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A Collaboration That Transcends its Subject Matter

A Collaboration That Transcends its Subject Matter
Brian Cook, Social Studies faculty

“Let’s set up a Zoom, compare notes, and see what might be possible?”

This short, quick email message in the Spring of 2021 was the beginning of the Dana Hall - Belmont Hill Economics Collaboration. It was also the beginning of our return to normalcy as the educational community began to emerge from COVID-19. Jess Keimowitz, Dana Hall’s Upper School Director at that time, had a conversation or two with her counterpart at Belmont Hill, “kicking the tires” on possible avenues for academic collaboration. This subsequently led to my email exchange with George Sullivan, Belmont Hill Economics faculty, exploring what we might do together. The possibility of collaborating and interacting with the Belmont Hill community was in and of itself exciting. It was especially so, coming when it did, at a time when a year of hybrid learning and “Zooming” had made us all acutely aware of the power of interaction and the bedrock truth that all learning is fundamentally social.

We had a couple of Zoom calls, exchanged documents, notes, and ideas, and committed to each other that we would start small, experiment, and see what might come of things. In our first year, we had one in-person interaction at Belmont Hill, a “pizza seminar” about monetary policy and government intervention during the housing crisis of 2007. Students from both schools listened to a guest speaker and then had the opportunity to engage in a vigorous Q&A. In subsequent years, we’ve had multiple “pizza seminars” at both Dana Hall and Belmont Hill, learning about topics as varied as government intervention in health insurance markets and the economic factors at play in the 2022 and 2024 elections. The seminars have developed to include breakout sessions, each with a mix of students from Dana Hall and Belmont Hill, led by Dana Hall and Belmont Hill faculty. Future plans include collaborating on professional-style academic conferences where students can present the research they are doing in each of their classes.  We also have explored the idea of jointly developing economics projects. We have even begun examining how this collaboration might propagate out through other disciplines in our schools.

Dana Hall Economics students collaborate with Belmont Hill Economics students

In year three of an ongoing collaboration between Dana Hall and Belmont Hill Economics courses, students heard from Peter Flaherty, Belmont Hill parent and political consultant, who spoke about presidential politics.


The collaborations have been a great success. Students from both schools have been exposed to a number of very real-world applications of the theories and concepts they are learning in their courses. They are interacting with experts in their field. They are learning with and from each other. George and I have developed a very strong working relationship that has already benefited both of us beyond this specific collaboration; I have had many conversations with George about learning and teaching that transcend the immediate context of our economics collaboration. I have learned a great deal from him, and I hope that I have returned the favor. On top of all of these wonderful outcomes, this collaboration has strengthened my commitment to and understanding of several curriculum design principles.

Start Small: Find ways to simply get started with a project or initiative - it’s easier to “course correct” than it is to get things moving in the first place. Starting small increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to reach your desired outcomes, and this will help you build momentum to develop other features of your project or initiative. Starting small gives you traction, allows you to learn from your mistakes, and scale up your efforts in an informed way.

Capitalize on Opportunities: This collaboration is in and of itself an example of this principle. I had not been considering exploring an interscholastic collaboration in the Spring of 2021 — at least not actively considering it. The opportunity to explore this conversation with Belmont Hill came up at a time when I could easily have “taken a pass” — we were all doing the best we could to manage hybrid learning in a COVID environment, and it would have been very easy to say “maybe later.” Grabbing this opportunity when it was there, at that moment, was likely the ONLY way that this collaboration would be able to get off the ground.

Don’t Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good: George and I have had numerous planning and design conversations, and we have some fairly ambitious plans for where this collaboration can go. We have not gotten there yet — indeed, developing our biggest ideas might be a year or two away. The collaboration is not yet perfect — the events themselves have not always necessarily been exactly what we would like them to be.  If we had held out or waited for the perfect conditions to deliver our most ambitious ideas, we’d likely STILL be only trading emails. Do what you can when you can, and build on what you do.

As much as these are touchstone design principles for me as an educator, I think they can be very grounding ideas for students, too. Education is not just the acquisition of knowledge or the mastery of skills, though both of these are a fundamental part of education. From the learner’s perspective, education is the process of engaging in experiences that create opportunities for transformation; education is the way you become the person you want to be, the best possible version of yourself. How do you do that? Well, remembering to start small, capitalize on opportunities, and don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good is a great way to begin!