Is Modelling the Right Approach When Teaching a New Skill in the Classroom?

In my 17 years of teaching, I’ve often wrestled with the concept of modelling.  While I want my students to understand how to do what is being asked of them, does modelling steal the thinking from them?  If I show my students how to do something through modelling the skill, will they get stuck in their thinking?  Will they be unable to find other ways to solve the problem?  I worry that when I model a new skill or activity, my students will simply regurgitate what I showcased in the work they complete and turn in, and where’s the learning in that?  But, and of course there’s always a but, what if I don’t model or properly explain a new skill or activity?  Will the students be too perplexed or lost to effectively showcase their learning?  If I don’t show them what to do and how to do it, will they be able do it?  Is there a balance in modelling new skills and activities for students in the classroom so that they know what to do but are still able to demonstrate their own, original thoughts and learning?

I’m not sure if I have the exact answer because, as all teachers know, every student is different.  What works for one student may not work for another.  The method that I’ve had luck with recently is the I do, We do, You do approach to modelling a new skill in the classroom.  I start by engaging the students in a discussion regarding the purpose of the new skill they will be learning.  I want them to always understand the why of everything we do in the classroom.  Relevance is a huge part of ownership in the class for our students, according to research on learning and the brain.  I then briefly model the new skill with help from the students, combining the I do and We do steps so that they are actively engaged in the modelling and not passive watchers.  I then provide the students with an opportunity to practice the new skill in the You do step.  During this part of the lesson or activity, I observe the students and provide feedback to each of them on their progress and ability to utilize the new skill.  I then close the lesson by reviewing the big ideas and concepts covered by this new skill learned.  This method seems to be the most effective for me in the classroom.  While I still do need to differentiate my instruction a bit during the You do phase for a few of my students, it does work for the majority of my students.  The You do step is structured in such a way that I’m able to provide extra assistance and help to those students who need it.

Yesterday in my study skills class, I introduced the two-column note taking system to the boys.  I began the lesson with a few discussion questions.  What are two-column notes?  What purpose do they serve?  I wanted to be sure the students understood why they were learning this particular method of taking notes.  I explained to them how this is the most common form of notetaking used in the other grades at our school.  This is a key skill they will need to have in their academic toolbelt in order to be successful students next year and beyond.  They all seemed to understand my explanation.  I then walked the students through the skill itself.  I had them set up their lined sheet of paper with the proper heading as I had done on the whiteboard at the front of the classroom.  I asked a student volunteer to tell me the first step in organizing the paper for two-column notes, as I wanted to be sure that my students were actively engaged in the learning process.  After drawing the line on the board as they drew the line on their paper, I called on various students to determine the importance of information in a passage on the Boreal Forest before paraphrasing it for our notes.  As the students paraphrased the information, I wrote it onto the board and instructed the students to copy it onto their notes.  My co-teacher wondered around the classroom, helping those students who needed more guidance and support.  I then asked other students to tell me if the information paraphrased was effectively paraphrased to be sure that the students understood this skill discussed earlier in the week.  After going through three sentences together as a class, I had the students complete the remainder of the passage on their own.  As the boys worked, my co-teacher and I helped those students who needed extra scaffolding and provided feedback to those students who were completing it effectively on their own.  By the end of the period, it was clear that every student in the class had a pretty firm grasp of how to effectively complete two-column notes using expository research.

Did yesterday’s lesson go so well because there were two teachers in the classroom to help monitor the progress of the students?  Perhaps.  I do think that effective co-teaching makes a huge difference in how our students are able to practice new skills.  If one of us is modelling at the front of the classroom, the other is able to observe the students, and help those struggling students as needed, not slowing down the overall pace of the lesson.  With just one teacher in the classroom, lessons go much slower to allow for help, questions, and differentiation.  This prevents the high functioning students from being effectively challenged.  Co-teaching is a great model for teaching a diverse population of students.  I also feel as though the method of modelling we utilize in the sixth grade classroom helps to support and challenge all of our students.  Those boys who learn quickly are able to see the skill modelled a few times and then try it out on their own, while those students who need more help, are able to receive it during the practice stage of the process.  Having the students help me complete the I do step of the process also allows for more engagement in the classroom.  By cold-calling on the students throughout the modelling process, I can ensure that they actively engaged in the lesson and learning the material.  Every part of this modelling process helps to make sure that I’m not stealing the thinking or creativity from the students while also making sure that they understand what is being asked of them.  So, to answer the question posed in my title, Yes, I do feel as though effective modelling is the right approach to the instruction of a new skill.  The learning process needs to be active and more of a two-way dialogue, not simply direct-instruction from the teacher.  When done well, modelling helps engage, challenge, and support students in the learning process.

Embracing Teachable Moments for Teachers

Teachable moments aren’t solely reserved for students, oh no.  Anyone can experience and learn from a mistake, choice, or action.  You don’t need to be a student in a classroom to learn from something you did.  Think of the greatest minds and innovators of our time: Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jordan to name a few.  They all suffered great setbacks early in their lives that they learned from.  Albert Einstein was kicked out of school because of his poor behavior, Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first on-air job, and Michael Jordan didn’t earn a spot on his high school’s varsity basketball team when he first tried out.  Of course, we all know that they learned from their mistakes or learnable/teachable moments and went onto to change the world.  Any person can learn from their past errors, not just students in a classroom.

Today, my co-teacher and I experienced a learnable moment that caused us to completely change our lesson.  Walking to our classroom this morning, my co-teacher and I discussed the lesson we had planned for our first period study skills class.

“So, are you all set for PEAKS class today,” I asked my co-teacher as we left the dining commons to head to our classroom.

“Yeah, I’m all set.  We’re going to finish that worksheet from last time,” she responded.

“Ahh, no.  I did that on Wednesday during your unscheduled morning.  You’re doing the study plan, remember?” I said, concerned that I had messed up and hadn’t informed her of the proper lesson plan.

“Umm, I don’t remember that, but I can fix it,” she quickly responded back as we walked into the classroom.

I then worked with my co-teacher to help her revise the agenda slide to reflect the accurate lesson plan.  As she was typing in the new topic for today’s class, I remembered that the students were going to be taking a test in her math class next week.  So, I said, “That’s cool that we’re discussing making study plans today.  Maybe they could make one for their math test.”

She then responded, “Yeah, that’s right.”

At that point, I was inspired.  “Wait a minute,” I said, “Let’s change things up a bit.  Let’s not use this boring worksheet I created but instead have the students create a study plan for their math test.  Yes.  I will model how to create a study plan and then they will make their own.  What do you think?”

