Creating What Our Kids Need with Tanya Sheckley
July 18, 2023
Creating What Our Kids Need with Tanya Sheckley

You don’t have to be an educator to make an impact in education. Sometimes it’s a concerned parent, looking for what’s best for their own child who can make the biggest impact. And the more parents like this week’s guest, Tanya Sheckley, take action, the faster we’ll have educational systems and support for all our youth.

When Tanya’s daughter needed additional support at school, but the school could only offer a modified curriculum rather than a full inclusion model, Tanya knew that she needed to do something different.

That’s when UP Academy was born and Tanya began advocating for educational change.

On this week’s episode, Tanya and I talk about how to create more inclusion in schools, why modifications should be available for everyone (not just those with IEPs and 504 plans), what real-life experiences look like in practice, and what others can do to take us out of the status quo.

This is an inspirational interview that will have you thinking about what you can do in your own community. The answer is: a lot!

About Tanya Sheckley:

Tanya Sheckley is founder and president of UP Academy, an elementary lab school which values innovation, empathy, and strength and incorporates a unique neuro-development program for children with physical disabilities. Tanya’s vision and mission show it’s possible to celebrate differences, challenge what’s broken in the American education system, and that all children can receive a rigorous, well-rounded education. She is an edupreneur, author of Rebel Educator: Create Classrooms of Imagination and Impact, and host of the Rebel Educator podcast. She speaks frequently on the future of education and entrepreneurship. She is a rebel educator who works with new and existing schools to question the status quo and develop innovative student experiences through inclusion and project-based learning.

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:50] – Where Tanya’s story of school transformation began
[4:24] – Goal was to create a methodology and prove it was possible, then make it available to others
[5:44] – Creating universal accommodation
[10:42] – Project based learning at UP Academy
[15:15] – Creating Real experience in the world to create self confidence
[15:39] – How learners explore STEAM and innovation
[18:46] – Where impact and imagination meet
[21:27] – Make sure we’re pausing and asking the people who are involved what they want
[22:27] – Launching a middle school in fall 2023
[23:20] – Creating core framework and philosophy to support other school founders
[25:28] – What others can do to take us out of the status quo
[26:25] – How can you take things away to give more space for educators to be creative and collaborative
[27:32] – Turbo Time
[31:25] – Tanya’s Magic Wand
[33:52] – Maureen’s Takeaways

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:08
Hi, Tanya, it is so good to have you on education evolution.

Tanya Sheckley 1:12
Hi Maureen and thanks for having me.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:14
And listeners. today I’m chatting with Tanya Sheckley, founder and president of Up Academy, an elementary Lab School, which values innovation, empathy, and strength and incorporate a unique neuro development program for children with physical disabilities. Tanya is also fiercely committed to education evolution, and the author of rebel educator, create classrooms where impact and imagination meet. Tanya, I can’t wait for our listeners to hear more. I’d like to begin with a Genesis question. We know that our schools must evolve to serve all learners. Where did this story of school transformation begin for you?

