Pairing Classes for a Unique School Experience with Kimberly Sheppard of Henry County Schools

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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I was invited to do a keynote speech in Henry County, Georgia approximately seven years ago. I was so impressed with a commitment to growing a personalized learning culture there through family conversations, professional development events, software platforms to house student work and reflection.

This shift was supported by a sizable school and district leadership teams to develop a culture where students were partners in their learning. In fact, I was the second keynote of the day. The first was from Anthony Johnson and was so enamored by his story, we connected and he wrote a blog post for Learning Personalized.

One of the personalized learning coaches I met that day was Kimberly Sheppard and have stayed in touch with her since. When she began posting a series of connected learning experiences that pair CTE classes with academic classes both in scheduling, planning, and project design, I was immediately intrigued.

This four-part interview features this unique block scheduling approach and the impact it has on teachers and students.

I would love to hear what you think — what are some ideas that might be possible in your school? What are examples that are similar to what Kimberly is describing? How might we continue to elevate cross curricular connections more consistently?

PART 1: Combining Dance and Anatomy for a Unique Classroom Experience

What do a dance class and an anatomy class have in common? A lot, if you think about it.

Assistant Principal Sheppard elaborated on a program within Henry County Schools that actually combines the two into a two-block curriculum.

“Our team looked at how we could allow for pairings,” she said. “And the pairings were between CTE classes and academic classes. We wanted the students to see the real world application in the academic classes that they’re taking.”

Assistant Principal Sheppard then gave the example of a student demonstrating specific muscles for an anatomy lesson through dance.

“The teacher has allowed for the students to not only research and find out more information, but then to lead the lessons as well,” she said. “So I think that’s been a powerful example of some of the time that the students are able to share and to spend.”

PART 2: Chemistry and Cosmetology Taught Together

Once students leave for the day, Henry County teachers have a unique block of time in which they plan together.

“The ability to collaborate has just been invaluable,” said Assistant Principal Sheppard. “We’ve created an authentic lesson plan for them that allows for both teachers to put their standards, their activities, their lessons in and then anytime that they’re going to collaborate together and work together as two classes.”

One pairing?

Chemistry and Cosmetology.

“The teachers quickly found ways that they could allow their students to have that opportunity,” she said. “They quickly recognized that, here’s my standards, and the connections between another course of standards. So the identification of their own standards has been much deeper and what they’re actually teaching and how they can go about that.

PART 3: How To Personalize Learning by Pairing Subjects

Imagine an automotive class. The instructor enters the classroom at the beginning of the day and announces to students that there are two “customers” coming in with car problems. What are some ways the students can solve these problems?

This is part of a program at Henry Schools in which CTE classes and academic classes are being paired to create a unique experience for teachers and students.

I was thrilled to interview Assistant Principal Sheppard about this program.

“What’s been exciting has been the leadership. I’ve seen a lot of leadership across the building, but we’ve also seen more of that problem solving and even an entrepreneurial spirit.”

PART 4: Implementing an 80-20 Rule Within the Classroom

If you’ve ever tried to cram for an exam or learn a large amount of information in a short amount of time, you recognize the brain overload that can happen.

Assistant Principal Sheppard and I discussed Henry County’s method of circumventing that brain overload by implementing an 80-20 rule in which students receive instruction for 20 percent of the time and implement for 80 percent of the time.

Not only has it been a powerful practice for students, it has benefited the teachers.

“In fact, we used professional development time for them to actually sit down and look at what the idea and the concept was, and then for them to come up with a guideline of what would be taking place during the 20 percent of the time they would be using direct instruction and what would be taking place during that 80 percent where the students were actually applying the information,” said Assistant Principal Sheppard.

About Allison Zmuda

Allison Zmuda is a longstanding education consultant focused on curriculum development with an emphasis on personalized learning. Just as she advocates for personalized learning to be used by her clients, she practices it when engaging with her clients. Allison is also a partner in Habits of Mind with Bena Kallick and Arthur Costa and in Learning Sets with Heidi Hayes Jacobs. Learn more at

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Leela Varian
Leela Varian
2 years ago

Dr. Sheppard is a valuable asset to Henry County Schools. Her pedagogy regarding the mechanics of students learning is grounded in high impact instructional practices, and should be replicated throughout individual schools and districts.