Experience at Graland tells me that when teachers collaborate together, their motivation climbs as they put cooperative ideas into motion. Development of the Grade 8 Capstone Project and recent Summer Grant efforts ...
are perfect examples of faculty reimagining curricula and taking student learning to greater heights. In both cases, teachers demonstrated the same four pillars of intellectual excellence we strive for in students: motivation, expertise, thinking skills and attitudes. These elements are further echoed throughout Graland’s updated compensation system where collaboration, leadership and innovation are highly valued.
Capstone Project: Grade 8
Over the past two years, the Grade 8 team worked diligently to develop the Capstone Project, making it meaningful and with the potential for lasting impact. While collaborating during the planning process, the team asked themselves essential questions:
- “How can we give students more choice and agency?”
- “How can we create a unit that motivates students to go above and beyond the constructs of the basic plan?”
- “How can we connect subject-area expertise throughout the unit to make it more meaningful for students?”
The results of their work are impressive. Building the culminating unit around the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals gives a solid framework to the unit. It also provides students with the opportunity to dig deep into a topic that can motivate them far beyond their eighth grade year. Such motivation transfers to teachers as well, as they expressed excitement about connecting the grade’s service learning focus to four overarching goals: quality education, poverty, sustainable cities and communities, and the environment.
Grade 8 history teacher, Jane Maslanka, noted, “Our team has always had such a flexible, organic ‘yes, and’ approach to collaboration; seeing this project grow as each person has added their own input and experience has been a remarkable experience.” As Ms. Maslanka implies, the strength of the unit is the result of multiple voices and perspectives coming together and seizing the chance to develop an interdisciplinary project.
Thought leader Tony Wagner would be proud. In his book, Most Likely to Succeed, Wagner notes, “With well-designed pedagogy, we can empower kids with critical skills and help them turn passions into decisive life advantages. The role of education is no longer to teach content, but to help our children learn—in a world that rewards the innovative and punishes the formulaic.”
DC Trip: Grade 7
Collaborative and innovative outcomes are also created when faculty participate in our Summer Grants Program. For example, five members of the Grade 7 team came together over the summer to research better ways to scaffold curriculum related to the class trip to Washington, DC, where students experience American government and history. The team’s Summer Grant idea was sparked by their visit to High Tech High’s Project-based Learning Camp, an opportunity supported by Graland’s professional development program.
Emma Simmons, Grade 7 history teacher, shared, “Our team realized that by adding several field trips to downtown Denver, we could create a more integrated, year-long experience for students. Our unit now supports increased student agency, curiosity, creativity and critical thinking skills developed along the way. At High Tech High, we learned about the importance of having a project launch to build excitement, and now we have one.”
Teachers Impacting Students — and Peers
Graland values innovative, collaborative teacher leaders. Tom Kelly, the general manager at IDEO, values those attributes as well. He states, “The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive—and autonomy can be the antidote.”
Faculty can influence far more than student lives. They can motivate one another to greater heights of curriculum development. That’s where the magic first happens, long before students are impacted. With creative incentives, such as the Summer Grants Program and the new compensation system in place, faculty motivation stays high as their efforts are recognized and rewarded.