Super Schools

How do we better engender a healthy, happy, and productive school environment where both teachers and students can flourish? Here are a five schools that are pointing us in the right direction:

School #5 Provides A Mindful Space

Baltimore's Robert W. Coleman Elementary School partners with the Holistic Life Foundation to teach students mindful practices. Breathing is incorporated into morning announcements and yoga is available after school. And when students become agitated, they are sent to the "Mindful Moment" room to sit in comfy cushions and beanbags while glowing pink Himalayan salt lamps calm them down. The year the program started, there were no suspensions.

School #4 Offers Play Homework

Brooklyn's P.S. 118--the Maurice Sendak Community School--ditched traditional homework. Instead of outdated worksheets, play is prioritized. The elementary aged kids can choose from a menu of activities:

  • “Dance, Dance Revolution” - Making up your own dance and incorporating a concept of from class into it.
  • “Chopped” - Helping a parent measure ingredients while cooking a family meal.
  • “Mad Scientist” - Videotaping a science experiment conducted at home.

School #3 Fosters Novelty

At Miller High School on Long Island, New York, author and podcaster Brian Sztabnik teaches AP Literature. His school supports his innovative practices. Understanding that students need novelty for engagement, he instituted Wacky Wednesdays. "My goal," writes Sztabnik, "is to get students out of their desks, have them interact as much as possible, and share their ideas based on the critical thinking they are doing with the text at hand." Memorable WWs include Shakespearean Musical Chairs, Kick Me Test Prep, Literary CSI, and The Great Debaters. "It soon took on a life of its own," Sztabnik reports. "I was giving out high-fives at the door as students entered class, and they returned the excitement by beginning each Wacky Wednesday with a slow clap that crescendoed into thunderous applause."

School #2 Is on Caffeine!

At Milaca High School in scenic Mille Lacs County, Minnesota, the special education instructor, Sara Marte, started a student-run entrepreneurial: The Coffee Carte, featuring tea, hot chocolate, and seven creamer flavors. "The purpose of The Coffee Carte is to teach real-world job skills for students in special education," says Marte. The venture gives her special education students an opportunity to learn "real-life work skills as far as following directions, being on time for work, work site safety, counting money, communications skills, working together – all sorts of practical job skills that they learn just from running a coffee shop."

As soon as they shift from Keurig to  salted caramel frozen cappuccino, I'm visiting!

School #1 Builds Students' Emotional Intelligent

School 21, a non-selective 4-18 school in East London, believes that schools should teach the whole child. Students are divided up into 12 person teams called "families." Under the tutelage of instructors--who are specially trained in mastery teaching, drama pedagogy, talk-for-learning, and philosophy for children--learners work collaboratively on projects that benefit the community. An important component of educating the whole child is School 21's wellbeing program, based on a U.K. framework in which one of six topics is discussed every few weeks:

  1. School as community,
  2. What makes me special?
  3. How can I be a responsible citizen in the world?
  4. Diversity
  5. Healthy lifestyles
  6. Social skills

Kudos each of these innovative super schools!

Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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