She loved the idea, and so we changed the agenda slide one more time.

Today’s class was a huge success as each student created his very own study plan to prepare for next week’s math assessment.  The students know what they need to do to get ready.  Not only did we teach them a valuable strategy for planning ahead and making good use of their time to properly study for an exam, we also had them apply the skill to practice getting ready for an exam they have in class next week.  Talk about interdisciplinary work.  And to think that this brilliant plan and idea would not have been fostered had my co-teacher had the agenda slide properly completed for class.  Because of some miscommunication between the two of us, we were able to revise today’s lesson and craft a more meaningful and relevant activity based on the nucleus of the original idea.  Making a mistake lead to a Eureka moment for us both.  We better helped the students learn how to enhance their learning and study habits by changing what we had first planned.  The moral of this epic story is that learnable or teachable moments happen for everyone; you just need to be prepared to take in the lesson or learning.

The Benefits of Working with a Co-Teacher

When I first started teaching, I used to think I could and had to do it all.  I would arrive to school early and stay late just so that I could accomplish everything.  I would never think to ask for help and certainly never accepted it when offered as I thought it was a sign of weakness.  I was an island unto myself and I liked it that way.  Little did I know how harmful it was to me and my teaching.  By not talking to other colleagues and bouncing ideas around with them or asking for help, my teaching became very stagnant very quickly.  I figured that everything I did was great as I had no one to say otherwise, and so I kept doing the same thing year after year.  Then, I worked with a co-teacher and everything changed.  I realized that I was far from perfect and needed to change my approach in the classroom.  So, I did.  I grew and became a better teacher because I had someone who could provide me with feedback and offer help and support at every turn.  My first co-teacher became one of my best friends as we worked so closely together.  I offered her suggestions on her teaching and life and she did the same for me.  We both grew and became effective educators because of this collaboration.  Working with someone else who can offer me advice, feedback, support, and help is one of the greatest things that has happened to me in my professional life.

Today’s STEM class provided me with yet another prime example of how vital and important a co-teacher can truly be.  My students are in the midst of a project that will allow them to understand where they stand mathematically,  Are they ready for seventh grade math?  If not, what gaps still exist in their learning that need to be filled?  Are they ready for pre-algebra or algebra I?  This project is all about helping them figure out what they need to do over the summer to prepare for the math course that they would like to be in next year.  In class today, the students were working on filling in their learning gaps by watching videos, working with a peer, or asking the teachers questions.  It also meant that I needed to be available to provide them with practice problems and worksheets.  As I was busy setting the students up with practice activities, my co-teacher fielded questions the boys had and monitored their work habits to be sure they were focused and working to prepare for Thursday’s final placement exam.  We worked together like a well-oiled machine.  It was phenomenal.  The boys were all on track learning new skills and reviewing old ones.  While there was a lot going on in the classroom, it was very controlled and focused.

Today’s class went so smoothly because my co-teacher was in the room providing support and help to the students while I was busy creating their practice assignments.  If she wasn’t there to help, chaos would have ensued very quickly.  The students would have been yelling and screaming for help and perhaps even swinging from the lights.  Our STEM class works so smoothly on days like today because of our co-teaching model.  We support one another and the students very well.  It’s great.  I can’t imagine trying to do what I did today without her support.  It would have been nightmarish.  Having extra help in the classroom, a person to provide you with feedback, and a creative sounding board are just some of the amazing benefits of working with a co-teacher.  While I realize that it’s just not feasible for every classroom or teacher to have a co-teacher with whom to work, when complex projects are being worked on, it is hugely helpful for both the teachers and the students to have a co-teacher in the classroom.

Is Collaboration an Effective Strategy for Teaching Math?

Sometimes I wish life came with an instruction manual.  Sure, it could be digital, but it would need to be prescriptive and descriptive, with diagrams.  In fact, it would probably be best in digital form as it would need to be millions of pages long.  I wonder what that might read like…

  1. Breathe.
  2. Cry.
  3. Drink mother’s milk.
  4. Poop.
  5. Pee.
  6. Sleep.
  7. Cry when you want to wake up.

There would truly be an infinite number of steps.  But wouldn’t it be nice to know how to deal with all that life throws your way?  I would really like validation regarding some of the things I’ve done in the classroom or at home as a husband and father.  Am I really doing the right thing?  Should I have done something differently?  Knowing, for certain, what I am supposed to do ahead of time in various situations would definitely help me feel more prepared.  This way I would also know if what I’m doing is the best option.  While I do like the freedom to choose and the excitement that comes from the unknown at times, I often question myself later on.  Did I handle that situation appropriately?  Could I have better addressed that issue?  Knowing what to do and being prepared at all times removes questioning from the equation altogether.  Imagine if you never needed to wonder how to deal with that student or address that issue with your child.  Wouldn’t that be great?

Since life doesn’t, sadly enough, come with instructions, I find myself often wondering if what I’m doing in the classroom is effective.  Is one teaching strategy better than another?  Today in my STEM class, the students worked on their assigned math course.  My co-teacher conducted a mini-lesson for the students in the supportive group while I lead a mini-lesson for the students in the accelerated group.  After the mini-lesson, which lasted about 15 minutes, the students got right to work on their assigned homework.  The students in each of the two groups, huddled together to complete the homework.  I was a bit worried that they would simply copy off of each other, and so I monitored these groups closely.  As we have fostered a strong sense of collaboration and compassion in the sixth grade classroom, the students are great at supporting one another in appropriate ways.  The groups of students seemed to be effectively working together to accomplish the task.  They talked through each problem, mapped it out on the whiteboard tables, and answered each other’s questions.  When one student was confused, another student helped by explaining the process or problem to the student in a meaningful manner.  Each student in both groups seemed to really understand the skill covered in today’s mini-lesson.  It was quite amazing to see this form of effective collaboration in action.  Because the content covered for the accelerated group was a bit challenging as it dealt with word problems, I was worried that two of the students in that group would really struggle to complete the homework as they tend to take much time to process new concepts.  Instead, these students helped their group persevere through the challenging homework problems.  One student who I thought was about to get frustrated and walk away from his group, was in fact, having an a-ha moment and able to help his group solve the particular problem they were working on.  I was so impressed with my students and how they worked together in STEM class today.

