The worst thing anyone can say in Dr. Nina Morel's English class is "I can't." With a philosophy that most of us can do much more than we think we can, Dr. Morel motivates her students to learn through product-oriented activities, bringing curricular subjects to life and showing students authentic results of their learning. She helps students better understand difficult literature by assigning them in groups called "production companies" that must use the literary material to create a play, produce a newspaper or write a children's book. Because students must understand the text in order to create the product, they begin to take ownership in their own learning. That same sense of ownership comes into play when Dr. Morel's Honors Writing students produce a literary magazine, for which they are more concerned about the quality of their work than how they will be graded. Though her curriculum is challenging and her expectations high, students continually request to be assigned to her class. With English test scores at 97 percent, Dr. Morel seems to be teaching all of her students to say "I can."
My most exciting professional experience has come about as I have worked with instructional coaches and teachers to build collaborative learning cultures in schools. My colleague Carla Cushman and I have recently published a book with Corwin Press on this topic: "How to Build an Instructional Coaching Program for Maximum Capacity" (Corwin, 2012).