Tanya Sheckley 1:58
As a parent, so I don’t have a background in education. I didn’t go to school for education. I’m not a teacher. And so that makes perfect sense why we found a school and start writing about education. But I had three kids and my oldest daughter, Eliza had cerebral palsy and finding the right educational fit for her where she was going to get the therapeutics that she needed to be independent, as well as the academics that she was going to need to be successful. We just couldn’t find a school around us that did that mix? Well. It was kind of either a special education setting and you get therapeutics but you don’t get the solid academics that you would get in a typical classroom, or you’re in a full inclusion setting, and you’re getting a lot of the academics. But there are so many pullouts for services and so many interruptions that you’re not getting enough of the therapeutics to be independent, and you’re missing so many of the academics that that’s a struggle too. So we started looking at what would a better type of education look like? And how could we incorporate all of the things that we had learned through the first five years of her life, we spent time working with a clinic in Austria, we worked with an organization in Philadelphia, we were working with conductive educators and camps in the Bay Area. And, and not Danielle methodology, and just all of these different therapeutics and different things. And we knew what was working well. So how can we incorporate all of these things into a school setting that was also inclusive, because I wanted it to be able to not only provide for her needs and development, but also in space where she could be with peers, where her siblings could also attend, and which was inclusive so that all of us could learn and grow and develop together. And this idea was forming as she started public school and she went to a parent participation program, a wonderful school in Mountain View. I love the community in the school, I balled the day we left and we hope Academy. But seeing how well she was incorporated into the classroom, how well she was accepted by peers and how well project based learning worked with a wide variety of learning profiles and a wide variety of abilities really laid the foundation for what we knew was possible in education. We just hadn’t seen it yet. But I think is probably where a lot of founders come from with this idea of hey, this seems like it would be possible. I haven’t seen it, can we make it can it happen? And that was our goal was to create a methodology to prove that it was possible and then share it with others and how can we help other schools to incorporate project based learning and multi age or multi ability settings?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:49
That is so powerful and and I agree, I think that there is that catalyst of like, boy, I can picture this. Maybe we should create it so we can help it spread And, and like you, I started my micro school wishing for something different for my daughters, unlike you, I help them graduate early and then open it. So and it was a high school, I wish that I had a magic wand or I guess a crystal ball and could have seen how rocky high school would be. Because overseas, their middle school and elementary was very communal and working well. And I wish I could have created something to influence their secondary experience, like you’re making a difference for your children. But I agree, we see what could be, and then it’s up to us to create it. That is so powerful. You’re in our previous conversation, you had talked about universal accommodation? Could you define that for our listeners, please?

Tanya Sheckley 5:48
Sure. When we look at accommodation, I think what we what commonly happens is a student who has a five, a four or an IEP, and they have accommodations in the classroom. And so there might be one desk that has a kicky band on the straps, the chair, so the student has something to kick against and get some feedback from, or there might be a couple of tools for self stimulation, or that student might have their own pair of noise cancelling headphones. And when we do that, and then we do social emotional lessons around how we all learn differently, and how we all thrive differently, and how we all need different tools to help us through the day, like all of that education was necessary. And all of that is true. But what we’re modeling in our classroom is that only this one person gets these tools and modifications even though we all learn differently. And so why do we not make all of these things available for all of our students, because there are certainly times, no matter where you fit in the spectrum of neurotypical to neuro diverse, there are times when a pair of noise cancelling headphones are really helpful. And yeah, there are times when something’s going on in your life and like you need to bounce you need to move or you need to go for a walk. And so when we make these things available for all of our students, our classrooms have for flexible seating, there’s bouncy seats, there’s wobble seats on the floor, there’s lap desks, there’s swivel seats, they’re regular chairs, there’s a classroom set of noise cancelling headphones and a set of classroom agreements that the class has agreed upon when it’s appropriate to use those and when it’s not, there are peace corners, with toolboxes, with sensory tools in them, and fidgets and ways to create self stimulation, self regulation, and using them helps to build students self awareness of what’s going on with their bodies and their minds and when they need a break, and when they can keep going. So be creating that as an atmosphere. Now the students who need the accommodations have them, they’re readily available. But our verbiage of everybody learns differently, and everybody needs different tools to succeed, really means everybody.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 7:59
Yes, and I feel like that just because a child doesn’t have a fiber for an IEP doesn’t mean that some of these strategies wouldn’t be effective. You know, somebody can have sensitive hearing, or really like to work in a quiet space with or without any official accommodation list. So what you’re doing is also helping students reflect and figure out how they learn best, and then self advocate for what they need. So that, to me, those are life skills, what how am I doing? What do I need? How do I ask for it? So to me, this goes beyond somebody with a specific list of accommodations, and you’re giving you all of your students life skills, and saying that all of you are unique, and modeling it beautifully. So I think that is really powerful. Have you seen that in other schools or classrooms where it’s universal in terms of resources and supports?