I find that collaboration is a challenging skill to teach young students.  For me as a student, collaboration meant that the students next to you would copy from your paper and there was certainly no talking to each other.  Usually one person did all of the the work.  In our current global society, collaboration has taken on a new meaning.  It’s not about doing the work, it’s about talking, discussing, problem solving, and the group think mentality.  This can be difficult for students to understand, especially those from different cultures and academic backgrounds.  For some of our international students, copying is the appropriate way to accomplish certain tasks.  Helping students to learn a new way of collaborating is definitely tough, but very important.  Students need to understand how to support one another and help each other understand concepts and how to solve problems without one person doing all of the work.  As a teacher, I often wrestle with teaching collaboration and group work.  Should I allow the students to work together?  Are they really working together or is one person doing all of the work?  Is effective collaboration really happening?  As teachers, we need to observe and monitor our students.  Conferencing with them one-on-one to assess their understanding of concepts and skills also helps.  If we are teaching them the strategies needed to successfully understand how to work together and collaborate, and we monitor their progress throughout the year, then we will know whether or not they are truly and effectively collaborating and if it work for them.

Why I Love Teaching Sixth Grade

On this day of love, I find myself in a loving and reflective mood.  I am so grateful that I have been allowed to create such a strong sixth grade program over my years here at Cardigan.  Because the administrators at my school have faith in my abilities as an educator, I have been able to take risks, try new things, fail, try other new things, and develop a sixth grade program that best suits the needs of each of my students.  So, to celebrate this great freedom and amazing program I’ve been able to create over the years, I’ve devoted today’s blog entry to discussing the sixth grade program.


Going through the adolescent stage of development is like being on a roller coaster without a seat belt.  When you flip upside down, you fall out of your seat unless you are holding on with everything you’ve got.  Each benchmark within adolescence brings new turns, curves, and loops.  Working with adolescent boys is like trying to dodge raindrops.  You can’t avoid the inevitable.  Craziness and chaos will ensue.  But heck, that’s why middle school teachers work with this age group.  We’re a little crazy too because we remember what it was like to be this age.

At Cardigan, we make it our mission to mold young boys into compassionate and mindful young men.  It’s a wild and sometimes frustrating journey, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Boys who attend sixth grade at Cardigan begin this adventure earlier than most as it is the youngest and smallest grade at our school.  Because of this, we have created a very unique  program that will help our boys foster a family spirit and connection that they carry with them throughout their time at Cardigan; to help provide them with some safety features on the bumpy roller coaster of adolescence.


Brain-based research on how learning really happens reveals that students learn best when they are engaged, motivated, feel safe, are challenged and supported.  The sixth grade program has greatly evolved over the years due to this research and, as sixth grade teachers, we are always trying to find new and innovative ways to inspire and effectively educate and prepare our boys for meaningful lives in a global society.

Our Philosophy: We’re a family, and families take care of each other

The first ten weeks of the academic year are focused on building a strong family atmosphere amongst the students.  One of our biggest goals in the sixth grade is to foster a sense of family within the boys.  We want the students to understand and be able to effectively coexist with one another in a way that celebrates their differences.  First, as teachers, we model the behavior we expect to see from the students.  Second, we spend time each week talking about what makes an effective community.  We have the students share personal information about themselves including interests, hobbies, sports, and social identifiers.  We help the boys examine all parts of their personality that remain hidden to most of the world.  In exploring this, the students begin to think deeply and critically about themselves and how they fit into the world.  They also have a chance to share this information with their peers.  While making them vulnerable, it helps the boys make deep connections with each other.  We provide the students with specific strategies on how to communicate with their peers effectively, how to solve problems amongst themselves, and how to work together as a team to accomplish tasks.  We utilize numerous team building activities as catalysts for these mini-lessons: The boys build spaghetti towers in small groups, create a scavenger hunt with a partner, and solve various tasks that provide opportunities to practice and learn how to be effective teammates.  We want the boys to understand what it takes to be Cardigan community member.  

During the first month of school, we take the boys on an overnight trip to our school’s CORE cabin to help build a sense of family and community within the boys.  While the location of the cabin is on our campus, it feels very like it could be miles away.  We build a fire together and then roast marshmallows.  We tell stories, play games, and interact as a family.  If problems arise, we take the time to help the students learn how to work together to solve them.  It’s an amazing experience that helps lay the groundwork for future whole-class experiences we will provide the boys with throughout our year together.

Towards the end of the first term, we put our teamwork and family to the test with a three-day trip to an outdoor center in southern New Hampshire.  The focus of the trip is teamwork.  The students work together to solve problems, accomplish tasks, and have fun learning about how to survive in the wilderness.  It’s always one of the big highlights for the sixth grade boys.  They will never forget how they overcame their fears and learned to help and support their classmates in new and fun ways.


While our class size fluctuates from one year to the next, in recent years we’ve had a smaller sixth grade class.  A tight-knit team of two lead teachers is the most effective method for our program.  We plan, grade, and teach together.  Having another person to bounce ideas off of allows for more ideas to come to fruition.  As units are developed, we work together to generate engaging lessons.  With two people working together to complete this process, ideas can be built upon and added to.  Good ideas become great ideas.  Grading together allows for conversations about objectives and work.  How can we create objective objectives that don’t allow room for interpretation?  Having two teachers in the room for classes allows the students to be fully supported, and those students who need one-on-one time have the chance to receive it with two teachers in the classroom.  We can conference with students more effectively during humanities class and the boys are able to safely conduct investigations in STEM class.  We constantly model effective teamwork skills for the boys so that they see what we expect from them.  Co-teaching has fostered a sense of compassion in the classroom.  In order to create a family atmosphere amongst the students, we need to be able to effectively care for them, and  with two trained educators in the room, we can more effectively challenge, support, and ensure the safety of each and every sixth grade student in our class.

Classroom Organization

In order to help foster a sense of engagement in the classroom and to allow our students to feel as though they can focus on the lesson or activity at hand, our classroom is organized in a very specific manner.  

We have a reading nook area for small group work, independent reading, and movie viewing when appropriate.  The boys can sit or lie on the carpet squares in any way that allows them to feel engaged and focused.  We also have a small group work table for those students who need to be sitting to work and stay focused.  The desk table area is towards the front of the classroom near our interactive board and projector.  We use whiteboard tables to allow the students the opportunity to take notes, brainstorm, solve math problems, or just doodle upon them while working or listening.

We instituted this change just this year and it has made a huge difference.  We also use rocking style chairs at the desk work area to allow those students who need to move and stay focused.  These chairs help create a sense of calm and focus in the classroom during full group instruction lessons.  While every student is rocking, they are able to pay attention and listen intently.

These classroom organizational choices are based on the neuroscience of learning.  Students are able to genuinely learn the concepts and skills covered when they feel safe, engaged, and motivated.  The classroom furniture we use and the spaces we’ve created help our students to learn in a meaningful way.


