to support students to identify the individual projects that they can do around things that they like and are interested in.

Let’s Focus on Our Students Today

Too often, at the high school level, the questions are always center around, “How is this preparing students for work or college?” I wish we weren’t so focused on school, particularly high school, having to be about what’s next. Rather, our focus should be on how our students are doing today and what they are passionate about. What’s making them happy and interested in learning more, rather than just getting through this phase of their life?

I hate the idea that high school is: “I just have to get through these four years. I can’t wait until graduation.” Ideally, it can be this amazing testing ground for a lot of different things. It’s a much safer environment for students to experiment, try new things, take healthy risks, and figure out if they really like that thing they have a curiosity about.

Diverse experiences and non-traditional backgrounds are core parts of NWPHS Philosophy

I would say education is a second career choice for more than half of our staff. We look at hiring staff who bring a lot of other things to the table beside their content knowledge.We are a small school with a small advisory model, and we do a lot of experiential project-based learning.

You don’t get that kind of training in a conventional teacher education program. Having people come in from these varied backgrounds, it’s an easier transition. More than half of our staff have been with us for over a dozen years, so we don’t onboard new staff very frequently.

Detailed Experience in Youth Work

This is my 30th year in what I like to classify as “youth work.” I haven’t always been in the formal education sphere, but I’ve always worked with youth in some capacity. I started in outdoor and experiential education—taking young people out into the wilderness, camping, canoeing, and backpacking.

NWPHS Does Things Differently and We’re Good At It

When we post a job opening, we are really clear from the beginning that we’re not like most schools. We emphasize that we do things quite differently. While someone’s content area is important, this is much more about the spirit our educators bring and how they relate with young people.

Understanding of project-based learning, or at least your willingness to take that on, is very important. The people we hire are already looking for a different environment—they want more autonomy, voice, and opportunities to engage in non-conventional education practices.