Tanya Sheckley 8:55
No. But that’s not to say it’s not out there. It just means that I haven’t been in those schools and seen it. Usually, what we see is it’s the one student who has the accommodation has those things, or sometimes if they have an inclusion program, which is a whole nother thing. But if there’s an inclusion program, there might be a corner of the classroom where there’s spaces with a few bouncy chairs and a couple of sets of headphones. And that’s, that’s kind of a middle ground of space that anybody could use that space, but there’s still limited resources. And that’s what I’ve seen more commonly, I haven’t seen other schools that do so many universal accommodations in all of their classrooms for all of their students. But to your point, like we really believe that that’s a part of helping our students build their social emotional muscles and the intelligence of helping them learn their own self awareness of helping them to self regulate. You know, these are things that even as adults we do, we don’t sit in the same chair in the same table in the same desk to work all the time. Right we have couches. In chairs, in our offices, we have outdoor working spaces, we have communal spaces within offices that we can go work. If we need to take a break, we go outside and take a walk down the block and come back and clear our head like, these are things that are afforded to us in the working world, that we can create similar situations. While of course, like I’m an elementary school, so of course, still having supervision and making sure that it’s done as a class and as a group. But allowing for all of these different methodologies of learning and spaces and, you know, finding their just right spot for success.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 10:37
I like that they’re just right spots. Yes. Let’s talk a little bit about project based learning. I think a lot of people are under the impression that you can do a chapter out of a textbook, and then Hey, kids, what project do you want to create? To show that you learned the unit, you listen to my lectures, you read the, the chapter. And I think that that summative project is one piece, but I think it can be a lot bigger. And I know Academy has a much bigger definition. Can you tell us what project based learning looks like at your school?

Tanya Sheckley 11:16
Yeah, there are so many different ways and methodologies of project based learning and so many people that use that term. It means different things. And to your point, a lot of times it is here, we’ve had this unit, now do a project to show me that you’ve learned it, which I do think is a step better than giving them a test. Like now they’re involved. And they’re incorporated, and they’re thinking about the things they need to create to show the things that they’ve learned and picked up through the unit. But when we look at project based learning, we do it as a full 10 to 12 week concept, thematic Deep Dive. So right now our students are in a unit that we’re calling the economy. And so each class, each classroom teacher develops a curriculum that brings out things that are happening and current events, things that their students are interested in, and know concepts and topics and content knowledge that students need to know. And builds all of those things into a 10 to 12 week experience where we can deep dive into that theme. So they’re doing different things that build upon each other, while leaving space for their own interests and areas that they can explore as well. And they still come up at the end with some sort of deliverable or product or way to show or share their learning, you know, in that sometimes is a piece of art or a demonstration, or a drama, or a piece of writing or a book or, or an actual experience. Our kinder and first graders are learning about different jobs in a restaurant as part of their economy unit and how how a restaurant works, and a piece of you know, the basis of business. And so their deliverable is we’re partnering with a restaurant nearby, they’ve gone and they’ve toured, and now they’re going to interview for their jobs, they’ve all decided what they would want to do in a restaurant, they’re going to interview with the people who actually have those jobs, to see if they get the job. And then they’re actually going to the restaurants actually turning the restaurant over to the kids on a day that they’re closed, for them to be able to have their families and parents in and they’ll actually run the restaurant for for a couple of hours in that morning and actually serve their parents and take their orders and clear their plates and all of those things that you would do if you actually worked in a restaurant. So that’s incredible. are learning. It’s super fun. Yeah, these are five and six year olds. So yes, yeah. But they’re learning, you know, the basics of one piece of the economy, like what does it take to run a business? Who are the people that are intertwined in there, and these are kids that go out to eat, and I’m sure they don’t think about the host taking them to their table, and the waiter taking their order and the expediter bringing their food and the bus or taking their food away, and the waiter bringing up their tab and the cashier taking their money like, you know, and the cook cooking their food, right. So there’s all of these different roles that now they can start to notice and pay attention to and not only in a restaurant setting, but in the rest of the world and places that they go as well. And so that knowledge will just build.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 14:30
That is such a wonderful example. I love that. First, it’s interdisciplinary. And I know some teachers would say, Well, that takes common planning time. It does mean that you all have to have some conversations, but the interdisciplinary, the end product that the kids get to build toward and then the real world learning. You’re right, how are we going to increase their awareness we can talk about something but to have them interviewing for these jobs, getting these jobs and running the restaurant. aren’t as five and six year olds, that is just like such an amazing opportunity for them. And you guys are fully embodying what I consider to be the best in project based learning. That is, I’m impressed.

