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Our Story

For the Leyden team, creating co.lab was a 3 year process. It began with a committee: the "Innovative Incubators". To find ways to improve the school experience, we used the Design Thinking process to first gain empathy for stakeholders in the community, particularly teachers and students. Our stakeholders talked about time and space restrictions, a desire to collaborate with other teachers, developing students' soft skills, and helping students find career pathways and passions earlier in their high school careers in order to help them better select elective courses, majors, and jobs after high school.

It became clear that the solution to our problem was to have subject teams join forces to create a school within a school-- one in which each day's schedule might look different than the day before, allowing for more field trips, guest speakers, and time to work collaboratively on project-based learning. We wanted to capitalize on connections across disciplines, reinforce learning through revision, and empower students with choice and leadership opportunities.



Step 1: Assemble the Team

Find a group of teachers interested in trying a new approach to teaching and learning and an administrator who supports them. Building a new program like this is a lot of work, so be prepared for the increased workload ahead. Try to find a balance of personality types and skill sets to formulate a well-rounded group.

Step 2: Write your Mission, Vision and Standards

Our mission and vision came as a result of Design Thinking and can be found on our homepage. Our standards were written with the help of instructional coaches in the building, resources like NGSS, Common Core, and NHES.

Step 3: Gain Support from Administration and Community

Once you have a vision for what your co.lab will look like, you might want to create a presentation to pitch your idea to the Board of Education. It is also important to find a school leader in your building (like a principal or assistant principal) who is able to attend meetings and be an advocate for your program.

Step 4: Develop your Curriculum

We were fortunate to have a great deal of support from our administration, who arranged subs for our classes (so we could have all-day meetings) and provided paid opportunities in the summer to plan our curriculum. We were also encouraged to visit other schools to observe existing interdisciplinary courses (see recruitment presentation for list of visited schools), and to attend conferences like the Buck Institute for professional development. Honestly though, this process is messy and there is no one correct way to develop a solid, interdisciplinary curriculum. Here's what worked for us:

      • BRAINSTORM! Look at the learning outcomes of your traditional courses, and try to see where there is overlap between disciplines. Talk about the best projects and lessons you've done in the past where students were successful. Talk about skills you want kids to learn and the various ways they might learn them. Discuss places you want to take them, people you want them to meet and experiences you want them to have.
        • Select overarching themes or units to help structure your year.

        • Use the ABCD framework to write instructional outcomes and unit narratives.

        • Use a protocol like this one when making decisions so each member's voice is heard.

        • Invite instructional coaches and other curricular gurus in along the way.


Step 5: Develop a Schedule and Committees

With the help of an administrator, start by choosing what periods in the day your program will run. At Leyden we have 10 periods in the day. At both campuses co.lab runs periods 3-9, with lunch period 5. Our goal at each campus was to not disrupt enrollment in other programming, like electives courses. Other factors to be considered were the availability of space, common prep time for teachers, and how other teachers' schedules might be affected by our choices.


Next, design a template or framework for how time might be broken down. In the Leyden co.lab, we have 4 general designations for how time is spent:

  • Workshops: Individually taught lessons- look like a more "traditional" class period.

  • Collaboratives: Co-taught lessons- two or more teachers guiding instruction.

  • Eagle time Wednesdays: skills- based lessons (grammar, SAT prep, plant lab, storyboarding, etc.)

  • Crew time: soft skill, team-building practice and whole group logistics like scheduling and field trips. 

Then, figure out a way to break your chunk of time it into equal blocks. We broke four class periods into five, 45 minutes sessions (without passing periods) making it easier to visualize how time might be used. Single sessions are used for workshops and crew, and we combine two 45 minutes sessions to make 90 minute collaboratives.

The creation of the schedule might lead to committees to divide up the work. Roles and committees to consider: resource (supplies, forms, transportation), schedule maker, secretary or keeper of the minutes, agenda master (sets the agenda for team meetings), liaison (attends school meetings on behalf of the team), eagle time committee, crew committee, and recruitment committee.

Step 6: Recruit Students

Get access to your incoming audience. Contact feeder school leaders and/or 8th grade teachers, and arrange to present to their students. Don't stop there! Arrange a time to meet with their parents. School administrative secretaries are great resources and can likely help you get parent contact information.

Step 7 and Beyond:

Launch the program. Live it. Reflect on it. Revise it. Be flexible and make adjustments along the way, and...

"It'll be great."- Molly Myers

How can you create a co.lab at your school?

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