When Catlin Tucker pulled into the Windsor High parking lot for a staff professional development day at the end of Christmas break she was feeling less than inspired. She’d started to think that no matter what she tried in her traditional high school English classroom she wasn’t really preparing kids for the world they’d find in college and beyond. And she wasn’t optimistic that the jam-packed schedule of workshops would make her feel any better. But to her surprise, the talk delivered by the keynote speaker, Will Richardson, spoke to everything she’d been feeling.
“He just spoke to me, to everything that concerns me about education and the way we’re shuttling kids through classes and losing so many of them, and how we have to reimagine learning for kids of this generation,” Tucker said. It was the validation she needed to top wishing things could be different, and start making big changes in her own teaching.
“I walked out of that keynote and right into my principal’s office and I was like, ‘I want to do something different,’” Tucker said. The principal, Marc Elin, didn’t shut her down; instead he let her explore the idea. When Tucker approached Marika Neto, a rookie teacher who was already proving herself to be restless with the traditional model, a partnership was born.
Catlin Tucker (left) and Marika Neto. (Courtesy Catlin Tucker)
Tucker and Neto created a program in which they share sixty students, a mix of freshman and sophomores, every other day. The interdisciplinary program blends science, English and technology learning standards into projects, and students are given more choice and independence over how and what they learn. Tucker and Neto hoped that by redesigning the classroom experience they could shift what students value about learning. Instead of being focused on grades and points, they’re pushing students to see the value in self-reflection, self-assessment, and creative thinking.
Listen to Episode Three of the MindShift Podcast to get a feel for this alternative classroom model, and to hear from the students, teachers, and parents who were willing to give learning this new way a try. Shifting long-held expectations of what school looks like hasn’t been easy, but Tucker and Neto say it’s been incredibly rewarding.