Tanya Sheckley 15:15
Thank you. Thanks. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely a lot of fun. Yeah. And just they gain so much from having real experiences in the world. And just that also self confidence of these are the things that I can do. Like, I may be a small child, but I’m capable of all of these things, is really great experiences for them as well.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 15:38
Absolutely. How do learners at up Academy dive into steam and innovation, through projects.

Tanya Sheckley 15:48
Many of our many of our projects incorporate science and steam and technology and engineering. One day a week, we have what we call pinwheel. So all of our educators, essentially the students switch classes, and the educators teach the things that they love to teach. And so our technology teacher teaches technology, and they do some robotics, play and technology play and coding and programming within that time, and then our other teachers teach drama and garden. And so they they all switch around, and they get to meet the other teachers really get to know and build relationships with everyone in the school. But that’s one of the ways that we bring in technology. We have a robotics team. So our school competes as a VEX robotics team, and our students just made it to states last weekend, nice for the students who participate in that that is an extra curricular program. It’s not, not everyone participates. But we also have like our last, so our last project unit we called galaxies of the universe. And that one was much more steam and science focused. Were like our second graders were out looking at this part of the universe on Earth. And we’re doing nature walks. And they learned about the local ecology and ecosystems from a local organization called EC Terra. And then they went out on a community hike with EC Terra and took their community members out and taught them about the local ecosystems and ecology on a nature hike. And so that was a couple of field trips and a piece of their last project, where our fourth and fifth graders actually built a colony on Mars. So they figured out what they needed, what they wanted, versus what they needed, what they had to have, they 3d printed all of the furniture inside all of their domes for their Mars habitat. They designed everything for the inside and printed it and created it. They have built actual domes, that would be their Mars habitat. They programmed micro bits to do things like check the water level in their soil to make sure that their greens were growing so that their people on Mars had food to eat, and to check the dust levels and the solar panels to make sure that they were optimizing their energy to make sure that they could run all of their pods and not run out of oxygen or electricity on Mars. So they went through a full, you know, deep dive project into both ecosystems and ecology, but also robotics and programming and design to create a whole colony. So that’s an example of a science or steam project.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 18:23
Wow, again, so interdisciplinary, so experiential. And we know that’s the learning that sticks. And then especially when kids have forgotten teach others, that we’re really reinforcing learning. So I’m sure your kids are taking away pieces that they’ll be able to tell their grandkids about this is really wonderful. Tanya, your book is about creating classrooms where impact and imagination meet, can you give us a bit about your books message, and what readers will take away?