Our goal is for our boys to feel connected to and engaged with the curriculum we employ in the sixth grade.  We want the students to enjoy coming to classes because they are excited and interested in what is happening.  We are constantly revising and updating what we do and how we do it, and because of this, our curriculum is a living and breathing entity.


In our humanities class, the students develop their critical thinking skills to become community-minded young men with an awareness of the world around them.  We begin the year with a unit on community so that they learn to accept and appreciate differences in others.  Through completing various activities during the first two weeks of the academic year, the students begin to understand how they fit into our sixth grade family as well as the greater Cardigan community.  The boys also learn much about their peers through this first unit.  Everything else we work on throughout the year in humanities class builds upon this foundation we create at the start of the year.  

The humanities class occupies a double block period that covers both the history and English curriculum for the sixth grade.  This integrated approach allows students to see how the big ideas in History and English go hand in hand.  We cover various communities and cultures from around the world so that we can provide the students with a macro view of the world in a micro manner.  Our goal is to help the students understand perspective and how it can change based on many different factors.  We utilize the workshop model of literacy instruction so that a love of reading and writing is fostered within the boys throughout the year.

For Reader’s Workshop, the students choose just-right (engaging, grade-level and reading-level appropriate) books so that they are interested in what they are reading.  While at the start of the year, several students often seem uninterested in reading, they grow to become voracious and excited readers because the boys can choose books, novels, texts, and e-books that interest and engage them.

For Writer’s Workshop, the students choose the topics about which they write within the confines of the genre requirements.  The vignette form of writing is the first genre covered in the sixth grade.  Rather than mandate that it be a personal narrative vignette, we allow the students to choose the topic.  This choice and freedom empowers the students.  “I can write a short story about anything?” we often hear our students exclaim.  For boys, writing is generally not something they enjoy doing.  They would much rather go outside and play or explore instead of writing.  We want our students to see writing as something that can be fun and hands-on.  If we allow our students to write about topics that engage them, a sense of excitement develops within them.

STEM Class

An effective way to bring science to life is to create a Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) class.  Students have difficulty seeing how the different math and science puzzle pieces fit together.  They also struggle with the math concepts when they aren’t applied in realistic ways that make sense to them. Helping the students build neurological connections between prior knowledge and what they learn in our classroom is one of the many ways we make our program meaningful for our students.

Our STEM class teaches students to persevere.  They learn how to overcome adversity, think differently, see problems from numerous perspectives, communicate effectively, and be curious. We teach students what to do when faced with a new problem. As Angela Lee Duckworth stated in her well-received TED Talk, we need to teach our students how to be gritty. Our sixth graders are provided with opportunities to explore, try new things, fail, try again, talk with their peers, sketch out new ideas, and then do it all over again.

Our STEM curriculum holds the bar high for our students. Rigor doesn’t mean that we require more work to be done for the sake of doing it, it means that the standards and objectives we are teaching are challenging, specific, and relevant. Our STEM units challenge students to think creatively and solve problems in innovative ways. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core Math Standards (CCSS) are the foundation of our STEM curriculum. These standards promote rigor and problem solving in fun and engaging ways.


At Cardigan, while we weave study skills into every course that we teach, we have one class devoted to supplementing and supporting every other core subject: Personalized Education for the Acquisition of Knowledge and Skills (PEAKS).  The true purpose of the course is to help the students understand how they best learn, metacognition.  Through self-inventories and mini-lessons on learning styles and the multiple intelligences at the start of the year, the boys begin to become self-aware of their own learning styles and preferences.  Much reflection is also completed throughout the year so that the boys have a chance to observe their strengths and weakness and set goals to work toward.  They also document this learning process in an e-portfolio that they continuously update throughout the year.  Beginning the year in this way, allows the students to focus on the process of learning and how being self-aware will help them grow and develop.  During the winter term, students learn about brain plasticity and how their working memory functions as a way to build upon their self-awareness and genuinely own their learning.  This course supports and challenges each and every student where and when they need it.


Student engagement isn’t confined within the walls of the classroom.  What the students do or don’t do outside of the classroom can be equally important.  If students aren’t seeing the relevance or value in their homework assignments, then we’ve lost them.  In the sixth grade, we approach homework in the same manner we approach everything.  It’s all about choice and engagement.  We want the students to further practice the skills learned in the classroom in a captivating way that allows them to continue learning and growing as a student.  Homework is not graded and assessed purely for effort.  If we want our students to practice, fail, try again, and continue to practice, then we must not grade this practice work.  Plus, since the students are completing the work outside of the classroom, it is difficult to know who is doing the work and how it is being done.  Are the boys getting assistance from peers, teachers, or parents to complete the work?  While we promote this self-help approach, grading the individual students on work when we don’t know exactly how the work was completed.  Most of the homework assigned is a continuation of what was worked on in class.  

For example, in humanities class, we do much writing and reading.  So, a typical homework assignment is to read from their Reader’s Workshop book for 30 minutes.  As they choose their Reader’s Workshop books based on ability and interest level, the engagement is already there.  Plus, this practice allows them to increase their reading stamina so that they are prepared for the reading demands of seventh grade.  Homework assignments shouldn’t be separate, stand-alone tasks that overly challenge the students.  Developmentally, by the time the sixth graders get to evening study hall at 7:30 p.m. they are exhausted and unable to focus for a long period of time in order to effectively process information and solve problems.  You might say that our homework assignments complement the classroom curriculum the way a beautiful brooch can bring out the colors of a flowing dress.

Project-Based Learning

To prepare students for lives in the global society in which they will live and work, we teach our students how to effectively work in groups to solve open-ended problems with no right or wrong answer. Students need to know how to delegate tasks, lead groups of their peers, follow instructions, ask questions, and solve problems. Project Based Learning ties all of the aforementioned skills together with ribbons of the required curriculum. While the students are engaged with the content and hands-on aspects of the project, they are also learning crucial life skills that will help them persevere and learn to overcome adversity.

Standards-Based Assessment

To help our students adopt learning skills necessary to grow and develop as critical thinkers and problem solvers, we use a standards-based system of grading. The focus is on the standard or objective being assessed. If our curriculum is set up according to the standards, why should we grade the students on anything other than what the curriculum asks? If we are teaching paragraph structure and the standard is, students will be able to craft an original, properly formatted, and complete paragraph, then we should only be grading student work on that one standard using a scale that aligns with the school’s grading criteria? Points must not be taken away for spelling, grammar, or other reasons unless the paragraph is being assessed regarding those standards as well. Rick Wormeli and other leading educational reform leaders have been talking about standards-based grading for years. It is the only way to accurately grade students on what is essential.

