“It’s a dream of what school should be like.” – J. Kelly, HS English Teacher
This past summer middle school students from the Smithtown School District in Long Island, NY had the opportunity to attend a unique summer program. Through the efforts of educators Joel Sidwell, Program Coordinator and Elizabeth Stein, Assistant Coordinator and with the support of the district’s BOE and Administration, students participated in a Resiliency Program, a model for teaching and learning that I am hoping spreads like wildfire!
I visited the first and last week of the program. I was fortunate to have been invited to shadow Elizabeth Stein, a Special Education Teacher, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Instructional Coach and coordinator of the district’s mentoring program. Since meeting via an educator’s chat group on Twitter, Elizabeth and I have exchanged ideas about education; our passion and mission are aligned, working to raise the voice of students and help them take ownership of their learning.
From the first minute of the morning preparation meeting, it was evident this was not going to be “more of the same” and that was exciting. The teachers were led through guided meditation by Josh Hendrikson, LSMW, a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) expert. They received guidance and on-going support throughout the six week program in SEL, UDL and Growth Mindset development. Morning and afternoon sharing sessions offered teachers time to share personal experiences, talk through challenges, and support each other’s efforts.
Students were presented with projects and asked to choose which they were interested in undertaking. Project choices included planting a vegetable garden and creating a meal from the vegetables grown; creating and video taping a public service announcement.
Students were encouraged to problem solve, add their creative ideas, collaborate with each other and see the project through to completion. It was apparent that teachers were focused on connecting with the students, engaging them to add their voice and creating teamwork.
I visited the next to last day of the program. I spoke with several teachers and sat in on the closing of the day staff meeting. Teachers shared their experiences and what they observed from students. From the comments it seemed that these middle school students would take away much more than merely the information they learned by participating in their project. Some of the comments were:
The students have become more thoughtful.
Students got to choose, make decisions. They became aware that they have choices.
There has been a great deal of confidence building, students realizing what they can do.
Students expressed that they made many great friends.
Overall it seemed to me that a significant mindset and social and emotional transformation occurred for many students. One teacher shared an example. A student who started the program was very withdrawn. When she spoke you could barely hear her voice and there were other indications through her manner of dress and body language. At the end it was obvious through her smiles and conversations that she felt much better about herself. As this teacher continued to speak about the student it became apparent that her project had made an impression on everyone in her group. She had made a contribution – she mattered.
Another teacher shared a heartfelt comment:
“The support for teachers and students in this program was amazing. It’s a dream of what school should be like.” – Jim Kelly, HS English Teacher.
Consider that today’s learner may have careers that have not yet been created, or that may even become obsolete during their lifetime. Many education leaders remain committed to certain instructional methods that put great emphasis on mastering content. However, teachers must be provided the means and opportunities to encourage students to work with each other effectively, to be creative and resilient, so they realize what they are capable of achieving and can act on that realization.
There are always barriers to change and obstacles to overcome. I am excited by the Smithtown School’s Resiliency program, one that provides an innovative and promising approach for learning. More of this please! As this school year gets underway look at ideas like this and find the first step to take. Take it – and then run with it!
Are you in?