Better Together: Partners in Learning

Teacher and Student Building

Imagine a world in which your teacher is your partner in learning—someone who guides, motivates, explores, and asks questions right alongside you. At Green Acres, you don't have to imagine. 

By Tracey Marks, Lower School Head

When I think about teachers and students being partners in learning at Green Acres, I’m struck by how rare it is for a school to really view the student-teacher relationship through this lens. There is a reciprocity and collaboration in that phrase perhaps best personified by students calling teachers by their first names. Students know who their teachers are, yet by calling adults by their first names, students and teachers acknowledge that the learning process is a living collaboration born from interaction, care, and trust. It’s as if students and teachers are saying, "We not only love learning, but we love learning together."

Key to this reciprocal relationship is that teachers hear and value students’ voices. Our rigorous academic curriculum has been carefully and intentionally planned by teachers and division heads; however, there is room for students to make choices that are meaningful to them and that foster a deep investment in learning. An apt example of this is writers’ workshop, a writing approach in which students set their thoughts to paper by following the same steps that "real" writers do: brainstorming ideas, creating a first draft, receiving feedback from a teacher, revising and editing the draft, illustrating it, "publishing" it, and then sharing their final product. This process cannot occur without students each partnering with their teacher during these steps, which requires collaboration and a give-and-take. In the publishing world, authors partner with their editors, and the classroom process is no different. Each partner has a critical role to play, resulting in the important expression of a student’s feelings and experiences. Students and teachers learning together relies on students believing that their teachers have their best interests at heart. It takes time and commitment to forge these relationships successfully, and many of them last well beyond the student’s years at Green Acres.

I recently received an email from a student whom I taught as a 5th grader and whom I hadn’t heard from in 35 years. He is now a father and a doctor. He recalled his time as a 5th grader with startling clarity, especially describing our collaboration on projects such as creating a class Constitution. At the heart of his memories was the partnership that the class and I, as the teacher, forged that year. Students felt comfortable asking questions, identifying when they didn’t understand something, making suggestions, and seeking help. This describes the progressive Green Acres way. In a previous article, I referred to my oldest child’s favorite memory of Green Acres: that his 2nd grade teacher called him and his classmates "friends." What a joyful and engaging way to learn: by collaborating with a friend and growing together in partnership. ❖