In my last blog, I shared my beliefs about learning. I wrote about learning being organic, nonlinear, and unique to the individual. I have read books and articles that dare one to imagine what school could be. Podcasts, Ted Talks, and videos challenged me to question the relevance of school and consider what additions, changes, and/or approaches might improve learning for students. My mind had been churning for years with ideas and plans. Originally, I sought to start an intentionally nonaccredited school because I felt that policy makers and accrediting bodies had gone too far in regulating schools. I understood and agreed with holding teachers and administrators accountable for student learning, but I had, and continue to have, a problem with the definition of learning that was chosen - passing standardized reading and math tests. The starting-my-own-school idea was rolling along quite well until I realized that I wasn’t a multimillionaire with multimillionaire friends who would support the venture.
In my January 11, 2019 post entitled “Right Place, Right Time” I shared how and why I landed my second choice (after starting my own school) in order to change the system of school. I had grand ideas and even created a document sharing the ideas below with my principal and interview team. I felt that these ideas could realistically be carried out even with the confines placed on me by the policies and mandates at each level of government (national, state, district, and building).
What one could expect from me in a classroom position – Principles that would guide my work:
I was so excited to live my philosophy of learning. My administrator and colleagues were on board. I had an amazing co-teacher and a rock star paraprofessional with which to work. Everything was perfect until… the students came.
I was not prepared for the reality. My perfectly planned ideas were more difficult to implement than I thought. One of my plan imperfections was the idea of compliance. I loathed the way traditional schooling forced students to comply with so many rules. Stand in line; no talking; ask permission to get a drink or go to the bathroom; do the assignment this way; read this; don’t do that; etc. I was eager to give students more freedom, choice, and autonomy. I wanted them to read about topics that interested them, not stories in text books. I wanted to teach the scientific method with each student determining what experiments to set up. I felt that students should go to the restroom and get drinks when they, and their bodies, determined. The way I would combat these compliance requirements was to make learning so fun that students would be reluctant to waste time. I dreamed of students being so engaged that they would complain when an activity ended. They would go home and continue learning about their chosen topics without any direction to do so. Believe it or not, week one did not follow the plan. Nor did weeks 2 through 20.
I had expected that when I asked my students to respectfully listen to directions they would. I thought we would jump right into 4th grade level material. I expected that when I gave students nonverbal cues to stop disruptive behavior, they would stop. Boy was I naïve! I quickly found that while my students had minds of their own, which I wanted them to utilize, no learning would take place until someone exerted a modest level of control. Luckily, I had a teaching partner. Stacy Morley, a seasoned teacher with many solid strategies up her sleeve, rescued me from my idealistic self. Since the beginning of the year, we have found many ways to incorporate ideas from my list, but all of them have played out differently than I had expected. We are communicating with students in Spain and Kenya, although not as frequently as planned. We received a grant to support a classroom redesign project and are trying to find time to fit it in amongst competing obligations. We are also seizing upon student interests. Our class developed a fondness for books regarding civil rights issues. At indoor recess one day, several girls approached and asked if I had any more civil rights books. I handed them the book, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison. By recess end, they had each identified themselves with a woman from the book based on shared hobbies and interests. After a short conversation, the girls begged to hold a wax museum event where they would become one of the women leaders from the book. They pitched the idea to the rest of the class and the event was scheduled. Had school not been canceled today because of extreme cold weather, that event would have been held. We will reschedule and our students’ plan will unfold, but like my plans for the year, it probably won’t turn out exactly as they envisioned.
As a teacher you need to dream big, so you know where you want your students to go and you are not inhibited by the day-to-day minutiae. You also need to be grounded and work hard to figure out the complexities, obstacles, and nuances that make a version of your dream come true.
What dreams do you have for your students? Do plans need to change if you want to include students’ ideas? I would love to hear about your best laid plans.