Mastery schools are organized around a common vision: “Mastery schools are joyful, authentic communities where students learn how to think critically and act independently so they are truly prepared for post-secondary success.” Our work is rooted in an unwavering belief that our students can achieve at the highest levels. To fulfill our vision, we recognize that we must attend to the whole child – we value personal as well as academic skills, and we match our high expectations for students with high levels of support. Our program is comprised of four interlocking systems:
Mastery’s Common Core-aligned curriculum integrates specific instructional strategies and robust teacher support so that all teachers can deliver engaging, rigorous instruction.
Mastery’s curriculum is Common Core-aligned and is designed to develop students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. We believe in “pitching high” – exposing our students to rigorous material and concepts that significantly stretch and challenge them. Our curriculum develops students’ conceptual understanding and analytical skills and fluency with foundational academic skills. To ensure quality and coherency, curricula and materials are developed by Mastery’s central academic team with ongoing teacher input. By using common curricula across our network, teachers are able to work collaboratively with their peers and focus their energy on refining lessons and instruction rather than creating or finding materials.
Mastery instruction requires students to think and carry the cognitive load. Learning is active, enabling students to construct meaning and develop a deep understanding of difficult material. To achieve this level of instructional quality, Mastery lessons revolve around a series of common subject and age specific instructional approaches or structures. These structures are essentially pedagogical best practices – lesson formats and routines that require students to think and do. The structures are synced to specific elements and materials in the curriculum, thus ensuring that difficult material and concepts are taught in the most effective manner.
To ensure a common bar for success, Mastery has developed a set of instructional standards that describe core teacher actions and student outcomes regardless of subject; these standards set the bar for Rigorous Instruction, Student Work, Classroom Culture and Responsive & Individualized Instruction. The standards are tangible and thoroughly described.
Mastery believes that teachers’ intellectual preparation, planning, and practice drive quality instruction. We allocate planning time and use a common meeting protocol for teachers to learn content, plan, and rehearse together in subject-grade level teams or 1-1 with expert administrators. Through this collaboration, they develop an in-depth understanding of lesson content and the nuances of lesson delivery. Planning and professional development time includes two weeks of preparation before school opens, daily common planning periods, and two hours every Wednesday afternoon.
We believe teaching is a craft that is developed through an ongoing cycle of feedback, reflection, and practice. By adopting common instructional structures and standards we are able to closely align our professional development to the content and actual classroom instruction. Accordingly, we provide detailed manuals, videos, and ongoing training sessions on the structures and standards.
We believe the role of school leaders is to work directly with teachers on planning and instruction. Mastery school leaders are trained as content and pedagogical experts so they can effectively fulfill this role. They, together with Instructional Coaches from Mastery’s central office and school-based Teacher Leaders, provide intensive feedback and support that is ongoing, real-time, and specific so teachers can rapidly develop their skills. Our goal is to be one of the nation’s best places for teachers to master their craft. We are proud that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognized our teacher development system as a national model.
Mastery’s school culture systems are designed to create joyful school communities that support students’ sense of belonging and the development of their independence and personal responsibility. Mastery believes a positive school community – based on genuine relationships between teachers and students and rooted in a belief in students’ ability to achieve at the highest levels – is the foundation of a successful school.
Each Mastery school has a dedicated school culture team that is responsible for ensuring a positive and safe school community. Our schools adopt common rituals such as morning circles, community meetings, and school events that celebrate the school community and the joy of learning. At the same time, we ensure that school rules and values are consistently supported and enforced. Our teachers adopt common school-wide classroom behavior systems so students are held to consistently high expectations. We intentionally create a community that balances structure and student independence so schools feel both orderly and joyful. College banners and hallways full of student work send the message that students are expected to achieve at the highest levels.
Our school disciplinary system is organized around Restorative Practices, an approach that supports students in taking personal responsibility for their wrongdoing and repairing any negative impact their actions caused to relationships within the school community. Our approach blends emotional support systems, leadership opportunities, restorative consequences, traditional consequences, and well-defined expectations and limits. Our goal is to establish clear boundaries for behavior while building students personal effectiveness and reinforcing the value of relationships and the school community.
Mastery intentionally develops grit and resilience in students by fostering a “success through hard work” culture. Teachers develop students’ “growth mindset”, encouraging them to persevere through difficult work and providing them opportunities to lead. We believe social-emotional skills can be explicitly taught and nurtured. At the elementary level, social emotional skills curricula is integrated into the regular school day. At the middle and high school level, students take social emotional courses focused on decision skills, conflict resolution, and emotional self-management. The capstone to the program is a required 18-week workplace-based internship for all 10th grade students.
We believe that culture, race, and identity strongly influence how we teach, how students learn, and how the school community interacts; we also believe the cultural backgrounds of our students and families are a source of strength and opportunity. Consequently, Mastery has initiated a comprehensive training program to develop staff’s ability to be aware of – and responsive to -- cultural, racial and individual identities. We believe candid conversations about race and bias create a healthier and more effective school community.
All school-based staff members participate in professional learning communities (PLCs) once every three weeks. These peer-led, small groups are designed to facilitate thoughtful reflection about teaching and the way in which staff members’ individual experiences and background affect their work. The ultimate goal of the PLCs is to positively influence staff members’ interactions with one another and their students.
Mastery has built a comprehensive data tracking and reporting system that enables staff to focus on the areas of greatest student need and drive results.
Common-core aligned benchmark assessments form the foundation of our data system. Students take the assessments in all primary subjects at the end of each nine-week report period. These benchmarks assess the skills and knowledge students are expected to master in a given report period.
To pinpoint student growth and areas of need, we have also built a sophisticated “Mastery Value Added System” (MVAS) that considers students’ previous performance trajectory to determine the value-added -- the change in students’ growth in each new assessment period relative to their previous growth trajectory. This system enables us to efficiently and accurately identify students whose progress is lagging as well as teachers who are exceptionally effective or require additional support.
Mastery teachers use the benchmark and MVAS data to inform individualized student support and differentiation. A professional development day at the conclusion of each report period provides teachers the time to review data and develop plans for re-teaching and reassessment. At this time school leaders also review a streamlined data dashboard of academic and behavior data and develop intervention plans. New goals are set for the upcoming report period and the cycle begins again.
To ensure all students succeed, Mastery has developed a comprehensive safety net to support students in overcoming their academic and emotional challenges.
Our data systems enable us to identify students who are not responding to classroom differentiation and require more assertive interventions. All Mastery schools have a Response To Intervention & Instruction (RTII) period built into the regular school day. During this period, students in need of additional support participate in small groups where they receive individually targeted reading and math interventions. We use a limited set of research-based interventions and align staff training and support to ensure effectiveness.
Mastery’s schools are located in some of Philadelphia’s most impoverished neighborhoods. According to the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study (a survey of exposure to trauma events such as death of a family member, violence, and sexual abuse) our students are exposed to trauma at a four to eight times greater rate than the general population. Such exposure correlates with difficulty regulating emotions, inability to concentrate, and depression. To support our students, Mastery trains staff on trauma informed approaches and contracts with trauma- trained therapists. At the secondary level, students in need participate in support groups based around Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a research-based emotional skills curriculum. Finally, Mastery contracts with an outside provider to provide an off-campus intensive therapeutic program for students who are unable to thrive in a regular school setting.