Revolutionizing the classroom

 Students Jaycee Thomas and Trishelle Christensen work with teacher Maria Williams 

Imagine a classroom. Take a moment. What does it look like? How does it feel? What are the students doing? 

A decade ago, it was unheard of to picture anything other than crisp rows of individual desks facing a chalkboard where a teacher would command the entire room. 

As a teacher, I knew this style didn’t support every child. For a while, I felt frustrated because I didn’t have the necessary resources to make a substantial change. 

The good news: times have changed. 

Educators and childhood development experts know that a one-size-fits-all approach to learning is not what’s best for young minds. Every child is unique and they deserve the opportunity to learn in a variety of creative ways.

At first, I was apprehensive when I learned that my school, The Performance Academy, an elementary and middle school for high-performing athletes and artists, would be adopting a new way of teaching where we would not only teach defined subjects, but also focus on helping students develop lifelong habits like goal-setting, time management and perseverance - all skills that support our youth in becoming engaged, self-directed learners. Students would focus on learning through collaborative, integrative projects, which would challenge them to synthesize what they’ve learned and apply it to a scenario that reflects the world as we know it. And thanks to the support of an online learning platform and curriculum, teachers would have access to students’ progress in real-time. 

The most striking change that I observed this past school year was how the roles for both students and teachers expanded as a result of this program. 

While I was still leading the classroom, there was a clear space for students to drive how they learn best.  

At first, this freedom to make informed decisions about the pace, order, and content of how they’d choose to structure their classroom time was uncharted territory for my students. 

However, they soon found that they were learning at a deeper level and their efforts were reflected in their performances on assessments and projects.

 This concrete display of proficiency led my students to take great pride in their work. I cannot imagine a better lifelong skill to teach than self-sufficiency.

 As they became more involved in their own learning process, my students began acting as teammates with their peers in a way that I couldn’t as an authority figure.

 Now, students in my classroom can often be seen assisting their classmates with study guides, explaining concepts to one another, and collaborating with each other to evolve their interpersonal skills. 

My role as a teacher has expanded since working with Summit Learning, and I have never been more satisfied with my profession.

 This program shifts mindsets for both teachers and students, challenging all of us to think bigger, broader, and better when it comes to what can be achieved and learned here at The Performance Academy. 

Bottom line: I could simply not do what I did this past year in a traditional classroom setting. 

— Maria Williams co-teaches 4th-6th grade ELA and social studies at The Performance Academy in Gilbert. She has 16 years experience teaching elementary and middle school levels.