Before joining Shipley as Head of Middle School in 2013, I spent the first 15 years of my career in a single-sex school. Teaching in a coeducational environment has been engaging, fulfilling, and professionally rewarding—and for a number of reasons, I would never go back.
Single-sex schools will often say that they know how to meet the needs of boys or girls, as if either group can be defined by one specific learning style or be best served by one particular teaching style. Having taught in both single-sex and coed environments, there is no one modality of learning that works best for a single gender. In fact, after teaching at Shipley for the last nine years, I know that every class is made up of all kinds of learners, and that they are spread out on a continuum of learning that our teachers work to address.
Some learners need to move and be actively engaged when they learn, while others need space and time to think about a topic and internalize it. This range of learning styles is reflected in every work environment, along with the college and university classrooms our students will eventually attend. As educators, our task is to help students identify their own dominant learning style, understand the strengths and challenges of that style, and how to be successful with it. This is why our Social Emotional Ethical Development (SEED) class in sixth grade focuses on learning styles and study habits.
Our students live in a complex and ever-changing world, and being in a coeducational environment helps them learn how to interact with each other. Starting with advisory groups that are balanced, students learn to work together and appreciate that people learn differently. Advisory groups tackle learning challenges where teams of students have to pull together to achieve a task. Working together helps students build the interpersonal skills we want and need them to have in order to be successful in the real world.
Another benefit from coeducational settings is the ability to address stereotypes as they develop. It is not uncommon for students to believe that “boys like sports while girls don’t;” or that “girls are good at languages while boys are not;” or my biggest pet peeve, “boys are better at math than girls.” Sitting in a class with others, they understand that we all compete equally, that different students shine in different settings, and that we are not predestined to be good or bad at something based on our biological sex.
Finally, making long-lasting connections with peers of all genders will stand our students in good stead as they head beyond Shipley and begin to define themselves beyond the walls of academia. Limiting one’s sphere of influence to a single-sex group limits the connections one can have later in life. We see this when our alumni return to visit and they share that their friendship groups remain as diverse as they were when they attended Shipley.
After teaching for 25 years in both single-sex and coeducational settings, I would have a very hard time moving away from a coed environment. The varied learning styles, personalities, and interests at Shipley could never be replicated in a single-sex institution, and I am so grateful that Shipley made the shift to coeducation 50 years ago.