Imagine sitting in a Starbucks, working on a project or quietly conversing with a colleague. Now consider that Starbucks located on the second floor of a Kansas City Catholic school, Our Lady of Hope and the project-workers are 7th graders who have learned “soft talk” when teasing out collaborative efforts. This is exactly the environment Our Lady of Hope Middle School teacher Dena Campbell envisioned for her classroom. And according to Dena, the idea is working. Success is partly due to her commitment and partly to the kids themselves. “They want this,” she confirms.
Dena spent the past summer scouring free Craig’s List ads, gathering together the table tops, chairs and white boards necessary to turn rows of desks into a coffee-shop style setting. Not only is the concept a stretch (in a good way!) for her students, it’s a stretch for Dena herself. She admits she likes her classroom set up in rows with everyone alphabetized by name. However, she also knows that for students to be ready for the 21st Century, they need 21st Century Skills. Three of them are collaboration, cooperation and creativity—concepts not encouraged through row-sitting.
Through the innovative classroom arrangement, the students themselves are finding imaginative pathways to confidence. They self-select their sitting groups. Though a youngster can’t be “kicked out” of a group, they can choose to opt out. However, if they do, and aren’t invited into another group, they’re still held responsible for a project’s completion. Their option is to work on it alone. Some do. Others realize they need to develop the skills Dena has identified as vital to their success—collaboration, cooperation and creativity.
Has the new approach made a difference in student’s performance, Dena is asked. She answers that yes, they’re getting through more of their reading material. Yet the biggest difference she notices isn’t as quantifiable. “They help each other, they seem to care more about each other,” she reflects. “And they’re willing to work through the challenges life will present them.” One of those challenges will always be that when you’re sitting around a table together, it’s good to figure out how to get along with the person sitting next to you.