In this vein, we also want the students to understand that learning is a process.  Education is like a living organism.  Our students will grow, change, regress, and evolve throughout the year.  As we expect and want our students to meet or exceed all of the objectives covered so that we know they will be fully prepared for seventh grade, we allow students to redo work that doesn’t meet the graded objectives.  The boys are allowed to redo all and any work for a unit until the unit has finished.  They can seek help from the teachers and utilize any feedback we provide to them in order to showcase their ability to meet or exceed the objectives.  This grading system is dynamic and can be changed to allow for the students to employ a growth mindset and truly own their learning.


At Cardigan, we prepare students for an unknown future in a world that will inevitably be very different from its current state.  Because of this, in the sixth grade, we have devised over many years of data collection, research, and practice, to develop a strong and creative academic and social program that engages students in an applicable curriculum that teaches problem solving, critical thinking, coexistence, and how to manifest and utilize a growth mindset.  Students who attend Cardigan Mountain School starting in the sixth grade and then go onto graduate at the close of their ninth grade year receive a meaningful and rich experience.  They grow up together, and, in turn, a family atmosphere and spirit is created within that group of four-year boys.  While it can be challenging at times to be a sixth grade student at Cardigan, our inclusive program helps the boys feel safe and connected within a special family known as the sixth grade.

Containing my Excitement in the Classroom

As a teenager, I tried very hard not to show any emotion when I was around my parents.  I didn’t want them to think I was having fun.  I wanted to be all broody and emotionless like all teenagers, except of course when I was mad.  It was totally acceptable to show anger and frustration to our parents.  In fact, you weren’t a real teenager unless you argued and yelled at your parents at least once a day.  But showing happiness or excitement was a big no-no.  When my parents took my sister and I to Disney World when I was 16, the last thing I wanted to do was be in Disney World with my family.  In every photo from that trip, I look sour and sullen.  Did I have fun?  Heck yeah, I mean it’s Disney World, who wouldn’t have fun.  But I made sure not to ever show that I was having fun.  My parents would ask me, “How was the ride?”  My response was always the same, “It was okay.”  No emotion.

Now, as a father, husband, and teacher, emotion and excitement are the names of the game.  Embracing happiness and fun is what life’s all about now.  I cry whenever I watch a Hallmark Channel movie, I laugh at everything even if it’s not funny, and I get excited for even the little things like having a weekend off or having to work the weekend.  Showing emotion is how I can be a role model for my son and students.  I’m a happy guy and I like to show it.  I wear a teaching cape and jump around the classroom like my toes are on fire, which when you have athlete’s foot like I did once, it’s just what you do to get by.

Sometimes, however, it’s important that I temper my excitement.  For example, today, in Humanities class, my co-teacher was leading the class discussion on a current event she had chosen to discuss with the boys.  I was merely the silent observer and notetaker.  I wasn’t really supposed to contribute to the discussion, emphasis on the “wasn’t really supposed to.”  But hey, when she picks an article about students suing the federal government for having helped cause and fail to prevent climate change from happening at such a rapid pace, what did she really expect from me?  That I would be able to contain my excitement about such an important issue?  Well, if I acted more like my age and less like my shoe size, I would have easily been able to keep silent and let her lead the discussion with the boys.  Unfortunately, I find it challenging to keep my ideas and knowledge to myself.  I want to spread knowledge like wildfire so that everyone can be equipped with the tools to change the world for the better.  I want my students to know how important the issue of climate change is to our world.  I want them to see that this is an issue in dire need of being addressed in a major way.  So, after one of the students asked a clarifying question about greenhouse gasses that my co-teacher quickly and accurately addressed, I could no longer keep my knowledge bottled up inside.  I felt as if I needed to explain the ideas of global warming and climate change to the students.  While the discussion was moving along just fine without my two cents being thrown in, I felt as though I needed to impart some knowledge onto the boys.  So, I politely asked my co-teacher if I could explain something to the students.  Being a kind and wonderful person, she obliged and I took over, briefly.  I explained how the greenhouse effect works and leads to global warming that causes all sorts of other problems and issues for our world.  This lead to several questions from the students.  While I knew that I had said too much already, I let my co-teacher take over and field the questions.  However, since she doesn’t have a strong background in this area, she looked to me to address the questions the boys asked.  So, I answered them and this lead to more hands being shot up into the air.  The students were curious, inquisitive, and had a lot to say about this topic.  I fielded several other questions and thoughts on the topic of climate change before my co-teacher then redirected the discussion back to the current event at hand.  I felt bad that I had temporarily derailed the conversation, but I do feel as though imparting accurate knowledge onto the students about such a big global crisis is important and necessary.  The students grew very excited when I started sharing knowledge with them.  Although they were engaged prior to my interruption, they seemed much more invested after I jumped into the discussion.  Should I have added my thoughts and knowledge to today’s discussion?  Probably not, but it felt good to get the boys excited about such a hot topic like climate change.  I wanted the students to understand how relevant this topic is to their future lives.  So yes, I should have kept my mouth shut and let my co-teacher drive the car today in Humanities class, but I couldn’t contain my excitement about such an interesting topic.

The bigger thought still lingering in my mind though is, what do I do next time a situation like this arises?  How do I keep quiet and contain my excitement?  I’m sure my co-teacher was going to take the discussion down an engaging path without my insight and I should have let her do so.  Perhaps next time, I will leave the room while she runs the show so that I’m not tempted to jump into the conversation and prevent her from driving the show forward.  Or maybe I’ll just put duct tape over my mouth to keep quiet.  In all seriousness though, it’s hard to keep knowledge to myself sometimes and I know that about myself as a person and teacher.  I need to work on this.  I don’t always need to be the guide for the class.  I need to let my co-teacher work her magic as well.  I will try harder to remember this the next time she is in charge.  It’s our class, not my class.

