A Leader in Learning

Grauer is the academic engine at Pomfret.

Though our school is more than a century old, we embrace a vision for curricular change that rivals the newest and most innovative schools in the country. Created through a generous gift from former Board Chair Peter Grauer and his wife Laurie, the Grauer Family Institute for Excellence and Innovation in Education is a thought leader in secondary education.

At Pomfret, the Institute makes significant resources available for faculty to experiment with emerging teaching methods and pursue ongoing professional development so that they may design and deliver innovative programs in and out of the classroom.

Chapter 1: Bold Programmatic Disruption » 2014–2018

About five years ago, the Pomfret School leadership team recognized the need for bold shifts to its pedagogical philosophy. In a rapidly changing world, the teaching and learning practices from previous generations would no longer be as effective in preparing young adults to become leaders of the future. No matter how fundamentally sound this hallowed institution was, senior leadership felt a sense of urgency to change—to meet the needs of a new generation of students.

After a period of introspection, in 2013 school leadership established an ambitious goal: to permanently endow a position that would be at the center of a major cultural and pedagogical shift. This shift was not simply about what happened in the classroom, but more broadly about the overall learning arc for each and every student while at Pomfret.

Framed this way, the Grauer Institute was designed to help reimagine teaching and learning in its broadest sense, through global learning experiences, student-directed learning, robust faculty professional development, new co-curricular programs, and certificate programs to name just a few. At its core, the Grauer Institute is about connecting the strategic vision of the school to effect critical change in the lives of students and their teachers. The first director of the institute started that important task of making Pomfret’s vision a reality. Initiatives that began or were expanded during this time include:

    • Project: Pomfret, a 10-day design thinking and project-based learning program that encourages students and faculty to create unique and untethered learning experiences.
    • Participation in Project Zero, the internationally acclaimed professional development program sponsored by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education
    • The Helios Project, an on-campus active research program embedded in an aquaponics greenhouse that Pomfret students built and continue to manage
    • Development of distinctive and intentionally designed courses including humanities classes in the 9th and 10th grade; a 10th grade Global and Sustainable Development course; a new 9th grade Science: Engineering by Design course; and a 9th grade arts immersion program
    • A redesign of classroom learning spaces throughout campus
    • The introduction of long-block scheduling

The launching of the Grauer Institute demonstrated that Pomfret has an appetite for innovation and curricular change. To this end, the first phase was a huge success in helping reset the trajectory of the teaching and learning program. The first director served not only as a thought leader to help faculty imagine new possibilities, but also as a conduit to contemporary research and external resources. The first four years gave teachers, administrators, students, and trustees invaluable firsthand experience with institutional transformation at a large scale and placed Pomfret at the forefront of school change.

Chapter 2: Sustaining Long Term Innovation » 2018 –

School change is never easy, particularly when it involves questioning established principles and longstanding cultural norms. Today we find a school community that understands itself better than it did before, having been through some challenging and pivotal moments of change. 

After four years of significant curricular change, the school intentionally approached the 2018-2019 year as an opportunity to pause and reflect—to consolidate even as it implemented new initiatives that were under construction in the previous year. In July 2019, Gwyneth Connell —  a bold innovator who possesses strong change management skills in the complex arena of independent school education — became the second director of the Grauer Institute.

For the last five years, Pomfret has worked diligently to define and implement a modern learning environment—one that is student-centered and attuned to contemporary teaching and learning research—while continuing to honor the best of our rich heritage. Going forward, we are dedicated to preparing our graduates for success in a world that will be measured by the need for creative, collaborative solutions to global challenges.


 

Gwyneth Connell

Director of the Grauer Family Institute
A veteran of independent school education, Connell brings a breadth and depth of experience to the position. Over the course of her career, she has taught history at Millbrook School in New York and Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn; served as dean of faculty at Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts; and most recently, worked as dean of teaching and learning at Blair Academy in New Jersey. She holds a master's degree in private school leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University (2007) and a bachelor's degree in American studies from Amherst College (2000). Connell is a 1996 alumna of Peddie School.