Tanya Sheckley 18:56
I think a lot of it’s what we’ve been talking about. It’s really designed for parents and educators, whether you’re designing full trimester long, deep dive projects, like the ones I’ve been talking about, or whether you’re creating smaller experiences within the classroom, but it’s designed to give ideas of where to start, how do we start to shift our educational system from the one that was designed in the late 1800s to feed the industrial age, where we could all be factory workers and we were all learning the same thing at the same time in the same way so that we could all be very similar people and move the Industrial Age forward to one of now where artificial intelligence is doing a lot of that for us. Robots are doing so much of what those jobs that the education system was originally designed to support people to be able to do. Now it’s how do we look at each job and each thing differently so that we can engineer something that can do it for us to free up our time. so that we can do something more involved in humanity, for lack of a better way to put it. Right? How do we develop our empathy skills, our problem solving skills, our critical thinking skills, you know, especially with chat GPT, it can write our essays for us now, and we have a say do in school. But we need to have the ability to go through to proofread to see where the sources came from, is it true? Is it not true? Is this something that pertains to my assignment? Or not? What do I need to edit? What do I need to add? What do I need to pull out? And so it’s all of those critical thinking skills, as well as the collaboration skills that we learn in project based learning that we’re going to need in the future. And so the book talks about ways to start small in the classroom to start looking at how do we educate differently? How do we present topics differently? How do we build interdisciplinary or experiential education opportunities for our students, in whatever educational setting we’re in there, you know, from small to large changes that we can make. And so it, it talks a lot about those ideas. And then I think the secondary point is how we listen and collaborate and work together as educators and as parents, and listening to our students, you know, really asking them, what do they want? What did they learn? What are they missing? What do they want to learn? What is their favorite way to learn, even in a very collaborative project based environment like ours, as we reached out, and we’re launching a middle school, and we asked our fourth and fifth graders, like what do you want in the middle school? What should that experience look like? What’s important to you? And for several of them, yes, it was continuing project based learning. They wanted more autonomy, they wanted more free time to focus on math. They love math, and science, and engineering and tinkering, they wanted more time to do those things. And so it’s making sure that we’re pausing. And we’re actually asking each other and asking the people who are involved in the things that we’re doing, what do they want? And then how can we incorporate that and make it happen for them?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 22:10
Wow, this book sounds like a great place for people to get the ideas and get started, even baby steps, anything moving us forward. So I was going to ask what’s next for you and your mission? I think you’ve foreshadowed a little bit. Talk to us about what you’re working on now.

Tanya Sheckley 22:29
Sure, so we’re launching a middle school, and yep, I’m sixth and seventh graders. And so our fifth sixth and seventh grade will move to our middle school location next year, designed to be very inclusive with radical autonomy, lots of space for students to develop their own projects and ideas, while also deep diving into literature and humanities and math concepts and science, with educators. So really a mix of what school can be when we take a really project based approach alongside making sure our students are getting all of the academics and things that they need to be successful in high school and beyond as they move on. And the other thing we’re building is our core framework and philosophy. So we’re putting that together so that we can support other founders around the country and around the world to open up academies or schools that are like up Academy. So moving that affiliate network and coaching and developing others to open their own micro schools.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:40
That is so important. I, during the pandemic, a lot of people because I’d written a book on creating your own micro school, a lot of people were reaching out, we want to create something. And there are very limited resources and their stories were all so different in what they wanted, and why and what their resources were. So for you to be pulling together, you know, your core framework, your philosophy, just to be that example. Even if they tweak it and go a different direction to have a starting place. And to have a resource out there. It can be kind of lonely, creating a school, I experienced that anyhow. So I think you’re making it easier for more kids to get to learn in very authentic ways. So good for you.

Tanya Sheckley 24:28
Yeah, it can be lonely. And it’s challenging to be the leader of an organization. And there’s so many things that you need to share or need to talk about. And there’s no one in your organization that you can share or talk to them about when you’re in a small organization and really charged with the majority of the leadership. So that’s definitely part of it is how can we create a network and a circle of leaders who have you know, that support and those places to bounce it yours and ask questions and you know, people who are a little bit ahead and people who are a little bit behind where they may be on their journey to help ask and support the same way we do in our mixed age multi age classes, right, the kids are a little farther ahead, and although, you know, farther behind on their educational journey, because of, you know, their ages and their experiences, and it’s the same thing and in business, so how can we create that space?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:25
Absolutely. What would you say are three steps that others could take to help get us out of that status quo 1800s School landscape that you were talking about steps that would have a lens on universal accommodation?

Tanya Sheckley 25:43
I’m trying to think of like, what three nicely packaged smiles? Like three major policy change?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:55
Maybe a little, maybe, questions, they should be asking themselves all the way up to what they should be petitioning for.

