By Donald B. Reynolds
As I reflect on the first year-and-a-half of my teaching career, I am realizing how fortunate I was to begin my career teaching at a school operating the Generation Schools Network Model. In addition to the long list of model characteristics that have directly improved the academic and social lives of my students, the model characteristics that I have come to appreciate the most are those that have had a significant impact on my ability to create an engaging and purposeful learning environment for my students: GSN’s Blended Learning Instructional Model, and GSN’s focus on supporting teachers with significant collaborative planning time.
When I researched the Generation Schools Network Model in preparation for my first interview, the element that immediately attracted my attention was the model’s focus on leveraging technology in a blended learning instructional process geared towards accelerating the learning process for student demographics usually not supported by such classroom investments. With my background in technology and engineering, as well as my personal knowledge of the student demographic I would be teaching to, I believed the GSN model was well positioned to be successful in even the most difficult learning environments- and my experiences during my first year at West Generations Academy @ West High School in Denver, Colorado were consistent with my intuition.
Even though our first year saw its share of difficulties, I was able to create a dynamic, engaging, purposeful learning environment for my 8th graders using GSN’s blended learning instructional model; with the result that both of my classes improved by an average of close to 2 years in math according to the Star Math Assessment. Moreover, as a testament to the impact our learning environment had on many of my students, a significant number of my 8th grade students chose to stay at West Generations Academy for 9th grade with me as their 9th Grade Algebra teacher.
Notwithstanding how forward thinking GSN’s Blended Learning Instructional Model may be, it would not be as impactful if it were not supported by GSN’s focus on providing significant collaborative planning time for its teachers. With a minimum of ninety minutes a day of collaborative planning time, all grade level and content teams have the necessary time to develop standards-based, fully-aligned, yearlong plans, unit plans, and daily lesson plans as well as ample time to review and act upon student data. I simply cannot imagine trying to teach without this amount of collaborative time and support.
As we are now well into our second year at West Generation Academy, I am daily becoming more excited about the great successes that I know are just around the corner. As we continue to grow, I know that we will be able to not only attract the best and brightest students, but with the aforementioned teacher supports on our side, we will also be able to attract the best and brightest teachers and administrators.