Mar 04

The Wisdom of the Room

This is related to EduCon, but it’s also just about pedagogy.

I was sitting in a session at SXSWedu where a panel of educators were talking about how they had achieved a new initiative for their school. It was an hour-long session, and really, after about ten or fifteen minutes, it was clear what they had done — it was cool — but after that, the panel quickly got into the weeds about some very specific details about their implementation. I was sitting next to a friend, and we were quietly challenging each other about how this idea could work in our schools. And I realized that what I wanted was the chance to sit and talk about that idea with a few folks around me – in short, I wanted a more “EduCon-y” session.

I wanted this group to challenge the folks in the room to think about how the idea would work in their worlds. I wanted to be able to consider the stumbling blocks to the idea. I wanted to be able to collaborate.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t ever a place for panel discussions – there is. If you follow my twitter stream, you’ll know that I was in seventh heaven watching Randi Weingarten, Peter Cunningham and Valerie Strauss debate assessment and accountability. But when you have an idea about how to make schools better, letting people have the discussion and debate and engage fully in the idea will greatly enhance the probability that those ideas will stay with the folks in the room… and even better… you greatly increase the probability that some really novel ways to think about the idea will come out.

When it comes to playing with ideas, we need to remember that the wisdom of the room is something that needs to be respected. And when it comes to our classrooms, we need to remember that honoring the wisdom of the room also — and importantly — is a powerful way to ensure that students will more willingly engage in the idea itself.

Feb 25

Teach Kids Before Subjects

Ask any teacher what they teach, and you’ll get the typical responses:

“I teach science.”

“I teach 3rd grade.”

“I teach English.”

Words matter. And when we give those answers, we miss a chance to humanize our classroom every time.

We should always remember that we teach kids. And that matters. Say the first set of answers out loud and then say the next set out loud.

“I teach kids science.”

“I teach 3rd graders.”

“I teach kids English.”

If we around going to create more student-centered schools, then we need to start by actually mentioning the students when we talk about our classes and our profession. Before we expect everyone to be able to do it, perhaps we should actually say it first.

And what is important about this is that it does not suggest that the things we teach the kids are unimportant. Science is important. English is important. 3rd grade is important. But they aren’t necessarily important in their abstraction. They have to be important to the kids we teach. It is in the intersection of the kids we teach and the subjects we teach that meaning and learning happen.

What could happen if teachers started using this language? Could it start us at doing a better job of seeing the kids in front of us as people, not just as students of a subject? Could it remind us that it isn’t enough to love our content, but that we have to love the kids we teach too? Could this be the first step we all agree to take in building human – more humane – schools?

In the end, our kids should never be the implied object of their own education, and we can start changing that with the very language we use to describe what we do.