Tanya Sheckley 26:02
Yeah, I mean, I think the main question, and I’m sure that most educators ask themselves this on an almost daily basis, but is, you know, what is best for my students? And how can I create that environment. And that’s really when we look at, you know, the way we approach universal accommodations or the way we approach project based learning, or the way we approach you know, hiring and development of our educator team, because you had mentioned, going back a little bit you had mentioned, you know, how much time and collaboration and planning it takes to create those types of projects. And, you know, we, we block off professional development days for planning each trimester. And our educators have somewhere between four and seven hours a week of prep time that they spend collaborating and coaching each other and developing and building projects and building curriculum. So having the opportunity to build that into the school. So I guess that’s kind of the other piece for leaders is how can you take things away? Stop doing things? What initiatives Do we not need? What’s not performing the way we thought that it might that we can get rid of, so that we can create space for educators to be creative and open up possibilities in the classrooms? So that when they ask the question, what is best for my students, they have the time and the space, and hopefully the budget to be able to create those things?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:29
Absolutely. I would like to pivot and just ask you a few questions to get to know the person behind up Academy a bit. Are you ready for some turbo time questions?

Tanya Sheckley 27:41
Let’s do it.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:42
Yeah. What’s the last book you read?

Tanya Sheckley 27:47
So I’m currently reading during the pandemic, I got really into like young adult dystopian fiction, because I needed an escape. I read the entire Ender series, and all of the books that went with it, but I’m, and since I finished that I’ve been looking for other things I’m currently reading lock in by John Scalzi. And on the nonfiction front, I’m also reading collective illusions by Todd Rose.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 28:13
Wonderful. How about two inspirational folks that you would love to meet? Richard Branson, and the Obamas I’m just starting her second book on audiobook just because I want to hear her I read her becoming in hardback that I. Yeah, I’m with you on that.

Tanya Sheckley 28:32
Yep, that was another one of my pandemic reads. I also read becoming

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 28:36
Yes. What is a pet peeve of yours?

Tanya Sheckley 28:42
Lately, the biggest thing that’s been driving me, my biggest pet peeve recently has been not throwing away your trash. After you eat something or take something out. It’s been happening all over my house. I find ice cream wrappers on the couch and on the dining room table and snack wrappers from the bars on the counters. And the trash cans four feet away. You don’t need to leave the wrapper here. You can put it over there. That’s the thing that’s been bothering me the most lately. Yes.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:14
Mommy angst. Yes. How about your favorite thing or fun fact about San Francisco?

Tanya Sheckley 29:22
Hmm, my favorite thing is probably also my least favorite thing, which is the bridges honestly, they’re so pretty in so massive and so amazing. And when I think about the feats of engineering to build them, and like spending any time looking at the Golden Gate and you can watch helicopters fly under it because it is so high and so stable, as long as there’s not an earthquake, I guess I hope they fix that and the suspension bridge era. But like, I think they’re just amazing and watching the Bay Bridge and the light show that they built on that and how they turned a bridge into a work of art I think is really Phenomenon. But I also hate driving over the bridges. It makes me nervous every single time, I’m always afraid there’s gonna be an earthquake while I’m on the bridge. So it’s a love hate relationship, but it’s something that makes the city and its architecture very unique.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 30:18
And what is something that most people don’t know about you?

Tanya Sheckley 30:22
So I am an introvert, which most people do know about me. But I’m also a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, given the opportunity in one of my earlier jobs to go skydiving, I, no pun intended, jumped at the chance. I try and get out and go snowboarding as frequently as I can, when I can’t do that, I try and get to the indoor climbing gym, like I need to have those activities that produce a fair amount of adrenaline. But that also I can step away from everything else and get into that state of flow, where your mind and body and brain just is all connected and together. And that also allows me to be productive in other areas of life. Yeah, those like going running in the morning doesn’t have the same effect. Like it’s important, and it’s fitness. But your brain can still do whatever it wants to. And it’s not that same adrenaline push, and it’s not doesn’t require that same amount of focus.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 31:17
Yes. Oh, I love that. I like to wrap up with a magic wand moment. So if I were to hand you a magic wand, what three components? Would you wish were a part of every elementary classroom?

