Each year at the start of spring semester, my administration sends every teacher a form called “What’s Your Flavor?” It asks teachers a series of questions:
- Are we planning to continue teaching next year?
- If we could describe our perfect teaching assignment, what would it be?
- Who would we enjoy working with?
This year as I stared at the form and asked myself, what is your perfect teaching assignment? Each time I tried to articulate my perfect position, I was flooded by the multitude of reasons that my perfect position would be impossible to manifest.
I’ve been teaching 9th and 10th grade English at Windsor High School for the last 13 years. In that time, my approach to teaching has radically changed as I’ve embraced technology and shifted to a blended learning model. I’ve tried to reimagine what learning looks like in an English class. However, there is so much more I would love to do!
As I reflected on what I want to achieve, I kept coming back to the idea of “blowing the walls off of my classroom.” I had read Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith’s book Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era and I’d watched the film based on the book, which highlights the work being done at High Tech High in San Diego. Both of these experiences–reading the book and watching the film–had me questioning how much change I could actually achieve by staying in my current position. I wanted to explore new approaches to teaching and learning that didn’t currently exist on my campus.
I told my principal I wanted to begin a new program on our campus. It would experiment with a co-teaching model where I would share a population of students with another teacher. We would co-teach three block classes every other day. This would provide the time and flexibility to really dive into topics. We would design curriculum tied to topics, teach subjects in conjunction with one another, not separately, and ground learning in student-driven and designed projects. Instead of selecting a series of texts and building curriculum around those texts as I had done for my entire teaching career, I wanted to build curriculum around deep investigations into topics. Instead of teaching English, science, and technology separately, I wanted to pull them all together and teach them simultaneously as students worked to explore complex topics and issues.
As Wagner and Dintersmith state in their book, “retained learning comes, to a very large extent, from applying knowledge to new situations or problems, research on questions and issues that students consider important, peer interaction, activities, and projects.” This struck me as so fundamentally true, yet it can be so hard to allow for deep investigations into topics students care about when I only see them every other day for a 90 minute English block.
I’m excited to report that my principal was incredibly supportive of my proposal, so Next Evolution in Work-based Learning (N.E.W.) School was born! I’m beyond excited to bring all of my ideas to fruition as I work to make my perfect teaching position a reality for the 2016-2017 school year.
Ultimately, I hope to prove that pockets of innovation can happen on traditional school campuses. My high school serves 1750 students and the traditional design of school does not work for every student. N.E.W. School will offer an alternative for students who want to learn construct knowledge and make meaning through inquiry, research, making/building, and cooperation in project-based learning. I’ll be sharing my journey on my blog as I attempt to make my vision a reality!
I want to be one of your students!!
Best compliment! Thanks, John!
I’m lucky, John. My 9th grade son is currently in Catlin Tucker’s English class, and he is so hoping to continue with her on her N.E.W. adventure in it’s inaugural year next fall. As an 8th grade ELA teacher, I am also watching the new venture enviously. Mrs. Tucker is trailblazing for us in the district.
Thank you, Julie! Your son is an absolute pleasure to work with. He is going to be a wonderful addition to N.E.W. next year!
Ultimately, my goal is to bring this model to the middle schools in Windsor after we’ve worked out some of the kinks next year. I’d love to see it be an option for students in 6-8 who are not currently experiencing success and would thrive in a collaborative, project-based environment.
I’ll keep blogging about it so teachers can get a better feel for the design of the program, and you’ll experience it first hand as a parent!
So excited for you to have this opportunity! Although I’m now in Instructional Technology, I started following you when I was teaching 9th and 11th English, so I am rooting for you:)
Thank you, Suzy! I’m sure there will be some bumps, but I’m up for the challenge.
Congratulations! This is fantastic news and I will be very interested to follow your journey! I had the opportunity to team teach a middle school language arts/social studies combo, and it was fabulous for students, and me. Best of luck Catlin!
Thank you, Gene! I’m really excited to co-teach three classes and get to do more with my students. I’ll definitely keep you posted.
Ooooh, Catlin! This sounds terrific! And if anyone can make it happen, it’s you and it’s at Windsor High. Much love and respect, friend.
Thank you, Michelle! I’m beyond thrilled about starting a new program at WHS. Let’s get lunch soon. I want to hear all about your new home!
Woohoo! So exciting!!! Love this idea and co-taught with Social Science for 11th grade English and it was challenging and inspiring. It sounds like your plan is far more thoughtful and supported. I’d love to visit sometime!
You know I would always love to have you visit, Elizabeth! I hope you are doing well. Miss you! Catlin
Talk about creating your vision and igniting excitement for learning! I see your N.E.W. students actually looking forward to a learning environment that sparks their personal interests and allows them to pursue topics in depth! Congratulations Catlin for once again moving education into the future!
