The year: 1995. The place: Thurston High School. The class: Mass Media. It’s value: The English Department dumping ground.
My hiring at Thurston came with the plan, and a $50,000 budget, to create a video production class for an economically challenged population of students just outside of Detroit. Armed with the expectations that students would do extensive writing and would be able to use higher order thinking skills, I developed a rigorous curriculum that would give students a wide exposure to the world of video production. Students would produce public service announcements, news stories, music videos and short films. They eventually would create a daily newscast that would be shown to the entire student body.
The curriculum was written, and turned in for review. It received the principal’s stamp of approval, along with a question that has always stuck with me: “This is great, but can OUR students do THIS? My first thought was, “Lady, would I have written this plan if the students couldn’t do it?” The reality was that indeed our students could do it. Would it be easy? Would they struggle and stretch? Would I struggle and stretch? Would I take criticism from colleagues who would be put-off by a non-traditional teaching style and classroom setting? Yes we would. However, stretching and struggling often leads to incredible accomplishments and that is exactly what happened. OUR students learned the art of composition using video as their medium.
The students and I learned together. I might add that 24 years later, we still learn together. We created a collaborative learning community based on trust where I took on the role of guide on the side as opposed to sage on the stage. Handing over control (or most of it) to the students empowered them to take on leadership roles in the class, and in the school. Were mistakes made? Oh, heck yes they were! However, as empowered students, they also took responsibility for their mistakes and learned powerful lessons from them.
We gave the students a chance to prove, “YES! OUR students can do THIS.”