A Dover-Sherborn Teacher’s Recipe for Innovative Classroom Learning Mixes SEL Strategies, Goal Setting, and History

As TEC’s Innovative Learning Coordinator, one of my favorite parts of the job is visiting TEC district schools to see and hear about the great work happening every day. In December, I had the pleasure of visiting Fuse MA alumni and Middle School Social Studies Teacher, Sara Collins, which offered a refreshing and inspiring reminder of how teachers are constantly, thoughtfully and bravely innovating and iterating!

Ms. Collins had a personal goal: she wanted to cook an authentic Julia Child recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. Little did she realize, as she explained to her sixth grade students, this goal would prove to be more complicated than just following a recipe. There were nuances, factors to consider with processes, tools and ingredients, experiments, tastings, and reflection before she ultimately felt like she had successfully cooked the dish.

If a classroom were a restaurant, Ms Collins would have a Michelin Star! Like a master chef, her recipes for innovative learning have been tested and tweaked over time, but include key ingredients such as engaging and culturally responsive history lessons, social emotional strategies, and new challenges like today’s endeavor: students reflect on and set goals around Portrait of a Graduate competencies in connection to their history project group work.

Sara began the goal setting lesson by asking students to consider and share personal goals they had set and accomplished. Students shared examples from sports, to mountain climbing, to hair braiding, and Ms Collins shared her Julia Child recipe ambition. Together, the class reflected on how they were able to accomplish their goals, who might have helped them along the way, and the timeline for the goal. They then considered similar questions in reflecting on their self assessment of POG competencies including empathy, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and perseverance. Prior to this lesson, Ms. Collins had familiarized students with these competencies, considering real and historical figures who demonstrated exemplary characteristics. Students noted where and how they felt they had progressed and reviewed feedback from Ms. Collins, ultimately selecting a competency around which to shape a more specific goal.  The next step is for students to craft this “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goal and track it over time.

This was Ms Collins’s first attempt at formalizing a goal setting practice with her students. In true innovative teacher fashion, there were so many elements she had put into place just to arrive at this lesson – including the portrait of a graduate rubric, a goal setting form and portfolio for students to collect data and track progress, as well as the incredibly important but often overlooked foundation of strong relationships with students and safe and engaging classroom culture.

Also in true innovative teacher form, Sara was already reflecting on adaptations and edits she might make to her lesson in the next class period as well as moving forward. We appreciated together her meta modeling of setting a goal – of goal setting – and transparently trying it out with students while they simultaneously attempted goal setting for the first time.

Find a few of the tried and true strategies that strengthen Sara’s classroom and relationships with students:

Temperature Check: Which Animal Are You?

Students use Pear Deck to drag a dot to the photo that resonates for them, giving Sara a helpful sense of how the class is feeling. *Pro tip: students can create their own temperature check boards using images that connect to their own interests or using images that connect to content, for example images of historical figures.

Anonymous and Private Share: Tell Brutus What You Need

Brutus is the class pet. That is to say, he is a cute photo of a dog on a gift bag that stands in the classroom – ready to receive any notes students want to place in there to let Brutus/Ms. Collins know what they might need. “Sometimes students write to tell me something they want me to know but don’t necessarily want to talk about. Sometimes it’s a social issue or feedback for me and my teaching”

Appreciating Each Other: The Compliments Project – an idea pulled from Cult of Pedagogy

One student is in the “hot seat” (a stool in front of the whiteboard).  3-4 classmates write positive and school appropriate words or phrases about the hot seat student on the board. End result – a happy kid who feels seen and appreciated by both teacher and peers:

Classroom visits offer a quick glimpse into the incredible work a teacher does to address the many elements that contribute to a joyful, productive, and innovative learning environment. There are so many more projects, strategies, routines and ideas that Dover Sherborn teachers like Sara invent, implement and iterate on throughout the year – I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about and share a few from Ms. Collins!

Innovative Learning

Innovative Learning

At TEC, we are committed to growing ideas and expanding learning opportunities across districts, proving our motto that “together we create more possibilities.”

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