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!