The goal of student-centered education is not simply to let a particular student’s particular interest guide learning but also to use those interests as an on-ramp to something unexpected, something beyond the scope and depth initially envisioned. Megan Saxelby, a Humanities teacher at Hawken, helped guide one senior’s interest in the history and impact of the LGBTQ movement from personal curiosity to intellectual passion. 

In Megan’s Words: From the Stonewall Riots to our modern context, this course was entirely formulated around an area of shared interest as Emma and I both have a desire to explore the evolving understanding of queer identity and representation in the media, politics, and society.

From the paper topics to the research materials and readings to the final project, every element of this course was created collaboratively with shared input from Emma and myself. As this was an independent study, Emma’s passion was the central guiding force for this project, so my role as the teacher was to guide her exploration by providing texts, historical context, and challenging her analysis of the materials she was examining.

This course ended up being highly experiential as Emma not only had to guide her own learning throughout the course, but had to identify and engage with a variety of individuals from both Hawken and the greater Cleveland community in order to make her final project, a documentary entitled, “From Stonewall to Pride: An Exploration of Modern Queer Identity.”

From Emma, Class of 2019:

I originally decided to do an independent study because I wanted to use my final year at Hawken to explore new opportunities that the school has to offer. I realized that working one-on-one with a teacher would give me the ability to carve my own academic path, giving me the freedom to decide what and how I wanted to learn. My deep interest in LGBTQ+ history allowed me to become passionate about all aspects of my learning. I was able to research and write about topics oriented to my curiosity. My final project was a 35-minute documentary in which I explore modern queer identity and the formation of gay activism in the past 50 years. I decided to create a documentary because I wanted to use this academic opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. I have never created anything close to a documentary, so this was a chance to try something new.

For the documentary, I actually was able to interview a number of people inside and outside of my Hawken community. It was incredibly meaningful to me that my documentary included voices and opinions of people from drastically different walks of life. In this course, I was able to learn skills that helped me develop as an independent learner. This experience has taught me how to immerse myself in my learning by allowing me to have a significant voice in my education.

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Megan Saxelby

Megan Saxelby

Megan is a self-directed, enthusiastic educator who thinks kids are rad and learning alongside them is a joy. Her work combines research in neuroscience, dignity, social responsibility, and project-based learning to create transformative approaches that develop the whole person. Megan specializes in social-emotional learning and belives the future of education is rooted in the intersection of critical thinking and emotional intelligence.