Could building houses have made me a better teacher?

I used to build houses. My husband and I spent several years buying and rebuilding homes. We got pretty good at it. I loved the work because I learned so much about building and engineering from start to finish. I learned from structural engineers and builders who helped me turn ideas and drawings into realistic, functional and beautiful buildings.

memories of building

Memories of building projects

I learned to think critically and collaboratively as I worked with skilled people to realize ideas. And I got my hands dirty at every stage; I jack-hammered foundations on a two story beach house, I became pretty handy with a nail gun working along side builders to frame a house, and I even screwed down roofing before storms came through. Getting my hands dirty provided me with new insights and a deeper understanding and appreciate for construction and design. Those insights continue to be of use to me as a teacher and educator.

Two projects I am working on right now are as equally exciting to me as building houses. The first is a collaborative course I have been working on with a Math and English teacher called Data & Rhetoric: Power of persuasion. It is an attempt to design a truly interdisciplinary course that crosses the fields of statistics, english and design. We floated the concept for the course over a year ago; it would be different in structure and execution from a typical high school course. What was conceived though long conversations and real uncertainty about whether the new model would even be allowed to fly is about to start in just over a month. As I compare building houses to creating a new type of course I see some similarities in the process:
  • we had to be able to visualize it,
  • we had to be able to help others understand it (talk, share, show),
  • we had to believe in it even before there was anything to show (class sign ups, curriculum mapped).
The second project is at a different point of conception. Our school’s action plan includes initiating capstone experiences for students. Where to begin? As I think back over the analogy of building houses I feel like we have already begun the work of envisioning capstone experiences by creating and exploring a number of prototypes and programs. During the last two years we have been tweaking our Independent Study model which has provided insights we can draw on. My hunch is that from those insights a new and exciting model for Capstone is already forming.


As we start to sketch out what our Capstone ‘structure’ looks like I imagine different pathways, alternative avenues, and most importantly, flexibility because not one size fits all. Our students have such diverse needs and interests–and some don’t even really know what they are interested in by their senior year–so we need to design something functional and human-centered to meet that diversity. We have our work cut out, but like all creative projects I am invigorated by the possibilities and potential.


I wonder if I will build better houses in the future because of what I am learning about creating new structures and learning experiences for students?