Teachers are very good at planning. We build curriculums, calendars, collaborations, and assessments with both short- and long-term goals. However, being a Gates coach flips this responsibility on its head. To be sure, there are some very important targets and outcomes we want students to meet, but the path they take is entirely their own.
Coaches want innovators to solve the problems of other people, to empathize and work from the other’s perspective. That is the only real assignment. Students are given a few practice activities to exercise their listening and understanding skills, but the challenge of finding an inspirational issue is their task.
Once the problem is found, and a solution is imagined, students must then convince the coaches of its viability. This happens during the “green light meeting,” and is a bit like an investor pitch. Inventors prepare for the meeting by collecting information on their needed materials, creating a patent-like drawing, and answering several probative questions. These questions include, “How does your idea make a difference?,” “What obstacles do you see?,” and “How have others solved this problem?” This last line of questioning is sometimes the most difficult because we all want to imagine that our ideas are unique. Coaches use a mix of consolation and incentive to redirect an inventor whose idea already exists. Still, despite many yellow and red lights, dozens of inventions are created each year. When an invention is green-lit we get to ring a bell for the inventor, and the whole lab erupts in applause.
A third segment of the coach’s job is as a resource and facilitator to help students realize their vision. We don’t do the actual measuring, cutting, coding, gluing, or bedazzling. Instead, we stand ready to give advice, safety protocols, and what-ifs. We may end up working closely with a handful of projects, but usually we answer a barrage of help requests. Encouragement is probably the most helpful of our contributions, but we also get to play with the 3-D printer and the laser cutter. All invention work is completed at Graland.
The final duty of a coach is to set the table for presentations -- we literally set up more than 40 tables in the gym where innovators show off their hard work. And it is hard. The Gates program is a unique opportunity for students to both struggle and achieve. It is through this autonomy and responsibility that our children are no longer students who simply receive information, but they are masters in determining their own outcomes, realizing their own imaginations, and manifesting a better world for all of us.
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.