Education students design their own schools

Professor James Nagle’s Schools and Society class gathered in the Vermont Room of Alliot Hall on Friday, April 24, an unseasonably chilly morning, to present the fruits of a semester’s labor dedicated to the evolution and change of educational practices in schools.

Their assignment was to design a school based on the education practices and methods of learning that they studied in Nagle’s class. Five groups of three to five students each presented at as part of the weekend’s Academic Symposium, and over the course of about an hour and a half, each group stood before professors and peers to display a model of what their school’s website would look like. 

The grade level of the schools designed ranged from elementary to secondary (or a combination of both) and the groups were composed of students from a variety of majors. These student-presenters walked their peers through their school’s mission statement, curriculum guidelines, grading standards, discipline policies, and other integral aspects of the school’s design.

Each group displayed a passion for education and a desire to create new schools formed relying on educational practices based upon the importance of integration, student-teacher and student-community relationships, and the integration of technology into classroom, resulting in schools that would focus on the personal growth of their students.

Four out of the five groups designed their schools around a curriculum driven by proficiency -based and project-based learning. These styles of learning and assessment allow educators to more effectively assess students with a wider range of academic ability and give them an opportunity to assess the social and collaborative skills of students. Under these standards students are encouraged to further their own education and grow themselves by studying topics that interest them.  By working to establish a school based in this type of assessment, students in Professor Nagle’s class were able to create curricula that educated not only one main group of students, but also made it possible for students of varying academic skill to succeed.

These grading/learning standards also encourage the growth of student-teacher relationships, which was at the core every school’s mission statement. The design of their schools aimed to foster these relationships not only through the proficiency/project based learning guidelines, which encourage teachers to learn how each of their students learn, but by asking them to rely less upon a punishment-based disciplinary system. Instead these plans urge educators to work with any student in need of disciplinary practices one-on-one to form a plan of action to improve. In this way, teachers and students are united by the common goal of furthering the student’s educational goals.

Beyond forming student-teacher relationships, each group of student-presenters emphasized the importance of the community’s relationship to the school and its students.  Each school had in place multiple ways for students to be involved in their community.  One group imagined a system where their students would interact with the Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue Department, while another group designed a community garden that would provide a common space for students to interact with and learn from members of their local community.  This emphasis on relationships with the community is meant to broaden the horizons of students and engage them in out-of-classroom learning experiences.

The integration of technology into schools was another tool each group included in their plans.  All the presenters included examples of online resources the students would have access to through their school, and multiple groups envisioned a school that would provide  its students with IPads to use over the course of their school career.  The use of iPads would give students access to many educational apps, a resource that would encourage students to take responsibility for their education.

Another group envisioned the use of learning management platforms like Schoolology and Power School. “These are programs designed to be like an academic social media, like Facebook for schools,” explained senior Dominique SaintVil. “They would allow for school-related conversations and discussions among students and their teachers.”  Beyond providing students with these resources, each group had a part of their curriculum that was designed to educate students about digital citizenship and the responsible ways students can and should utilize technology as an integral part of today’s society.

At the core of all these practices was the common desire to see students from all backgrounds and of differing academic ability grow and flourish in and out of the classroom.  The students who presented their schools were able to apply the educational theories they’ve been learning about by developing not only lesson plans but an entire school system.

They demonstrated an inspiring commitment to their students that hints at a hopeful future full of bright, passionate educators, a student member of the audience said afterward. Many other members of the Education Department said they were impressed with the variety of innovative practices the students had incorporated into their schools’ designs, but none with quite as much pride as Professor Nagle.

“I’m incredibly impressed with and grateful for the work you guys have done this semester,” he said to his students, “and I can definitely say that next year’s students will have some pretty big shoes to fill.”

Sara Mandeville ’15

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