Being a Supportive Co-Teacher

“Kindness and compassion will get you far in life,” said some person once, somewhere, about something.  Sure, being kind and compassionate will open doors for you, but not every door and it certainly won’t allow you to meet each and every goal you set for yourself.  Sometimes, being too kind or compassionate can be a fault that prevents one from being able to move ahead.  After two amazing years of wedded bliss, my wife and I decided to move to the school I currently work at so that we could save money and begin to plan for our future.  It made sense; however, I was very happy at the school I worked at then.  I didn’t really want to leave.  I loved teaching second grade.  I knew that the right decision was to leave, but it didn’t feel good at the time.  I wanted to stay, but I never told my wife how I felt.  I bottled my emotions up and buried them in the subcockle of my heart and soul.  She was happy and so I figured that I could fake being happy.  I didn’t want to upset her.  On the last day of school at my old school, I packed up my belongings and headed west to my new home and school where my wife was waiting for me.   I was very sad and upset.  I didn’t want to leave my old school.  By the time I arrived at my new school, I was filled with anger and remorse.  That’s when I unloaded on my wife and told her how unhappy I truly was.  I didn’t want to be where we were.  She had no idea because I was too kind and had lied to her.  Had I been more truthful, we might still be living in Maine.  Now, I’m very happy at my current school and am so blessed that we did move here.  We might not have been able to adopt our amazing son if we had stayed in Maine.  All the amazing things that have happened to us over the past 13 years would not have come to fruition had we stayed, but of course, at the time, I didn’t see that.  I needed to be honest with my wife, and I wasn’t, right away.  This caused friction between us for awhile.  I was afraid of being honest because I was worried that it would make her unhappy.  I didn’t want to be unkind, but honesty is always the best policy regardless of the outcome.

The same rule applies in all facets of life.  My co-teacher asked me to review some recent unit plans she had created the other day.  She wanted feedback on the objectives she had crafted prior to using them to grade student work.  So, I took a look at her work last evening.  As this is her first year teaching, let alone working at a crazy place like our school where free time is a hot commodity we all crave, I was impressed with her unit plans.  They were very clear and specific.  Her explanation of how the Habits of Learning will be incorporated into the unit was excellent.  Her objectives were a bit unclear and not specific.  I worried that they would be difficult to use when objectively assessing student work.  They seemed too broad without any sort of student outcome.  She’s admitted to me in the past that she is challenged by writing objectives.  She is working on this skill, but finds it difficult.  Since I knew this going in, I wasn’t surprised that her objectives were a bit awkward.  I made some comments on her Google Drive documents and then sent her an email explaining that I would help her revise her objectives during our free period this morning.  In my comments and email, I tried to be kind and supportive as I didn’t want her to think she was horrible at crafting unit plans.  I wanted her to know that I would be there to support her along the way.  After sending the email and crafting the comments, I was a bit concerned that I was too honest.  Would she take the comments the wrong way?  I didn’t want her to think I hated her teaching or anything like that.  Did I convey my point in the email and comments or was she angry and confused?

So, this morning, when we met to discuss her objectives, I started off by letting her know that I think she’s doing a great job and that I want to help her learn how to create more effective objectives.  She seemed to understand this, but like me, she is very hard on herself.  I made sure to point out the positive things I noticed in her unit plans before helping her see how to revise her objectives to make them more effective.  This approach seemed to work.  She started to see how to create clear and assessable objectives.  Her confidence seemed to grow as well.  Although my honesty was difficult for her to hear at first because she is always striving for excellence in the classroom, by supporting her and working with her to see how to craft specific objectives, she was able to move on and grow.  Positive things came from this interaction.  I compassionately explained the situation to her and helped her to understand how to create more effective academic objectives.  While my intention was to help her grow and develop as an educator, I did wonder if I did so in a manner that would be interpreted as kind by her.  Could I have approached this situation differently?  Should I have waited to provide her feedback in person instead of using digital comments and an email?  Would this have prevented her from feeling nervous and anxious prior to our meeting this morning?

Sometimes, in order to help others, kindness and compassion aren’t the only character traits needed.  Candid honesty is important in all types of relationships, but especially when working with a co-teacher.  If we are to challenge each other to grow and develop as educators, I need to be honest with my co-teacher and she needs to feel as though she can be honest with me.  This isn’t easy and takes practice, but is necessary for a positive and collaborative relationship to be fostered.  I can’t sugarcoat feedback I provide her with just so that she doesn’t construe my words as unkind or negative.  I need to be open and honest in a kind and compassionate way with my co-teacher so that my feelings and thoughts don’t get buried deep inside.  Open and honest communication is the key to any great relationship, as my wife continues to teach me each and every day.

For the Love of Co-Teaching

Have you ever met one of those people who just seem to rub you the wrong way or flat out irritate you for some strange reason unbeknownst to you?  You know the type of person I’m talking about.  They may be nice and helpful, but spending time with them is challenging and awkward.  Or even worst, what about those people who are just plain not nice.  Have you ever had to work with someone like that?  For as much as we might try to “fake it ’til we make it,” some people can be very difficult to work with and make our lives very uncomfortable.  What do you do in situations like that?  How do you cope?  What if you have to work very closely with them every day, all day?  Then what?  Do you quit?  Give up?

Although some of us might choose to change jobs, I’m all about compromise and compassion.  I’ve dealt with some very challenging personalities in my many 15 years of teaching, and not once did I give up.  Sure, there were times when I wanted to find a new job, but I didn’t.  I stuck it out.  I found ways to appropriately and effectively interact with those difficult people, and because of that, those people eventually changed departments or roles or left the school on their own accord.  Then, as a result of my patience, new people entered my life and filled those vacant positions.  Have you ever worked with someone who makes you excited to get up and go to work in the morning?  You know, the kind of person who helps you grow and develop as a teacher and/or individual?  Working with people like that make life and time in and out of the classroom way more amazing.  While we all hope and wish all of our co-workers were like the latter type I mentioned, we have to be able to work with all types of people if we want to grow and develop as educators and best support and challenge our students.

Co-teaching, more than any other role in a school, requires close and constant contact between both parties.  The teachers need to work very closely together in and out of the classroom if the teaching model is to work effectively.  Teachers who or schools that utilize the co-teaching model in the classroom need to be flexible, open-minded, patient, and kind.  Well, actually, wouldn’t it be nice if all teachers and people were like that?  But, more than anything, if you are to use the co-teaching model in your classroom, you need to be adept at dealing with all types of people because you may not always have the luxury of choosing your co-teacher.  In the past several years, I’ve been very fortunate to have wonderful co-teachers with whom to work.  However, I had a not so good experience several years ago too.  Like the theme song from that television show taught us though, “You take the good.  You take the bad.  You take them both, and there you have the facts of life.”

One of the keys to a successful co-teaching experience is the relationship between the two educators.  While you don’t have to become best buddies, you do need to think of your co-teacher as a friend and ally.  Because you spend so much time with this person, being able to laugh, have fun, and share life experiences together will make the relationship that much stronger.  Even if the choice of your co-teacher is out of your hands, finding a way to connect with that person is crucial to the success of the partnership.  In order to create a strong-knit community in the classroom, you need to have a positive bond with your co-teacher.  Effective co-teaching starts with the strong connection and positive relationship between the two educators.  Once that’s in place, the rest will fit together like an easy 10-piece puzzle for young children.

