girl working on her laptop in a classroom
Anastasia Hall

Anastasia Hall

Anastasia is an educational leader and the Director of Curriculum & Training for The Startup Studio

In a Physical or Digital Classroom Trust Must Be at the Foundation

It is amazing to think that taking the time to establish an environment of trust in the classroom could be considered a disruptive model for education. There is always the question of how much content needs to be covered in how much time and that used to be the marker of success. However, focusing a curriculum on building peer and mentor relationships has been disruptive – and incredibly effective. In this ever-growing globalized world, relationships are currency and the only way to build powerful ones is to develop your authentic self. Empowering students to identify and communicate who they are is the foundation of The Startup Studio’s Learn to Start programming. The priority has shifted. 

This week we launched the Learn to Start 2nd Annual Networking Event at NBPS. We were planning on staging it as a one-night event where the students would set up tables in the HSSU and be ready to pitch and answer questions from our parent and local entrepreneur communities as they visited each group. The students have been working all year on building themselves up to be people confident enough to stand in front of others and receive direct and honest feedback to help them on their journey towards the outcomes of empowerment, performance, and wellness. We looked forward to seeing our students demonstrate their understanding of the power of relationship as they spend the evening networking with potential mentors.

With the impact of COVID-19 on schools transforming us into a virtual world of education, we knew our intended outcomes could still manifest themselves digitally. So, we opened up our Networking Event digitally and challenged our students to find new platforms to communicate and receive feedback.

We are now on the 4th day of the week long event in which students created a digital package to send out to our participating mentors. They each created a 90 second brand video and a 3-page concept plan to introduce themselves and prove what they can do. Our parent community volunteered themselves and their colleagues to provide mentorship and students have been receiving emails and Zoom call invitations from this amazing and experienced group of professionals to develop stronger industry understandings.

Although all of our schools entered the virtual world of education as an emergency process, it has opened up the prospect of incredible opportunities going forward that the physical classroom could never offer us. We can bring the market to our classrooms, meaning we can bring relevance to our classrooms. The Virtual Networking Event can exist and succeed because of the external mentor community I have built. And, we have much more access to mentorship digitally than we ever will hosting an event at the school.

When you embrace student outcomes as the foundation for your curriculum, it effectively translates whether you’re in a physical or digital classroom. We want our students to become capable of answering the questions, who am I, what can I do, and how do I know. We want students to use entrepreneurship as the vehicle to build themselves. That is the only metric we need: students capable of communicating who they are, what they can do, and knowing their own value. These are the students who will carve their own paths towards success because they have experience with the tools they need: taking risks and embracing failure, using the power of story to connect to the world, building relationships to collaborate, and seeking out mentors to guide them through their journey. 

Every day that teachers log into their digital classroom platforms, there is the opportunity to reflect on two questions:

 

  1. Do I have an individual relationship with each one of my students?
  2. Are my students in present relationships with each other?

 

Your answers will depend on the outcomes you decided on for your classes. If you expect every student to produce the same work or if you expect them to demonstrate their understanding of the answers that only you deem correct, then your reflection will probably lean towards no because you are seeing a projection of yourself on your students. Innovation, creativity, and critical thinking don’t come from answers that are already known. Students who have voice and choice in the classroom and in the curriculum are engaged and present in those small digital squares of the live classroom, because they have a relationship with you and with their peers.

Digital learning, just like physical classroom learning, must be engaging therefore a teacher must be present. In Learn to Start classrooms, this “new,” present teacher emerges capable of truly seeing and hearing the unique personalities, passions, and driving forces of each individual student. In a digital learning environment you cannot hide the inadequacies of the sage on the stage traditional model of teaching or the archaic purpose of testing students. The spotlight is now on student outcomes because our digital classrooms are much more public in nature than our physical ones. I do not want to be the public face of my classroom, I want my students’ growth to represent us instead. The stakes and expectations did not change in this virtual environment, because it was never the setting that mattered, it has always been about the trust established.

This all leads to the question of how? How can you create a virtual or physical classroom based on trust and relationships?

Here are three first steps for you to take:

  1. Seek out mentorship. Every professional inside or out of education benefits from support and guidance from someone you respect and trust. It’s more than just finding a community, it’s finding someone who you believe has been successful in the type of endeavor you are trying your hand at. To this end, I began hosting a weekly webinar series for my colleagues at Windermere Prep and North Broward Prep to help guide and encourage them to reach the student outcomes they set for their classrooms.  
  2. Embrace your failure points. When you try new things in the classroom, you will have moments of failure to learn from, which should not dissuade you from trying them. Honestly, we all have failure points right now inside our classrooms. Whether it’s us accepting students who are not engaged, or recycling a lesson plan that we know needs tweaks, we all allow those failures because they seem safe. However, if you are deciding to take a risk, knowing that there will be a level of failure, it means you are ready to pivot and apply that failure to the betterment of your curriculum and student experience for the future.
  3. Engage the stories of your students. Look at the reflection questions above in this article. Here’s how you improve the quality of your experiences with students. You engage with them as unique individuals. It does not mean establishing a friendship with each student; rather, it means you have room for each student in your classroom, inside of your curriculum, to be their own person with their own path. All of your students can benefit from the skills at the heart of your curriculum, but do all of them need to engage those skills in the same way and at the same time? We can know our students well enough to differentiate the steps and still achieve the overall outcomes.

 

Let’s use these steps to move us out of emergency mode and start embracing the opportunities that tackling a challenge can reward us with. Let’s Learn to Start!

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email