Sarah Brown Wessling of The Teaching Channel

 At the suggestion of some of my close teacher friends, I’ve recently started to get to know Sarah, the Teacher Laureate at the Teaching Channel. This post is started by me here, and will be contributed to a bit later by Sarah – as we share a conversation about the importance of bringing relevance from the workplace into the classroom.

There has never been a more critical need for this than today as there are thousands of jobs that our US employers cannot fill because students arriving on their doorsteps are just not prepared. This problem involves a myriad of changes that need to take place in our schools to resolve completely which we will not address here. However, there is one thing we can all do, as teachers of middle and high school students, to help address this issue and that is to require students to tackle real projects that stretch their thinking and build their career readiness skills. We know it as Project Based Learning.

Over my 20 years of walking into hundreds of classrooms, the best teachers I’ve observed work as a coach rather than teacher. We all know this works, and yet we frequently get caught into habits that prevent us from doing what we know works. So this is a reminder! The teachers I’m referencing tend to have a rigorous project underway that has the full attention and engagement of their students -- just as Sarah does. I’m sharing her work with you as I see her as a teacher leader we can learn from for sure. (She was National Teacher of the Year in 2010!) In fact, take 8 minutes to watch the video she shared with me recently as we spoke back and forth via email about this idea of having students lead their own thinking. It shares a project she does every year with her high school advanced literature class called “Grant Writing: Blending Literature and Community.” (Link below). Perhaps this is a project to replicate? The Project: “After reading texts that look at the American Dream, I invite students to create their own non-profit organizations that help people in central Iowa who cannot meet their American Dream to discover it through this non-profit organization that they create,” explains Sarah to camera. The students do research as to what exists in their community, identify what needs are yet to be met, and determine how they are going to help real people reach their dreams. The students work in teams and present their ideas in the form of a grant proposal to a committee of adults who work in the field of philanthropy or business. The Result: The students had really interesting things to say about the benefits of this for them -- I'll let them speak for themselves.

Sarah gives us a great example of how we can coach instead of teach our students—and allow them to really be the ones to guide their learning experience. I’ve done this type work myself over and again, and can share first hand – the reactions of students before and after such a rigorous project will take your breath away. There is no match as to the impact we can have to open their eyes and hearts to what is out there for them to achieve. Be inspired and become a coach that your students will always remember!!! RIght Sarah?! Check out this English assignment video: