Teachers here are given the space to try new ideas. We are given the authority. Decisions are made top down and bottom up. There’s a beautiful meeting place in the middle—so much better for the students (and the teachers).
At Putney, we teach science and activism. Students find topics and issues they want to explore further. My role is to say, ‘have you thought about this?’ I help them to be realistic. I give them space to be creative and to fail. I’ve had freshmen organize community meetings to get people talking about environmental issues. They get speakers. They volunteer— food drives, fundraising for shelters, festivals. If you don’t do something with what you learn, it can be very frustrating.
We balance the fundamentals with independent work. Our 9th grade integrated curriculum is a course called Humans in the Natural World. It develops a combination of skills and ideas from science, history, and sociology. We faculty created this curriculum in collaboration. I’m really proud of this program, and I think the skills it develops serve the kids really well. Students learn how to process and present information. They learn how to negotiate and work together.
I’ve found that when adults don’t trust students, students don’t trust themselves. When they come to Putney, sometimes they aren’t used to it. ‘You mean you want me to do something real?” They have a little freak out, then they get down to work.