Tanya Sheckley 31:34
I mean, I think that it comes down to is a lot about the educator, can we want warm, engaged, emotionally intelligent educators who are able to build real, lasting, knowledgeable relationships with their students. And that’s what you know, that’s one of the things that allows us to build really engaging projects, because our educators are drawing in what the students know and like, and where their strengths and where their weaknesses are. Yes, I think that’s, that’s a big piece, I would love to see smaller class sizes across the board. Because that’s another thing that really allows us to build social emotional skills, relationship skills, and allows teachers to get to know their students on a personal level, it’s really hard to get to know 25 to 30 students every day on a personal level, and know what’s going on with each and every one of them all the time. It’s much easier when you have 10 to 15. And you can really build that rapport and, and create that relationship. I think the third thing is fun. We forget that school, you know, it’s a big part of our students days. And while we are here, to educate and to share knowledge, and to help them develop and grow, it also needs to be a place of joy and a place of fun where they want to come we learn the best when we’re engaged in that learning, and we’re someplace where we want to be and where we feel comfortable and where we feel like we belong. And so that that sense of joyfulness in schools is so important.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 33:16
Those are three wonderful attributes that it would be ideal for every elementary to have. Tanya, thank you. Thank you for being on education, evolution, thank you for seeing a need and doing the hard work it takes to meet it. And thank you for reaching out with your programs and your philosophy so that you can help others do the same. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you.

Tanya Sheckley 33:43
Thank you so much Maureen.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 33:53
Way back in the 80s. When I student taught, I was fortunate enough to get to work with a mentor teacher, Vicki Swartz, who had recently returned from being a Fulbright teacher in England. She had also gone to Columbia University’s Bank Street College for her Master’s. Her theme based fifth grade classroom was my first experience with how empowered learners could be. The theme revolved around questions students wanted to answer on the given topic. And theme based learning has always been a wonderful way for learning to be owned by the learners. So what Tanya is doing it up Academy is the five star version of thematic project based learning building a colony on Mars, 3d printing the furniture for their domes, programming micro bits to check the soil. Talk about using learning for applications for are beyond a textbook assignment. Sir Ken Robinson would be pleased with the level of creativity that these projects entail. It’s wonderful that she and her team are going to develop their core framework and philosophy so that they can support and coach others in creating smaller, more engaging learning communities. I’m intrigued by the idea of universal accommodations, and letting all students build their social emotional muscles by choosing which tools they might want to use on a given day. We do some of that in our micro school, but up Academy has universal accommodations as a strong foundation. How might we all be able to move in that direction? And how might that empower students in wonderfully new ways? The action steps that Tonya mentioned resonate? How might schools and classrooms look different? If the guiding questions were what is best for my students? And how can I create that for my students? Her key point is well taken, we cannot keep adding on to our overburdened teachers plates. What can we take away so that teachers truly have space to be creative, and time to build collaboratively? Do we really need all those meetings are the reports and processes something that could be streamlined? This is definitely a topic that school leaders need to keep on their radar and find ways to improve on an ongoing basis.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 36:43
Sidenote, Tanya’s mentioned of San Francisco bridges reminded me of living in Budapest, the bridges over the Danube were stunning. Back on topic, Tanya’s magic wand Response began with how foundational it is for our educators to be warm, engaging, and able to build lasting and knowledgeable relationships with the students. Even if we’re in a larger school, can we have teachers loops so that they are with their third graders, and then again, with them as fourth graders? Can We team teach at the high school level so that we can have our learners for a block of humanities instead of a separate English and social studies class, there are ways that we can become more relational, and get to know our students better if we look beyond the traditional school schedule, and it is worth it. Of course, finding ways to have smaller class sizes is the ideal for kids to be seen, heard and valued. And I love that Tanya concluded with fun. That is a criteria that our students always put on the rubric. When we are interviewing a new teacher got to have that fun factor. Tanya’s hard work at Academy is helping transform the face of education and taking inclusivity to a whole new level. So impressive. Listeners, thank you for all that you are doing, and for being a part of the education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 38:28
I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I’ve spent years working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs. And it always struck me how much schools were able to get done with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your own school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together. Thanks again for listening. To support the education evolution. Subscribe so it lands in your podcast app and gets out to more decision makers. Then rate and review it. For more information and shownotes go to education evolution listeners. You are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen heard, valued and thriving. We are in this together and we need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.


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