I Dream of Building Such a School One Day, Part IV

The last part of my “Dream School” series addresses the ideals by which teaching and learning would be organized. If money were no object, imagine what we could do!

Students Around a Harkness Table. Image by Katydailey, retrieved from Wikimedia.org


It’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m being presumptuous with these posts. However, writing them has given me hope that my brain has re-engaged with what I love, namely being an educator. This is a dream school, but perhaps there are things in these posts that can become reality.

If you have landed here and haven’t seen the other posts, I have included the reading list in a link above.

The Last Four Questions

We have addressed student needs throughout this series in various contexts. What I have noticed, as I review the previous posts, is that choice is important. Students would choose to come to the school. Parents would choose to send them. Staff and faculty would choose to practice here, after determining that the mission and values of the school align with their private mission and values. Our transparent commitment to critical thinking, problem solving and innovation, and service would influence their decision-making.

The last five questions concern teaching and learning at this dream school, which would be different from what one would experience in traditional educational settings. These ideas are not new, but what I have brewed in my head through adherence to the mission I created for the school.

Oh, and I see myself doing more “dream school” posts that speak to the topics in this post. If I didn’t create more posts, this one would be too long.

Three Points

  • I have questioned the veracity of teaching and learning in my context. There is much I would like to change about my practice, so I’m trying to work that out in these posts.
  • Problem solving often leads to innovation, so if I can solve my own problems, innovation will surely follow. I’m committed to continuous improvement. These posts have helped me remember that.
  • When I chose to become a teacher, I also chose to be a servant-leader. This is my opportunity to find more ways to demonstrate that.

What is the overarching teaching and learning philosophy that will guide us?

Education experts often talk about preparing students to be “college and career ready.” What about “life ready”? I think most teachers would agree that is way more important. That’s what our school would be about. Students would enter at various stages in their progress toward their best life. It would be our job to determine what that stage is. Then, we can help them progress toward their next goal, and then the next, and the next.

We would strive to have all students experience great success, of course, but what does success look like for each person? What do they want to achieve to be successful?

I am reminded of the movie Dead Poets Society, specifically the scene in which Neil’s father chastises Neil in the hallway for contradicting him in front of the other students. He says something like, “When you are a doctor, you can do whatever you want. Until you are, you do as I say.”

That rankles me. First, Neil’s father has already chosen Neil’s career path. Second, it’s obvious Neil doesn’t want to be a doctor. So, will he experience success or will he be remorseful that he could not pursue creative arts like writing and acting? If you haven’t seen the movie, I will not spoil the ending.

That said, our first priority would be to ensure that each student is “life ready” and can pursue what they decide is their best life. They will be well equipped with the skills they need to pursue any dream they want. How that path will look depends greatly on the person.

How should the curriculum be organized?

One problem with school is that there are so many students to serve, with only a fraction of the number of teachers to serve them. Since money is no object in my dream school, I would ensure the student:teacher ratio is small. That way, groups of students with similar interests could work together on their skills.

Instead of grade levels, I would like to come up with a pathway toward graduation that is more fluid, so that students do not feel rushed to complete their secondary education in a set amount of time. If they want to revisit a course, take on another course, or do some independent study, I think it would be nice to let them do that without worrying about an arbitrary deadline.

I’m also thinking of promoting work study and dual enrollment as much as possible. Co-ops serve college students well, so why not have something similar for older students? Dual-enrollment is popular, so why not plan for that for these students?

In this school, discrete “content areas” would combine so that one skill set supports the other, and vice versa. For example, I learned last year that students sometimes struggle in biology class because they do not have strong algebra skills. We could have a class in which science and math teachers work together to build a mutually-supportive curriculum. They could co-teach the class. We could do the same with the other math and science courses.

Doesn’t that sound like fun? Invigorating? Challenging, but in a good way?

We could also have a course that combines traditional social studies or history instruction with world languages, literature, writing, psychology, and philosophy. Again, there would be two or more teachers for these courses. Those teachers would also build a mutually-supportive curriculum for those courses.

Doesn’t that sound like fun? Invigorating? Challenging, but in a good way?

Physical education would also be important. I would probably have one hour for PE each day, except for Friday.

To tie all the strings together — and this is just pie-in-the-sky thinking — Fridays could be seminar days, during which teachers meet with all students to discuss a broad topic that helps students make connections between what they are learning in all their classes.

Finally, each student should have time for independent study or student-led study groups. During that time, students could reflect on what they studied that day and apply it to their plan to build their best life. Educators would be on hand to guide them and provide constructive and encouraging feedback.

What would the schedule look like?

It’s safe to say that “core” classes should be at least 1.5 hours each (including a five-minute passing time), four days a week. A 1.5 hour block for independent study/study groups would be ideal. On Fridays, we would hold seminars in the morning, break for lunch, and then have time in the afternoon for independent study/study groups and extracurricular activities or sports.

Dorm life would be full of vibrant activity that is not only interesting, but educational. Extracurricular activities would be important. This would be the time when clubs and sports could thrive.

A sample schedule created by me using Google Sheets (Note: breakfast, dinner, and other routines are not included)

How would we explain our curriculum and learning targets to colleges and other post-secondary organizations?

It is unlikely colleges and post-secondary organizations have not seen transcripts like this before. None of this is new. I’m sure that if we share our course descriptions, curricula, and full transcripts with post-secondary organizations, we can respond to any questions they might have.

What else would you like me to dream about? This has been the most fun I’ve had in years.

Thank you for reading this and the other posts. I am grateful.

As a bonus, here is a quick mock-up of what the campus would look like. Yes, there are things missing, of course. This was created by me using Miro.

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