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Part 2: Sowing the Seeds of Classroom Success

This is Part 2 in a series of posts entitled Building Bridges, in which Nick Dressler, AVLI’s Director of Collaborative Learning, chronicles the building of AVLI’s upcoming Bridges program. Click here for Part 1.

Even in the presence of a competent instructor and an entire roster of ready-and-willing students, the building of trust between teacher and student and amongst the students themselves stands paramount to the success of any high functioning classroom. Without trust, higher-level learning skill demonstrations remain aspirational, locked out of daily classroom activities, and reserved for the “future” or the “real world,” both nebulous ideas of that which begins once the student has proven themselves smart enough to take part. Trust unlocks the door. If the teacher and the students trust each other, the willingness to attempt something new, to try and fail, and to accept feedback—all three essential to non-academy learning—now enter the fray. Vigor replaces rigor, and they’re off.

The COVID-19 situation has proven the importance of classroom relationships. A lack of physical meeting time no doubt increases exponentially the importance of trust, and exacerbates the impact when that trust is absent. The Arrupe Bridges project, a blended, combined classroom coming your way next year will enjoy the benefits of face-to-face meeting time with half of the roster, but will also feature some online only and asynchronous elements, and so in building the program I foresee trust’s role as similar to that of the online-only format. Thus, with still about a year remaining, we already have begun sowing the seeds for a trust-laden environment, such is the importance of the characteristic moving forward.

In the last installment of this blog of sorts, I recounted Bridget Bowers’s process of curriculum building through student influence—the idea being that a student entering an undoubtedly new circumstance will likely feel heightened anxiety or tension that can obstruct growth and learning from the get-go. In giving the students an opportunity to have their say regarding an array of content with which Bridget is already familiar, we hope to introduce students to an environment in which their communication and opinion matter all the way down to the unit planning level and allowing them enhanced authority over their own learning and fertilizing those all-important seeds of trust so they germinate as early as possible.

In this case, the student influence took the form of a survey in which Bridget asked the students to rank titles in two separate sections: one for novels and plays, and the other for short stories. Rather than merely ranking the stories, though, the students assigned 100 preference points to the titles, indicating their respective degrees of preference and, indeed, lack thereof. This first half of the survey gave her some valuable information, but not necessarily the type we were expecting: The students did not indicate a strong preference for any one novel or play—the favorited titles all bunched around 11%-13% of the preference—however, there were two titles that lagged behind the rest, meaning, all things being equal, Bridget should consider removing those stories from consideration as she builds units for the course. The reverse is true with the short story section of the survey where the students indicated a strong predilection for “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s feminist-leaning Sherlock Holmes adventure. And again, if Bridget is equally comfortable instructing all of the titles, then she will theoretically engender greater interest, increased motivation, and, of course, trust as they begin the course. When the students are heard, when their tastes and tendencies influence the content, when who they are helps dictate the curriculum, that is when we approach the climate optimized for student achievement.

For the next step, which will take place after Christmas break, Bridget will host a meeting with all prospective students to begin nailing down the course’s essential questions, another unit planning aspect that is usually restricted from student voice or even ignored altogether. Our goal with Arrupe Bridges courses is to leverage the unique opportunity of connecting students from two partner schools to create dynamic, rich learning experiences. By intentionally incorporating student voice into our design process, we sow the seeds of trust that will shape the classroom experience.

For more information about the survey, its results, the course building process, or the Bridges project as a whole, please contact Nick Dressler at


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