Holly Wright had been an educator for a decade before having children, but becoming a mother shifted her mindset. “I started to think about school less as a profession and more as a place where my own children could learn,” Wright said. She had enrolled her toddler daughter in a Montessori preschool, but began to wonder what other types of education were available for her children.
Wright’s curiosity sparked an exploration of multiple teaching and learning approaches around the country. She found that whereas many elementary schools emphasized a holistic approach to teaching and learning, many secondary schools seemed to focus solely on academics in pursuit of college acceptance.
“Lifelong learning relies on more than content-based instruction. I wanted to find an approach that allows my children, and other people’s children, an opportunity to direct their learning, be curious as they go, and pursue their passions.”
“I encourage my children to be advocates for their own learning, to have high expectations for what learning can look like in the classroom.”
Wright heard about a nearby school that offered Summit Learning and its focus on developing the whole student and decided to visit the campus. The way Summit Learning was structured, based on well-researched data, resembled what she had envisioned for not only her own children, but for students across the country. It made her want to be part of the innovative educational movement, and she began working at Summit Learning shortly after.
Today, Wright works with a team at Gradient Learning designing professional development experiences for school leaders that bring relevant research into practice at schools and develops leaders’ skills to bring a whole student lens to the classroom. Wright’s work with Summit Learning leaders further develops the impact of the whole student approach.
“The goal of our work is to take a lot of theory and research that’s in the field and then think about how we can operationalize that theory and put it into the school building,” Wright said.
With the Summit Learning program, Wright initially focused on instilling the “Habits of Success,” a collection of building blocks for learning and a foundational pillar of the program. It was a framework that embraced the facets of a student as a whole person.
“The Habits of Success looked at things like self-direction, curiosity, purpose and self-efficacy and how we incorporate those things into our program for teachers and leaders. It looked at school as a place that could nurture that whole person,” Wright said.
In her six years with Gradient Learning, Wright said the program has moved into a more direct student approach that builds educator capacity and provides students with skills, knowledge and the mindsets to be self-directed in all areas of their life.
This model of learning is not just something that she works to develop in teachers and leaders. She preaches the philosophy at home with her own three children, a daughter, 12, and two sons, 11 and 8.
“I encourage my children to be advocates for their own learning, to have high expectations for what learning can look like in the classroom,” Wright said. We share ideas about ways they can impact their classroom and their school by taking action, speaking up, and looking around to make things better.
“I’m really trying to be a part of their learning, their experiences and to help them see that school and home merge together,” she added.
Wright said she and her husband, who also is an educator, do get occasional pushback from their kids.
“My son says funny things like I sometimes wish that you didn’t have your job and you didn’t know so much about how our brains develop, so that you could let us play video games more,” Wright said.
Wright’s passion for Summit Learning is a big part of who she is as a mother and educator.
“The Summit Learning program, which is a full-student framework and model, is deeply embedded in my heart,” she said.
“It’s something that I believe in, and it’s something that over the course of the past 13 years with having children of my own that I’ve tried to emulate and make true for my children. It also is something that I think is important for children across the country.”