Expeditionary Learning at Manor School

What is EL?

Expeditionary Learning at Manor School

Expeditionary Learning (EL) Education is an innovative, award-winning teaching approach born 25 years ago out of a collaboration between Harvard’s School of Education and Outward Bound. Today, there are 152 EL credentialed schools across the US, including 9 partner schools in California.

Built on a foundation of traditional academic rigor that meets Common Core standards, EL helps schools make those standards come alive for students by creating stimulating learning environments, both in and outside the classroom. Designed with an emphasis on teamwork, the goal of EL is to invigorate learning through a variety of innovative teaching practices. This includes Learning Expeditions, which are long-term, in-depth research studies that culminate in a high-quality product, presentation or performance.

EL helps schools build on what is already working, while providing teachers with new tools and creative approaches. This approach helps students become critical thinkers both in and out of the classroom, and encourages them to develop meaning and purpose
in their work.

We believe that when a student is done with school and enters adult life, she will be judged for the rest of her life not by her performance on tests of basic skills, but by the quality of her work and the quality of her character.EL Education

Why is EL right for Manor School?

We believe that the EL model brings together the best of all worlds for Manor students by emphasizing academic rigor, project-based learning, and social and emotional development. As the first school in Marin County selected for an EL partnership, we are fortunate to have the leadership of our principal, Peg Minicozzi, to guide us through this credentialing process. Peg’s experience in working with schools to implement new programs—including her work with Partners in School Innovation in San Francisco—makes her well suited to accurately assess this program and successfully implement it at Manor.

What happens when our kids move on to a non-EL school?

EL teaches students to be leaders of their own learning and take part in real-world projects. When students enter adult life they will be judged by the quality of their work and the quality of their character. With that in mind, EL focuses on three core areas:

  • Mastery of skills and content

    Students demonstrate deep understanding, think critically and communicate clearly.

  • Character

    Students become effective learners, ethical people and good citizens who contribute to a better world.

  • High quality student work

    Students demonstrate excellence and original ideas that are meaningful to themselves and to the community at large.

Within this framework, students develop the tools to become flexible, strategic, independent learners who are prepared academically to succeed in any setting—including middle school—and to be able to tackle any new learning experience with confidence.

What are EL’s “Learning Expeditions”?

EL’s Learning Expeditions are the primary way of organizing curriculum. The goal is to help students learn material through purposeful and meaningful research projects. Expeditions allow for deep study of a particular topic over a period of time and integrate many disciplines, from science and math to social studies and the arts.


Students are engaged in inquiry, with the thread of the topic they are studying woven into each day. Critique and feedback are important pieces of the process, with a key message to students being that “your work matters.”


Learning Expeditions are built on six elements:

  1. Compelling topics
  2. Guiding questions
  3. Fieldwork (inside or outside the classroom)
  4. Experts
  5. Service
  6. High-quality products or performances created for an authentic audience

Learning Expeditions also allow for various types of learners to access the curriculum based on their strengths and goals as learners. This allows for built-in differentiation and enrichment for all levels of learners.

What is the timeline for adopting EL?

The 2017-18 school year is year one of a four-year process toward becoming a credentialed EL Network School. As part of this multi-year partnership, the Manor staff is working closely with an EL School Designer to fully adopt, adapt, and integrate the program.
During this time, we will undergo a rigorous review process to hit key benchmarks and reach milestones.

How and why was Manor chosen?

EL conducts a rigorous and comprehensive partnership selection process. During the 2015-16 school year, the EL Western Regional Director and an EL School Designer visited Manor several times to evaluate our readiness for this partnership. In addition, the Manor Leadership Team completed a comprehensive review as part of the application process. Because EL believes deeply in teacher leadership and voice, one of the requirements for a partnership with EL is that at least 85% of the staff must be on board. We are proud to say that our teaching staff voted unanimously to partner with EL. Following that vote, EL announced that Manor met all of the criteria for a partnership.

Who is funding EL?

We are grateful to the Ross Valley School District for their financial investment and ongoing support for Manor to partner with EL.

What is the training for teachers and how long will that take?

Professional development is one of the cornerstones of EL’s approach, allowing our teachers to gain and master new skills through on-site professional development workshops, personalized coaching, institutes and conferences, and observation of best practices from other schools. Manor has a designated School Designer who is on campus up to 30 days per year to provide 1:1 coaching in classrooms, support grade-level planning and curriculum mapping, and lead staff development sessions. We are excited about the quality and depth of the customized training our team has already experienced, including site visits to other EL schools where we can witness firsthand the best practices and outcomes of the program in action.

How will we know it’s working?

There are many qualitative and quantitative measures for this. EL has a proven track record for improving academic performance, which is quantified through a rigorous review and assessment process where we will see overall academic achievement improve over time on a variety of measures.

As a community, we will know EL is working when our kids are finding new and exciting outlets for their curiosity both in the classroom and out in the field; when they are creating high-quality work that they learn to present with pride and ownership; and when they are becoming good citizens and leaders who respect themselves and others, and who care about their community and the world around them.

For our staff, it’s about being invigorated with new ways of teaching to help kids achieve inside and outside of the classroom, and new tools to help support our students to build character, meaning and purpose—things that will stay with them long beyond elementary school.

We will all know it’s working when we are working together as one school supporting a common vision and goals.

For more information about EL Education, please visit their website at www.eleducation.org