VRG, Stockholm: Does 'two teachers' mean 'double the benefit'?

Kristy Lundström

Starting out as a Mathematics and Computer science teacher, Kristy Lundström understands the impact effective technology and systematic thinking can have on learning. She has worked as a Head of School for more than 10 years in Sweden, Belgium and the US. In every school, she seeks to empower teachers, support students and build communities. Her philosophy can be summed up by her favourite hashtag:  #unleashpotential

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As a school leader, I know that the key to any student’s success is often their teacher. If this is true, would having two teachers mean double the chance of success? We decided to test this idea in a reorganization of the Business Studies programme at VRG. Working from our strategic vision, we began to brainstorm, prioritize and plan.

In a dynamic and creative learning environment, with competent teachers who act as coaches and the school’s extensive network, students in our Economy programme, grounded in their own passion, drive their learning through varied working methods focused on process as much as product. Upon graduation, students will, individually as well as in teams, have had authentic and relevant experiences characterized by challenges and risk taking which will result in successful projects.
Our task - how can we use all of our resources and the benefit of having two teachers to realize this vision for our students? We decided to focus on three relationships: student to student; student to teacher(s); and student to community.

Groups are a natural forum for students to learn. Using students as resources for each other means that they can"We had to invest time in helping students understand themselves as learners." achieve better results faster. This sounded so easy when we started. However, the efficiency and effectiveness of a group depends on the structure and relationships in the group. We quickly realized that we had to invest time in helping students understand themselves as learners and what strengths and weaknesses they can bring to the group. In addition, we committed to invest time into helping structure group work carefully, mediating conflicts and identifying viable assessment methods of how to encourage individual and group learning. Since our start, we have shifted more and more time away from academic training of concepts to development of meaningful relationships and reflection about development.

We also recognized that if we were going to redesign the learning situation for students, we needed to reorganize our teaching environment. We shifted from one teacher to one class to a team-teaching approach. We also reassigned time in our schedule so that two teachers worked with 60 students for a full school day every week. This realignment of resources made it possible to use a multitude of methods: teacher-led presentation, seminar groups, group work, study trips and guest lecturers. By always being two teachers, formative assessment was easily accomplished through continual observation and conversation. After each week, the teacher team could discuss their observations about where students were and what they needed to do next.

No matter how hard we tried to redesign our learning environment, we felt constrained by the classroom walls. We were convinced that we needed to build tight and sustainable connections with our community to ensure a “real and relevant” relationship between our students and the world around them. Our school had just celebrated our 20th anniversary and we realized we had nearly twenty years of graduates who had accomplished “great” results after attending our school. Many of our graduates were entrepreneurs and business leaders. So, we set out to connect every student to a mentor company."Students devote their diploma project to creating a project for their company." Each student is assigned a mentor company where they can test the theories and ideas studied in class. For example, if students are studying CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in class, the examination assignment is to investigate how does CSR work in my mentor company.

The sustainable part of this mentorship is that students follow the same company for two years; they build a relationship with their mentor company. Then, in the end of their 3rd year, students devote their diploma project to investigating, researching, analyzing and creating a project for their company. This is their way of giving back to the relationship and investment from the mentor company. How did we find all of these mentor companies? We reached out to our alumni and parent network.
These were our first steps. Now in our 2nd year, we are considering the next steps. We have visited other programs to learn from best practices. We are in the process of expanding our “team” of teachers to include not only business teachers, but also core teachers to ensure a comprehensive approach to understanding. We are also thinking about how and when and where can digital learning benefit the students the most.

Does a team-teaching approach offer double the chance for student success? In this case, the answer is yes. Students have the benefit of small group coaching with two teachers. And, they have the benefit of authentic learning when they meet in their peer groups and when completing investigations with their mentor companies.

This dynamic development would never have gone this fast had there not been a "teacher team" in place.  So yes, for us, double the teacher has given double the effect.  And, actually, even more...

Blog articles for further reading:
How our Business Studies program is going from good to great
Comparing theory to real (working) life … mentor companies make it possible

 

This article was written by:

Henrik Gattberg, Business Studies program leader
Alexandra Koumi, lead teacher
Kristy Lundström, head of school

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