CharterFolk Contributor Gabriela Roldan – Scholars’ Perspectives: The Navigator Squads Model

Good day, CharterFolk.

Today we are delighted to present a Contributor Column from Gabriela Roldan, Communications Manager for Navigator Schools.

We provide a bio for Gabriela below.

Gabriela Roldan, currently the Communications Manager of Navigator Schools, began her career with Navigator Schools, a network dedicated to exceptional outcomes for all students, nearly a decade ago. After college, Gabriela returned to her hometown with a commitment to making a difference. She started as a Teacher-in-Training at Hollister Prep School and became a founding middle school teacher strengthening her belief in the transformative quality of education. She carried this belief into her experiences as a school leader which include being the founding vice principal of Watsonville Prep School and former interim principal of Hollister Prep School. As Navigator’s Communications Manager she hopes to highlight and amplify the powerful stories within her Navigator Schools’ communities. Gabriela received her B.A. in English Literature and Communication from Fresno Pacific University and her Multiple Subject Education Credential from California State University, Monterey Bay. She has since completed leadership training with RELAY: Graduate School of Education and Innovate Public Schools. 

Scholars’ Perspectives: The Navigator Squads Model

Ask any teacher, and they will say there are few things more exhilarating than a classroom of scholars deep in the pursuit of learning, understanding, and connection.  The electricity that seems to zing from one scholar to another as discoveries are made—such as “what does x in fact equal?”—creates a current of excitement and triumph. A classroom buzzing with collaborative conversations, whispered “huzzahs,” polite debates, and confident “I think I made a mistake” proclamations is the dream learning environment . . . right?

In a previous interview column, we shared information about our instructional model that promotes student-led classrooms: The Navigator Squads Model.

Since that time, Navigator’s focus on the Squad approach has garnered considerable attention outside our organization.

While many visitors focus on our educators who clearly enjoy a highly engaged and highly collaborative learning environment, we thought the time was right to cast more attention on the experience of students.

What about our scholars? What do Navigator students think about this team-centric learning community?

To identify and share our scholars’ thoughts about Navi Squads, I interviewed middle schoolers across our schools from 6th through 8th grade. I share their thoughts below.

What are Squads . . . from a scholar’s perspective?

“So, in squads, us kids work in groups, I guess you could call them teams. There are three people in the squads, and each person has a responsibility. One person is the presenter, the other the squad leader, and then a quality control. There are three other kids who walk around to help their three squads, and those are team leaders.”

– Emiliano, 6th grader (first year of squads learning)

This image provides a model of what the scholars are describing.

“In our classes, squads are basically nine teams of three: a quality control person, a presenter, and a squad leader. Each teammate has a responsibility while we are going through the lesson. There are also three team leaders who walk around the classroom and teach different squads if help is needed.”

– Paige, 8th grader (third year of squads learning)

How the Squad model looks in a Navigator classroom.

Which Navi Squads role has been your favorite?

“I was a team leader at the beginning of the year and I didn’t like it at the start— but then I started liking it because it’s a chance that you can talk to other students and to, like, explain. Also, to ask for help. Like I have made a lot of friends, now, because of squads and how it makes me talk to all the other students. I’m even our class president now!”

I’m curious, why didn’t you like it at the beginning of the school year?

“Because there were a bunch of people I didn’t talk to and I was, like, oh now I have to work with this person I don’t talk to— I think I was shy, but now I became close with everyone.”

– Emiliano, 6th grader (first year of squads learning)

“My favorite role has been presenter— you just feel, I don’t know, like proud, I guess because you’re showing your work up on the screen. You feel, like, important! It’s also cool because you’re the one that gets to, like, airplay onto the t.v. and show your annotations and squad work things.”

– Mason, 8th grader (third year of squads learning)

“I’ve learned that I really like helping people and being a team leader, I get to do that in squads.”

As a team leader, how do you get the opportunity to help other students?