The next piece of the co-teaching pie comes directly as a result of having a strong relationship and great communication.  You will need to talk to your co-teacher about pedagogy and co-teaching models.  There are so many different ways to co-teach.

  • One person teaches while the other observes the classroom and helps guide the students to understanding.
  • One person teaches a lesson or class while the other takes a break, goes to the restroom, or plans future lessons.
  • Both teachers share the stage like tag team wrestling.  You might start the class and then your co-teacher might get the main lesson going.
  • Etc.

My favorites are definitely the first and third options.  Striking a good balance between the models is key and will take time, but, you must begin your co-teaching relationship by discussing how you want the partnership to work in the classroom.  Flexibility is also important here as the model or models used will ebb and flow throughout the year.  If you reflect upon each lesson or class and keep talking about what works best and what doesn’t, you will find the co-teaching model that best supports and challenges your students.  After several years of co-teaching with the same partner, we could build upon each other’s ideas, finish each other’s sentences, and ask each other the right questions while teaching or leading a lesson.  We flowed together like a river, but that took about four years to manifest.  Once you become comfortable and work out the kinks in co-teaching, you’ll figure out what works best for you.

Once the relationship between you and your co-teacher starts to take root and bud and you have talked about the co-teaching model that feels right for you both, the rest will just happen because you will utilize best teaching practices.  Plan units together, grade together, organize field experiences and trips together, and talk about the students together regularly.  Try to align your professional development as well.  If you get in the habit of doing everything together, the relationship you’ll have with your co-teacher will grow stronger and stronger like an oak tree.  Yes, your tree will get diseases and insects will try to eat their way through your relationship tree, but if you communicate openly and share compassionately, you’ll work through problems and overcome any challenges with which you are faced.  Compromise and empathize.  Try to see things through the eyes of your co-teacher when issues arise.  Why is he or she upset?  What might I be doing to instigate the situation?  What is going on?  Think things through before reacting.  Just like any relationship, bumps in the road will inevitably happen.  If you have a strong relationship with your co-teacher, everything will work out just as it is supposed to.

My co-teacher and I plan every Humanities lesson and unit together.  We bounce ideas off of one another and challenge each other.  Why should we teach this content this way?  How will it help the students meet the objective?  What’s our focus?  Why are we doing this?  It’s great.  I’ve grown so much as a teacher because of the co-teaching experiences I’ve had.  Working alone, I always assumed that my ideas, lessons, and grading methods were fine.  I never knew anything else.  Sure, I talked to other colleagues and learned new tricks along the way, but the foundation of my teaching really never developed much prior to co-teaching.  Having someone to bounce ideas around with has made all of the difference.  We grade together and debate objectives as we assess student work.  We reflect together and choose new topics together.  Effective co-teaching is all about the togetherness.  While two of the co-teachers I’ve had the great pleasure of working with over the past several years were not my good friends or best buds at the start of our relationship, after a year or two of co-teaching, we became great friends.

One of the most effective ways to help support and challenge students to think critically and grow academically and socially is to utilize the co-teaching model of instruction in the classroom.  Two skilled and gifted teachers working together for a common goal benefits the students exponentially in numerous ways.  Co-teaching allows for the literacy workshop model of reading and writing instruction to be effectively implemented.  It is challenging to conference with every student while also being sure every other student is on task and focused.  Two teachers provide students with opportunities and options.  Co-teaching allows for more Project Based Learning to occur.  Monitoring and overseeing projects in STEM class as one person can create safety hazards.  Two teachers helping guide students allows for more freedom and engagement.  If you or your school is thinking about utilizing the co-teaching model, get excited because it is a life-changing experience when done well.  Not only will you grow and develop as an educator when you co-teach, but you will gain a new friend and better support and help your students succeed in and out of the classroom.

What Makes Me Happy?

The following items make me very happy:

  • Spending time with my wife and/or son
  • Talking to my wife and/or son
  • Reading a great book like The BFG by Roald Dahl
  • Listening to great music such as City and Colour or Coheed and Cambria
  • Seeing music performed live in a small club
  • Watching a great movie such as American Beauty or Joe Dirt
  • Drinking Mt. Dew soda, warm, from the can
  • The smell of fresh cut grass on a sunny day
  • Camping
  • Hanging out with my friends
  • Teaching
  • Making others smile

That’s about it.  I’m a simple man with simple pleasures.  It doesn’t take much to make me happy.  I don’t need some fancy vacation or expensive car to make me happy.  Happiness is everywhere, in everything.  Sometimes it can be challenging to see at first glance, but when you look hard enough, the happiness will just pop right out at you like those wavy 3D Magic Eye pictures that were popular back in the 1990s.  And sometimes, happiness is right in front of you and you don’t even see it until later.  Thank goodness for memories and nostalgia.

Today in STEM class, my students worked on Phase 2 of the project pictured below:

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They were determining why they had gotten certain problems on their Math Placement Exam incorrect and learning about the skills involved.  It was quite the work period.  Every student seemed to be doing something different.  Some students worked faster than others and finished Phase 2 prior to the end of class.  Those students met with me or my co-teacher to receive feedback and have their work checked.  One student had no corrections to make and was working on Phase 3 of the project, which entails creating a tutorial video about one of the skills they were assessed on in the test.  Other students worked with my co-teacher or I to have mini-lessons and receive extra help on problems they were struggling to understand.  It was fun to do impromptu lessons with some of the students.  It allowed me to model good study habits as well.  When I pretended to not know how to convert a decimal into a fraction, I Googled the skill and found an answer that helped me explain it to the student.  They were able to see what to do when they faced challenges or problems.  I was also able to assist some students in realizing that the questions on the test were just worded strangely and that they do in fact know how to utilize the skill on which they were being assessed.  This one-on-one time is so beneficial for me and the students.  So much growth and progress happened in the classroom today because the students had a chance to work, with the help of their teachers.  While this class period did make me happy, there was a tiny, almost insignificant moment that happened during the class today that filled me with extreme jubilation and pride.

