- Inside the Classroom
- Upper Division
By Josh Lake, Dean of Technology & Programs
“This was the most engaged week of activity (including Color War) that I have seen in 20 years of working for Denver JDS.”
The week began as most usually do: a few sleepy eyes in the audience, a little bit of indecision from others. There was some nervous anticipation on what we were about to embark on. We asked our kids to be fearless, to not be afraid to fail, and to be brave. As adults who grew up in the era of “do it right or else” this can be a difficult concept to allow our children to grasp.
The Upper Division of Denver JDS, led by Principal Jason Snyder, ripped off the proverbial band aid and jumped into complete academic immersion. The kids ran the show. As a faculty, we spent months in teams planning several subjects to run during the first ever Intensive Week at Denver JDS. This week reminded me of what good teamwork and positive interpersonal connections can do for developing more thoughtful and creative content for our students. I feel like the students could sense the energy among the teachers.
I helped support the Nutrition Intensive. We spent the week engaging students in multiple modalities. From day one, the big thrust of the week was the final deliverable. Once the groups were established, led by our seniors, the magic began! Sixth graders were brainstorming with high schoolers, both groups learning authentic ways to collaborate and present a project to children of varying ages. I cannot decide if I taught more or learned more during Intensives Week. It makes me wonder what would happen if we were to extrapolate on the idea of student-centered learning? What would it look like in our K-12 school if we did this for a month, a semester, or even all the time?
When we look at student-centered education — seemingly always looking for an external “expert” opinion — a thought kept recurring in my mind: We are the experts now. We understand our kids and we know how to educate. We just need permission to be as fearless as we want our students to be.
Last week culminated in rooms filled with parents awaiting their child’s final product. It seemed that some of the attendance was spurred by the excitement generated by the kids who truly had an authentic, vested interest in the process and in the final product. Intensives Week was only the tip of the iceberg. When you pair fearless, authentic leadership with outstanding engaged faculty and, most importantly, a dose of students who faculty are close to and understand, you get one amazing school with engaged learners.
If we trust one another and recognize the untapped potential regarding creativity, ingenuity, technical knowledge, and content knowledge, we will realize that these kinds of authentic, student-centered educational processes can exist in any grade and in any subject. Should we be more concerned with the journey or the destination? If we as parents and educators can agree that failure can be a valuable experience, there is no limit to what we can accomplish as an organization.