“I have my three squads that I work with and I’ve become friends with all of those students, and when they get stuck . . . or don’t know how to solve something, I can jump in and help. I want to be a doctor when I grow up, so I think, I don’t know, but I think that’s why I like helping everyone in my class.”

– Paige, 8th grader (third year of squads learning)

“I’ve been presenter, first.”

How was that?

“It was, like, easy, being presenter, those roles are not very hard to do, you have a responsibility and everybody’s goal is to just to, like, help each other and to work together as a team.”

– Robert, 8th grader (first year of squads learning)

How is learning in the Squads Model different from your previous classroom experience?

“So, before, you wouldn’t really talk to your friends, you would just learn from the teachers. And, basically, if you needed help you had to raise your hand and ask the teachers; but now, you just can, like, talk to your squad.”

– Jade, 6th grader (first year of squads learning)

“I think it’s different because we work mostly in teams now, and we can talk to our friends.”

Are your friends always in the squad you work with?

“No, not always, but you make friends with almost all of your classmates because you work together a lot. We like helping each other, even though I like independent work, I can see why we are taught to work in teams. I know it’s something I’ll need for my future job and college.”

– Gabriella, 7th grader (second year of squads learning)

“Well, in [my previous middle school] a teacher would help everybody. We would still help each other, sometimes, like if somebody didn’t understand, but, like, not at the same scale as in squads. Most of the time, if we did help each other it was not because we were on the same team, but because we were close friends. Here, even though I’m new, I have made friends really fast because of squads.”

– Robert, 8th grader (first year of squads learning)

Are there any skills you’ve developed or improved since learning in Squads?

Yeah, I think one of them is talking to people, especially students. Now, we feel comfortable talking and explaining lessons to each other. Also, asking each other for help, we are cool with telling each other we don’t know how to solve something or write something.”

– Julian, 6th grader (first year of squads learning)

“Yes, a skill that I have improved on is talking with my classmates. Like, I know people who are in 8th grade and they don’t know how to work in teams!”

– Emiliano, 6th grader (first year of squads learning)

“Um, communicating with people! Now I know how to explain a question, or even, how to ask my question.”

– Gabriella, 7th grader (second year of squads learning)

“Talking to people. It was easier to make friends because this is my first year here and squads made it easier to get to know other students.”

– Dante, 7th grader (first year of squads learning)

“Communicating and compassion, definitely.”

Can you give me some examples of what you mean by that?

“Sure, I mean that we have learned to care about each other and our teams. For example, I care about people in my squads, and if I’m quality control or presenter, I’m able to communicate to make sure we are on task and understanding.”

– Jennifer, 8th grader (third year of squads learning)

“I used to be a really poor communicator and I feel like I’ve just grown as a person by just learning how to communicate better with people.”

– Paige, 8th grader (third year of squads learning)

If you could give advice to your 5th-grade self (or before Squads), what would you tell yourself?

“I would tell myself to don’t be shy, or don’t be embarrassed, and if you have a question to just say it, it’s how you can learn.”

– Emiliano, 6th grader (first year of squads learning)

“I would tell myself to just be open to talking to everyone. I would also say just be nice to everyone and no judgment.”

– Paige, 8th grader (third year of squads learning)

“Appreciate other people’s opinions— do not be, like, I am the only one who’s right here and I will not listen to you even if your solution is also right. Listen to other people because sometimes other people help you. This happened to me once, I had the right solution, but other people had a much better way of solving and I listened to them and it really helped me understand something better.”

– Robert, 8th grader (first year of squads learning)

Why do you think your school uses Squads?

“I’m pretty sure it’s to help us be better teammates and to learn more from each other.”

– Julian, 6th grader (first year of squads learning)

“I think they just wanna develop our leadership skills. I think our school is just trying to get us kids more used to working in teams to prepare us for the future.”

– Gabriella, 7th grader (second year of squads learning)

“They probably hope that it helps us develop better social skills for the future. Also, probably, so that we can all learn more.”

– Mason, 8th grader (third year of squads learning)

To learn more about the Navigator Squads Model, please visit: