When Catlin Tucker pulled into the Windsor High parking lot for a staff professional development day at the end of Christmas break she was feeling less than inspired. She’d started to think that no matter what she tried in her traditional high school English classroom she wasn’t really preparing kids for the world they’d find in college and beyond. And she wasn’t optimistic that the jam-packed schedule of workshops would make her feel any better. But to her surprise, the talk delivered by the keynote speaker, Will Richardson, spoke to everything she’d been feeling.

“He just spoke to me, to everything that concerns me about education and the way we’re shuttling kids through classes and losing so many of them, and how we have to reimagine learning for kids of this generation,” Tucker said. It was the validation she needed to top wishing things could be different, and start making big changes in her own teaching.

“I walked out of that keynote and right into my principal’s office and I was like, ‘I want to do something different,'” Tucker said. The principal, Marc Elin, didn’t shut her down; instead he let her explore the idea. When Tucker approached Marika Neto, a rookie teacher who was already proving herself to be restless with the traditional model, a partnership was born.

Catlin Tucker (left) and Marika Neto. (Courtesy Catlin Tucker)

Tucker and Neto created a program in which they share sixty students, a mix of freshman and sophomores, every other day. The interdisciplinary program blends science, English and technology learning standards into projects, and students are given more choice and independence over how and what they learn. Tucker and Neto hoped that by redesigning the classroom experience they could shift what students value about learning. Instead of being focused on grades and points, they’re pushing students to see the value in self-reflection, self-assessment, and creative thinking.

Listen to Episode Three of the MindShift Podcast to get a feel for this alternative classroom model, and to hear from the students, teachers, and parents who were willing to give learning this new way a try. Shifting long-held expectations of what school looks like hasn’t been easy, but Tucker and Neto say it’s been incredibly rewarding.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

Be The Change You Want To See 27 September,2017Katrina Schwartz

  • Jackie Doggett

    This is a wonderful example of how educators have to find that true passion in us that makes us want to go outside the box and reach students in a positive and encouraging manner.

  • One size doesn’t fit all. Choice in what they learn, BUT no choice in where they learn it. I’m seeing a mixed message.

  • Shawn Bailey

    Cross-curricular learning is the answer to learning and helping the whole child…keep up the great work and share your ideas. May I suggest inviting community guest speakers to the class to help students, the learning process, and to refine the learning process and the evaluation system you utilize. Keep up the great work and find other ways to share your struggles and successes.

  • kryten8

    I can’t imagine how dispiriting it would be for the majority of teachers to come back from winter break to be told that everyone is doing their job wrong with apparently limited to no guidance on what the speaker considers “right” beyond some BS about “teaching for the future.”

    Also, the idea of choice/workshop and interdisciplinary learning isn’t foreign at all to elementary classrooms.


Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She’s a staff writer for KQED’s education blog MindShift.

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