What Happens When You Get Out of the Way.

Thursday, I had the good fortune of meeting a few students from Westfield High School as they presented to a room full of teachers, board members, superintendents, and other administrators.  They were accompanied by their two teachers, their principal and their superintendent.  What’s striking, if you’ve been around superintendents and administrators, is that the students dominated the room, and very few people in the room had questions for the teachers or the administrators from Westfield.  They wanted to know what the students thought.  


Their topic?  How a shift in their teachers thinking and approach to teaching radically altered the ecosystem of learning in their classroom.  


The two teachers had looked at their two separate subjects, English III (American Literature) and U.S. History II (Reconstruction-Present), and thought that they should team teach the class with a double period, calling it American Studies.  Eighty-minutes of instruction with the same group of students, all the while wrestling with the themes in literature and history as they played out across the last one-hundred-fifty-plus years.  The class, anchored by themes rather than chronology, was different for one more reason: student access to information.  




The two teachers had received a grant to outfit their class with twenty iPads for the first year of the course; couple that with their districts move to bring-your-own-device, and the course shaped up in a much different way.  To hear the students describe it, was quite amazing:


This isn’t like OK, here is the worksheet I used to give you and you can use the internet to answer the questions.  It was more like, here is the question you have to answer, gather your information and figure out how to apply the research to these bigger, higher-level research.

The students were given the freedom to collaboratively take notes, gather and share sources of information to add to the class resource list, all in the name of finding out how to best make sense of the guiding questions and overarching themes.  It was a truly impressive demonstration of students using tools that eliminated the walls of their classroom and brought the world into the room on a daily basis.  


Cross-posted at digitalswregional.blogspot.com


If you are interested in knowing more, please feel free to check out the teachers’ site here.  


One thought on “What Happens When You Get Out of the Way.

  1. It is an absolute dream to see that students under my care would have educational confidence and the abilities to back it up. These students, probably 16 or 17 years old, held their own with administration from their school district. This makes me hopeful and optimistic for the future that we can truly make differences in the lives of these students in our care.
    The students acted as proof that the teachers’ altered instruction plan had worked. The teachers changed their thinking from learning chronologically, to learning from themes. This would allow the students to make connections with events and compare/contrast characters from our American history. The adjustment allowed students more time to devote to the task, thus being engaged on the subject for longer. When classes are only 30 minutes long, sometimes I have seen that the students are just getting involved when it is time to leave. They just made the connection to the material, and Bam!, it is time to switch to math class. The teachers were thinking about the students’ needs… a true PLC at its finest.
    The “Learning By Doing” Culture Shifts in a Professional Learning Community document shows that a successful PLC focuses on learning rather than teaching, assess jointly by collaborative teams rather than individual teacher assessments, and allows for time and support for learning as variables rather than a fixed time. The teachers at Westfield High School were contributing to a successful PLC and the students were proof of its effects.
    Thank you, Sarah T

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