As I worked with one of the students on converting decimals to fractions, I overheard one of the other students say, “Teaching is so much fun.”  I hesitated for a brief moment to observe the situation.  This one student was helping a peer understand a challenging concept.  When he realized that he had succeeded in helping the student genuinely understand how to solve the problem he had encountered, this student felt true happiness and exclaimed it.  That was it.  The student then went back to his work.  Nobody else seemed to notice what had occurred, which is alright by me.  The moment wasn’t meant to be observed by the entire class.  It was more of a personal moment.  That student probably didn’t even realize the impact his words had on me, his teacher.  In fact, I haven’t even pointed out to him that I heard what he had said.  I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.  But, it is a really big deal for me.  All year, I’ve been fostering a sense of community and family within the students.  Rather than have the boys ask me or my co-teacher for help, we want them to use their peers as resources, co-teachers so to speak.  Some of them have gotten really good at working with their peers to solve problems with which they are faced and some of the students still need more practice using their classmates as helpers.  When this student realized how good it feels to help someone have an a-ha moment and understand material with which he struggled, it made all of the effort I’ve put into this movement all year, totally worth it.  Although it was only one student, in that moment, it didn’t matter.  If one student is experiencing one of the side effects I was hoping would come out of the atmosphere we tried to create in the sixth grade this year, then others might be having similar sensations and perhaps I just missed their celebrations.

It’s moments like this that make those more challenging times seem not quite so bad.  These beautiful, happy moments come about through hard work and great effort.  The best things in life take time and much work.  Those five words uttered by one of my students today reminded me of one of the numerous reasons why I teach: I teach to inspire and help others to see their potential and greatness.  I now have one more bullet I could add to my list of things that make me happy: Witnessing students experiencing a learning transformation of sorts.  Had I not been working with another student or structured the class in such a way, I might not have been able to provide this student with that realization today.  Who knows, maybe today’s class will inspire him to go onto to be a brilliant teacher, professor, or life saver because he saw the intrinsic value in helping others.  What’s more fun than the possibilities that now exist for this student?

The Value in Gender-Balanced Co-Teaching

Each and every one of my teachers from kindergarten to grade five was female.  Was that a bad thing?  At times I thought it was as most of my teachers had also been teaching for a very long time and didn’t seem to understand boys and how they learn best.  My male friends and I always seemed to be getting in trouble or yelled at for doing things that most male-learners do: Fidgeting in our seat, talking to each other during class, touching objects or things in the classroom, writing about war or other violent activities, or  drawing pictures depicting blood or other “disgusting” images.  My teachers just didn’t seem to understand me as a boy, and looking back on the whole situation now, I do wonder if part of the reason had to do with the fact that they were females and didn’t fully understand how to help support and challenge boys; therefore, I lived several very frustrating and challenging years as a result.  Then, in the sixth grade, I had my first male teacher.  Mr. Carr.  He was awesome.  He understood boys and how they learn and see the world.  I was allowed to move around the room, fidget while working, touch objects being studied, and talk to my friends in class.  Sixth grade was the first year that I actually felt cared for and supported as a student and a boy.  It was also the year that I started taking school seriously.  I wanted to do well and succeed because I was in a positive learning environment.  Sixth grade was definitely my transformative year that lead me onto a path of academic success.  I do wonder where I might be now if I had not been placed with a male teacher that year.  Would I have continued to struggle?  Not that I’ll ever now, but it does make me a bit curious.

As a teacher at an all-boys school, I am very conscious of the gender balance in the classroom and curriculum.  When we moved to the co-teaching model for our sixth grade program, I knew that I needed to be paired with a female teacher so that the students would get both a male and female perspective.  Having a motherly and fatherly figure in the classroom for these young boys, many of whom are very far from home, helps to foster a family atmosphere within the classroom.  The students talk to my female co-teacher about things they don’t feel comfortable sharing with me and vice versa.  It’s so important for the boys to see how males and females interact together in all settings.  My co-teacher and I are equals in the classroom and the boys see it on a daily basis.  I don’t run the show by myself and nor does my co-teacher.  We are a team, and that sort of gender balance is vital to the program we have created in the sixth grade.

This gender equity within the classroom also allows us to be sure we are effectively and appropriately educating our boys on all types of issues and information.  Today in Humanities class, my co-teacher lead a very meaningful and relevant activity regarding the role of women in the Middle East Region.  She began the lesson asking the students to share ideas they have regarding the role of women in general.  What kind of jobs do they have?  What do women do in our world do?  How are women treated?  This lead into an eye-opening discussion regarding how skewed our students’ perspective truly is.  Many of the boys hold stereotypical and inaccurate beliefs that the role of women in society is to cook, clean, take care of men, and look pretty.  Wow, how interesting, I thought.  My co-teacher tried to help the boys see the flipside of their perspective and realize that times have changed and so too have the gender roles in our world.  More women than ever before are in the workforce and not staying at home to raise children.  Men and women are sharing caregiving and household responsibilities.  Things have changed dramatically and it’s important that our students begin to see this.

Following the discussion, the boys then viewed various black and white pictures of women from the Middle East Region.  Using guiding questions posted on the whiteboard, the students, working with a partner, discussed the pictures and role of the women pictured.  For almost every picture, the boys seemed to think that the women depicted were mistreated or controlled by men or someone else.  The students thought the women were forced to wear their hijab.  After each pair had looked at all of the pictures and engaged in lively discussion regarding their thoughts on the role of the women depicted, my co-teacher shared the true stories of each of the women in the pictures.  When the boys learned that many of the women held powerful and controlling jobs in various parts of the Middle East Region and chose to wear a head covering, they seemed surprised and shocked.  This new information lead to a meaningful discussion on perspective and the role of women in our society.  Many of the boys seemed to be changing their perspective on the role women play in the world, a bit, throughout today’s lesson.

This kind of activity and lesson needs to be a required part of every school’s curriculum, and especially in boys’ schools.  As many of our students come from various parts of the world with different traditions and cultures, it’s important to provide them with information about other ideas and perspectives.  We’re not trying to inflict our ideas or beliefs upon our students.  We understand that different families and cultures have very different belief systems, which is one of the reasons why our school is so special.  We are merely trying to help our students see the world through a wider, more open lense and perspective.  Having a female teach a lesson or activity like this is also important.  Sure, as a male, I could have easily taught this lesson, but would it have been as valuable?  My co-teacher was able to use herself as an example throughout the discussion, which helped some of the students more tangibly see the points she was trying to make.

Gender equality isn’t just about the students or teachers in the room, it’s also about the content and curriculum covered.  As schools are finally starting to move away from teaching books written by dead white men, it’s also important for teachers to help their students see the world with their eyes and mind wide open.  Teaching boys and girls about the various roles women and men play in society and have throughout history, is an important concept our curriculum needs to cover to help prepare our students for meaningful lives in a very global and hopefully, gender-balanced society.