Independent Study and You: This Sort of Thing Can Be Your Bag, Baby

Ryan Ayala, Steamboat Springs High School Language Arts Teacher

NW BOCES is pleased to offer an independent study option to teachers in our service region. As a part of this course, participants complete a "public product" to share their experience and their learning. Below, Steamboat Springs High School teacher and guest blogger Ryan Ayala writes about the independent study he completed in Fall 2018. For more information about this course offering (or to sign up) visit nwboces.gosignmeup.com.

When I read the brochure for this Independent Study pilot program, I was initially a little put out.  I mean, I had this great new class starting in January and I assumed the program was only intended for teachers who were reworking existing curriculum.  Nevertheless, the lure of that Benjamin called out to me and I took the signed up anyway, thinking that, as the old adage goes, it’d be better to ask for forgiveness later.  I’m glad I did, for I was able to learn a few things that I can now share with you!

1) Independent Truly Means Independent

Perhaps I’m a cynic but I sometimes feel micromanaged in my teaching journey.  The feds have passed some new Common Core, the state has implemented a set of standards and benchmarks, the teacher evaluation system has been revamped into a sequence of boxes and checkmarks, the administration has created a new policy...the list goes on.  It was refreshing, then, to be able to guide my own thinking in an intentionally focused environment, free from the stressors of lesson planning, grading, extracurricular activities, etc. I met my coach on Day 1 and said that this program might not be for me, as I was mostly interested in fine-tuning my new class.  Beth, my coach, said if working on the class was how I wanted to spend my time during this session, then that’s what we’d do. I was floored! Being able to direct my own learning in this age of specialization was a boon! Beth provided me with resources, held me accountable, and was ready to engage in dialogue on best practices, leading me to...

2) A Listening Ear

Sometimes I talk to myself.  Perhaps this isn’t all that unusual, but it is a touch disheartening when trying to carry on a conversation about my new class.  Working with Beth on this course, then, was like talking to a wall, as I’m prone to do, but, with a little help from NW BOCES magic, having the wall talk back!  Beth and I met three times, and each time I dominated the conversation (as is my wont), blathering on and on about this or that as it pertains to my class. Beth nodded silently, somehow able to keep track of my unfocused nonsense, and...offered suggestions and critiques!  It was exactly the type of feedback I needed! You see, dear readers, I’ve been building this new class solo, with only my personal understanding of learning styles and standards and so on. Beth brought in a new perspective that kept me thinking and encouraging me not to rest on my laurels...the work on this class wasn’t done and I could still make it better!  I feel so emboldened and inspired by the ear and ideas that Beth was able to provide that I might just go out and forge some...

3) Cross-Curricular Connections

The class I created is called Music as Literature and it is a hybrid English/social studies class, though technically located within the English department.  I was a social studies major in college and am always jazzed to be able to get back into the history arena...and now I can! One of the goals that I am now able to fulfill as a result of this independent study is cross-curricular engagement.  I don’t want to be pigeonholed in my English corner; I have to be free and fly among all of the departments! Fortunately, Beth was able to steer me into emphasizing some of the social studies aspects of the course - modern American history, sociology, geography - and now I feel more comfortable chatting up my historical colleagues.  While I like to think I would have done this eventually, Beth and the independent study program encouraged me to go beyond my comfort zone and reach out before the class even begins in January.

So there you have it.  This independent study helped to guide my thinking and allowed me to feel even more stoked and ready for this class.  A special thank you to Beth and the entire NWBOCES crew for putting this program together. I know it has helped me heaps, in ways large, small, and potentially imperceptible...and it could help you, too!