September has us reflecting on what makes academics at Shelterwood so special. We’ve written before about Shelterwood’s cutting-edge accreditation and how to prepare students for life after high school. Today, we want to look at how teaching at Shelterwood is unique as well.
Shelby Wade is Shelterwood’s Independent Studies Coordinator. She guides Shelterwood students taking online classes through the Odysseyware system, which offers courses to complement Shelterwood’s on-campus offerings. Shelby taught science at Shelterwood for two years before transitioning to this new role.
Whether teaching in the classroom or supporting students’ independent work, Shelby says back-to-school season is a little different at Shelterwood.
“The first thing students will tell you is, ‘We only got a week off,’” Shelby jokes. Shelterwood students are in summer school for most of the season, so they don’t have the longer break many of their public school peers do.
But Shelby says the real differences come in Shelterwood’s teaching philosophy, not its calendar.
Students’ wellness comes first
“The thing that makes Shelterwood unique is the sheer number of [classroom] accommodations we’re equipped to make,” Shelby says. “Most public schools are not staffed, trained or prepared to offer what we can offer our students.”
Shelby says Shelterwood’s teachers have a wide array of tools to help students who are feeling overwhelmed or simply having an off day after a tough therapy session. Teachers have the freedom to use low interventions, like suggesting students go for a walk or talk with a mentor, so they can come back ready and focused. If students are going through an extended emotional crisis, Shelterwood can provide a school experience in a more private environment outside of the classroom for weeks at a time.
This kind of teaching requires a level of improvisation not often called for in more traditional classrooms.
“The thing that’s trickiest about it is you don’t know what’s going to happen on a particular day,” Shelby says. “As a teacher, you have to learn to be flexible.”
Shelterwood teachers plan to cover a lot of material but learn to accept that how much of the lesson they get to on a particular day is dependent on how well their students are doing emotionally.
“At the end of the day, the thing that matters is that your students are doing okay,” Shelby says. “You can always make up lost class time later in the semester, but if your students aren’t doing okay, you aren’t doing your job.”
Preparing for spontaneity
Shelterwood helps its teachers adapt to Shelterwood’s style of educating with weekly training sessions. These sessions cover everything from classroom engagement tactics—compelling lessons can help draw students out and distract them from outside-the-classroom issues—to specialized intervention strategies.
“It’s really about being prepared for whatever happens and being the calming presence in the classroom,” Shelby says.
Shelby had taught in a variety of environments before Shelterwood, but never in a residential setting. She says it took her a while to get used to this flexible style of teaching. Fortunately, on her very first day, her students gave her a lesson in perspective that stuck with her.
Another teacher had advised her to have students sit alone at separate tables to help them focus. So as her students came in, she told them to all pick their own tables. Two of her students were friends and wanted to sit together; Shelby told them to sit apart.
“They looked at me, and one of them said, ‘Can’t you just give us a chance?’” Shelby remembers. “I thought about it and said, ‘You know what, yes, of course, I’ll give you a chance.’ And they never had a problem.”
Shelby says that experience gave her an important reminder.
“I think a lot of times, people come into Shelterwood, and they only see the red flags and everything that led up to our kids being here, instead of seeing the kids for who they are,” Shelby says. “They all deserve chances, and they all deserve that kind of respect.”
Would your teen benefit from Shelterwood’s flexible classroom environment? Get in touch with an admissions counselor today to learn more.