Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's Calm by Laura

Shirley and I were asked by Jamie Field Baker, of the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence in Memphis, TN, if we could provide a video of our new Middle School Learning Community.  We knew that our head of school, Josie Holford, had already made a terrific video of the inspiration and renovation itself.  What was missing was the perspective of the school year occupants-- the students and the teachers.

Agreeing to help Jamie, we turned to the movie maker in our midst who had the strongest skills-- a seventh grader named Cam.  Jamie set up a Google doc and a firm deadline, we passed it onto Cam, and he got to work.

We had a wonderful time collaborating.  He let us function as producers.  We watched multiple versions and asked him to take new shots, boost the sound, and razor out seconds of footage that didn't fit.  He got a slice of life working with us a colleagues-- not teachers-- and pushing to make Jamie's deadline.  At the end of the process we told him three things:  "Thanks!", "Great job!"  and "We didn't treat you like a kid, but like a colleague."

What struck us as we watched the interviews with the students?  The number of times (some were left on the "cutting room floor,") that a student being interviewed mentioned the calm atmosphere of the Learning Commons, the central space of the new Learning Community.

Pulling about eighty middle school students into a common area would not be the way to foster calm, according to conventional wisdom.  There is no doubt, though, the Learning Commons is a calm space.  Students spend time there working.  During mid-day recess, the volume might grow a bit louder, but it always returns to a quieter, focused hush when classes are in session.

We aren't sure why.  George Swain, the MS division head suggested that perhaps students are calm because they know where everyone else is.  Or maybe it's because the atmosphere is so pleasant, with light, color, and potted plants.We hope it's that the work is interesting.   No matter what, in the few brief months that we've occupied the space, the community has set a standard for maintaining an atmosphere for engaged learning.

Here is Cam's movie.  He started with Josie's work, edited it a bit, and then added his own.  It will be show at an upcoming pre-conference workshop at the NAIS national conference at the end of February.


  1. Calm - not a word commonly associated with middle school, nor is it a word often used in a favorable way by middle school students. Another hypothesis: students feel supported by their nearby teachers while at the same time enjoying a chance to experiment with greater independence. As a result, they create and reinforce an environment that supports their learning.

  2. This was such a great adventure for all three of us to participate in and really work together as colleagues not student and teachers. I am also taking Cam's imovie class and am amazed at his teaching skills...well plans lessons and active participation by us, his students. Well done Cam - you should be very proud of yourself!

  3. It is calm and the video is awesome!!!! The Learning commons is quiet and relaxed not stressed and chaotic. Joanna a student in the middle school here.