The most powerful learning experiences are…
Lesley McTague’s classroom is unusual. It isn’t quiet, there are power tools and lasers, and you’re liable to come away messy. Questions are explored with curious minds and active hands. Failures aren’t just uncommon, they’re expected - that’s when the best learning happens! All are part of the daily happenings for McTague in her first year guiding our Upper School students through the learning laboratory that is their Maker Space.
McTague took a fascinating path to teaching and to Greenwich Country Day. Growing up, art was always her constant. “Traveling between countries and cultures, perpetually being the “new kid” in schools, I found that drawing was a way for a quiet girl like me to gain some recognition from my peers.”
That talent grew into a focus of study as she attended a high school centered on the arts where her teachers cultivated her skills and ambition. “All the teachers treated our efforts and our dedication to our chosen specialty (be it fine arts, theater, music, dance, literary arts, culinary arts) seriously and as such, we took our own growth and development seriously as well,” McTague shared. “It was therefore exciting to be ambitious with our projects because we were eager to push ourselves and see what more we could learn and accomplish.”
That ambition led to the Maryland Institute College of Fine Art and then to Harvard Graduate School of Design. Art had evolved from interest, to passion, to study, to livelihood, stoked along the way by teachers and projects that inspired.
McTague spent the last seven years creating art on a grand scale. Her projects were sweeping and dynamic scenic installations, designed specifically to steal the show at large events, such as the Robin Hood and the Whitney Museum Galas. She also taught classes at her undergraduate alma mater and at the Parsons School of Design.
McTague had successfully turned art into a career, but she went looking for a way to get deeper meaning from her work. She landed on Stanwich Road.
Connecting and Connected
In September, McTague welcomed ninth grade seminar students just beginning their time in the Upper School. They were there to bring their writing to life. The project involved the construction of individual light boxes, hand cut and joined, with self-installed LED lighting, and layers of laser cut designs to tell a story. It was an introduction for the students to their classmates. The light boxes illustrated a written piece each student had penned entitled, “This I Believe.”
The project was representative of McTague and her teaching, in that it weaved together disciplines and skills, with tangible deliverables and a high level of creative autonomy.
According to McTague, the “This I Believe” project successfully accomplished a few tasks, including introducing the students to the Maker Space and its resources, but most importantly, “it engaged students, right off the bat, in a process of construction that focused their attention on the “doing” - while giving them time to follow it up with a period of creative thinking that invited each student to personalize what they made.”
Active and Tangible
The Maker Space is an educational environment like no other in the Upper School. That is by design, and it offers a unique way to get at the learning process.
It is a space for exactly the kind of learning that resonated with McTague. “I’ve always been the type of person who loves learning, who’s easily fascinated by new knowledge and experience. And whereas I enjoy learning through reading, it never really sticks in my memory until I have a bodily memory of the experience - I need to involve my hands with my mind in order for the thinking to register in a meaningful way.”
Inspiring and Challenging
McTague remembers high school teachers with gratitude for not just instruction, but inspiration, and a place to ask big questions. “It was serious business exploring the subject of your creations, because the questions we were asking as to “why paint this, what am I trying to say, why does it matter” were, effectively, “who am I” questions and “how do I make sense of our world” questions.”
Amidst the omnipresent sawdust, goggles, 3-D printers, and circuits, McTague has helped to create a space for students to learn how they learn. There are lessons to be discovered here that McTague knows from experience will hit home and endure. “There’s a confidence you gain when you pursue a line of thinking, investigate it with curiosity and care, and then concretize it into a real thing.”