Celebrating Students as Natural Change Agents.

Adapting to new innovative spaces and new ways of learning can be a daunting task for teachers and administrators. Even after a long planning and design process to define both the new curriculum and how the spaces will be used, utilizing both in actual practice isn’t easy, especially when first starting out. Iconic visions of schools typically show classrooms with teachers leading learning, and it can be difficult for adults to let go of this ideation so deeply embedded in their psyches because of their own past experiences. This was a challenge faced by a Fielding International school partner, and some solutions came from letting go, by letting the students lead.

Alberta’s First Full IB World School Took a Risk

Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School is a private university prep school in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada and is Alberta’s only independent school authorized to deliver International Baccalaureate Programs in Grades 1 through 12. Along with these rigorous academic programs, the school provides each student opportunities to self-actualize through a wide range of co-curricular learning experiences. STS’s older building was disjointed due to multiple renovations, the spectacular natural campus was not being well utilized, and the school community realized that they needed to offer a more innovative approach to learning to stay competitive. Fielding served as STS’s co-creator, adding a large addition, unifying the central heart of the school and entrance, and most importantly, integrating a varied-spaces Learning Community model in the new wing. But were the admin and teachers ready for turning their teaching/learning model inside out, and truly allowing students to lead their own learning?

The Rewards of Letting Go

Leaving the classroom behind posed challenges for teachers: “How do we schedule these multiple spaces?” “Where do I sit without a desk at the front?” “How do I keep track of students when they’re off doing different activities?” The adults were experiencing disorientation from the shift, but STS had an advantage over many school communities in that their curriculum and values already embraced the concept of student-directed learning experiences. And the students, when presented with spaces that made this easier, knew just what to do. They gravitated towards the spaces and amenities that attracted them, and that allowed them to follow their interests organically. And teachers started learning to take a step back, to act more like mentors and coaches.

While this is an on-going process, all members of the STS community are working together to continue turning their early visions of change into this exciting, and sometimes challenging reality.

What We Have Learned

Progress can happen when adults learn to let go. When presented with flexible spaces, students know just what to do. They gravitate towards the spaces and amenities that attract them, and that allow them to follow their interests organically. And then teachers learn to take a step back, to act more like mentors and coaches, rather than the source of knowledge.