After teaching math and special education for 10 years in a variety of high schools and middle schools, I began teaching at Souhegan High School in Amherst, NH. When Souhegan opened in 1992, it’s guiding documents centered around the principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools. The practices of asking students to be a partner in their education and to demonstrate their learning through exhibitions has allowed students to actively engage in their education and grow as individuals. Many students come to mind as I think of those that would have been lost in many of the schools in which I had previously worked. One in particular I remember meeting on the first day of school in advisory. Before starting classes on the first day, we gather with our new advisees and make sure their schedules are set and begin to get to know each other. When we gathered, there was one student sitting in the corner with his back to the rest of us. I went over and asked if he would join us and he promplty asnwered “No!” I did manage to get him to turn around and listen (I think). As the year progressed, this student engaged with the group more and more. His peers encouraged, pushed and persuaded him to participate. There were still days when he would I would come into our advisory room and he would be sitting curled up in a chair with a book and would refuse to engage. But as I grew to know him better, I realized he was always paying attention and had strong opinions about many things. Over the years, I kept touching base with his teachers and they told me how he was growing. He was extremely bright and capable. He also was starting to engage in group work and at times even take the lead. The next thing I knew it was three years later and I walked into the library after school and who should greet me, but this student. He was eager to tell me about his new job overseeing the library technology, his senior project, the book he was currently reading, and where he was planning to go to college. As we approached graduation, I thought a great deal about the transformation of this student. It wasn’t a moment in time or one teacher that had brought about this transformation. It was the climate of the school. His peers were understanding, patient, and truly wanted to hear his voice. He was continually asked to engage in collaborative work. He regularly had to present and defend his learning. He was asked to reflect on himself as a learner and as an actively engaged citizen. But most of all, he was continually asked to step out of his comfort zone and therefore redefine his comfort zone.

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