Principals aren’t easily fooled, and most of them have to be thoroughly convinced before they apply their stamp of approval. Dr. Mark Harrison, the first-year principal at Kansas City’s Southeast High School, is no exception. He took a cautious approach to the school’s new Synergistic Modules lab.
When a freshman stopped him in the hallway to say how much he enjoyed the science lab, Harrison decided to see for himself.
“I said, ‘Let me see what you’re really doing.’ He explained the project to me, and he shocked me,” Harrison said while recently observing students in the lab. “He really got into it, and I was taken aback a little bit. He didn’t give me that impression when I met him, but he was really into this.”
Still not 100 percent sold, Harrison pressed forth.
“I said, ‘OK, this was a one-shot thing.’ So I came back again, and it was awesome! It was hands-on at the same time, so it was almost like students were using all of their senses. My philosophy is that the more senses you can involve in learning, the better the outcome of your thinking will be.”
That was the clincher. Harrison had seen enough, yet he wanted to see more of the same – in other classrooms. During a faculty meeting, he shared his findings and expressed his hopes. “I said, ‘I want all my science classes to look like this.’”
And it doesn’t have to stop with science.
“I think all my other core subjects should be set up in a learning-station philosophy,” Harrison explained. “What I’m trying to do next year is set up something like that. We have a 90-minute block, which means you can get more out of student learning, and engage them at their level of proficiency. We have students at different levels, and this type of setup enables them to engage at their level of understanding.”
He might have to encourage and even prod other teachers to get on board, but Harrison is determined to see the Synergistic process spread at Southeast.
“My philosophy is that, particularly in an urban setting where kids aren’t doing well in proficiency on state tests or academically altogether, this type of teaching method gives you a way to break down the classroom, and teachers have to get out of their professor syndrome – I teach and I lecture in front of the class and students have to get it. I’m trying to move them out of that mentality.”
Harrison’s hope in the end is simple and commendable. “This program gives students the number one thing, the message that, ‘I can perform,’” he said. “When you’re not used to being successful at something, you turn it off. This system gives students the understanding that, ‘I am capable of being successful. I am capable of doing this when I didn’t think I had the ability to do it. I can enjoy learning.’”