Thank you, Diane! I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to make this a reality on my campus. My principal and school community have been incredibly open to this new idea and supportive of my efforts to push the boundaries.
I am at a comprehensive high school with 3,600 students. I believe in what you are trying and will be following you closely. You are great a sharing and so I know we will get great feedback. I know there will be failure along the way but I think there will be a lot of amazing and exciting moments. I am very excited for you and applaud your journey!
Thank you for the kind words! I’ll definitely continue to share. I’m sure there will be moments of failure, but that’s part of the learning process. I hope I can embrace the bumps and learn from them.
Good luck with this new endeavor! Thanks to your presentation to Omaha teachers a week or so ago, I begin my flipped classroom tomorrow. It will include research and inquiry based learning. Thank you for revitalizing my love for this profession, and for sharing with other teachers what has worked for you.
Thank you for the kind note, Tessa!
I’m so glad you are trying the flipped classroom. I hope your students enjoy it. Let me know how it goes!
This sounds awesome! Looking forward to more updates as the project progresses.
Thank you, Chris!
Kudos times two. Kudos to you for dreaming. Kudos to your principal for believing.
Thank you, Kristin! I’m definitely grateful to my principal and school community for their support!
It’s so encouraging to see others take risks to improve and deepen learning for students. In our rural high school (approx 750 students) in South Australia, a group of 4 teachers took a risk to connect learning from mathematics, science, English and HASS (History and Social Sciences) for 2 classes of year 8 students. This was extremely successful in 2015 and the program has been extended in 2016 to encompass 4 classes of students. I’ll be following your blog to see your journey through this also!
That sounds exciting! I’m a big believer in connecting courses. It doesn’t make sense for students to learn math, science, English, etc. in isolation. I hope that by combining courses that students will have a much deeper understanding of all subject areas. I’ll be documenting our journey and sharing it.
I’d love any tips or suggestions from teachers/schools who have also experimented with different designs! Did your connected learning program hit any unexpected bumps?
Thank you for the comment!
Congratulations on your journey! Can’t wait to hear about your adventures in learning! You inspire so many others!
Wow, how exciting! Was the decision ultimately your principal’s or was board approval involved? I’m learning more and more about the bureaucracy behind schools and it’s kind of a buzzkill. I wanted to replace my chairs with yoga balls and promptly got an email from the Assistant Superintendent of Business. Yikes.
Can’t wait to follow along this exciting step in your journey! I’m always inspired by the things you share.
The principal and admin team supported the decision, but the board also has to approve it. I am also going to need the board’s support to fund flexible furniture and some new texts that are in line with the curriculum.
I agree about the bureaucracy. It’s easy to let it frustrate excited educators and block innovation. I’m determined not to let that happen.
I’ll let you know how it goes. No doubt I’ll have to get creative to make much of what I am envisioning happen!
Let’s connect! My company, CraftED Curriculum, has great teaching resources aligned to Hewlett’s Deeper Learning Competencies that support the work of N.E.W beautifully! I will email you 😉
I look forward to hearing from you, Jenny.
Thank you for your opinion, thoughts and position as an experienced teacher. Many teachers have much to learn from you.
Congratulations! This is so inspiring! As a fellow high school ELA teacher, I love reading and following your work and look forward to continuing to learn from you as you build N.E.W.!
Thank you, Kristin!
I appreciate your comment. I’ll definitely keep you posted on how N.E.W. is going.
[…] how things have changed! As I prepare for next year and the launch of N.E.W. (Next Evolution in Work-based Learning) at my school, I’ve been preoccupied with concerns about the way traditional classroom […]
The first thing that struck me in your post was that your principal asks what teachers would like to do! It goes beyond just checking a box, or saying you’d like a change. Supportive leadership is so key if teachers are going to truly innovate. Hats off to your administrators!
Hats off to you, too, for having a vision: not just for your career, but for your school. Students will benefit from the open-ended project-based learning opportunities, and your staff will benefit by seeing that taking risks is worth the effort. Change doesn’t happen without leaps of faith!
Yes, I am thankful that my principal asks what we want to teach. My school definitely tries to honor our preferences.
You are so right that change requires a leap of faith! Here’s hoping it’s the success I believe it can be 😉
Congratulations! Keeping it fresh benefits both you and your very lucky students. As a twenty year English teacher I get it: make it new! Pound couldn’t have been that wrong, right?
Good luck, and I can’t wait to read all about the program!
Thank you, Brian!
[…] I began to pilot NEW School this year, my goals were […]
[…] Last spring, Katrina Schwartz from MindShift spent two days in my classroom recordings students at work and interviewing me, my teaching partner, students, and parents for this podcast about N.E.W. School. […]