Greenwood College School is a not-for-profit, independent, grade 7 to 12 school with about 450 students and about 60 teachers. We focus not only on academic achievement, but also on each student’s character development through connecting to their varied interests, both inside and outside the classroom. At Greenwood, we emphasize community service, extracurricular activities, outdoor education, the arts, and athletics. We want our students to venture out in the real world, experiencing life as much as possible.

Schools looking to personalize learning generally aim to increase interactions between the student and teacher. To achieve this goal, the most straightforward approach would be to have fewer students per teacher; the idea is that the teacher will have more time to devote to each individual student’s growth.

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At Greenwood College School, we had an alternate idea. What if we maintain the student-teacher ratio by adding a second teacher to a larger classroom space to promote various groupings and engagement between students and teachers? Instead of shrinking the traditional classroom, we believed that combining classes together in larger, flexible spaces would allow students more opportunities to find their own learning path.

Our essential concern inside the walls of the school is to create the space our students need to direct their own learning and to work at their own pace. For instance, last year we combined 10th- and 11th-grade math in the same room, each with their own teacher. This allowed for more advanced students to excel faster and afforded more personalized support for all students. Having more students and teachers in a room created a more dynamic space, with more opportunities for student groupings.

Clear Data Earns Buy-in from Parents

When we started moving toward this new, flexible classroom structure, we knew it departed from the norm and that data would help us instill the belief that this approach would be as effective as a small class. In the past, we used an in-house student survey, but we ran into problems, since it resulted in mostly anecdotal observations and we couldn’t compare the findings with those from other educational institutions to show how we were evolving. To work with reliable data, we needed a body of research that would compare our data to external sources to see if it could validate our approach and deepen the buy-in within our community.

(Next page: Student surveys and inspiring teachers)

About the Author:

Jonathan Tepper is the executive director of Information and Learning Technology at Greenwood College School in Toronto, Ontario.