Last week I asked my incredible grade 9 MYP Language and Literature class to provide me with a few good blog prompts. They have been working from my #March2C (March To Collaborate) blogging menu this month, and I thought it was about time we swapped roles. In the spirit of student voice, I then asked the class to vote on their favorite suggestions. It was difficult to choose just one prompt, and after much debating I’ve decided to investigate Stephan’s question:
What are the most important skills you’ve learned from teaching, and what experiences lead to learning those skills?
I’ve been very, very lucky in my career, I’ve taught in China, Thailand, Ukraine, Indonesia, Switzerland (and now, I am looking forward to the next chapter in Singapore!). I’ve also run a youth center as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. This means I’ve crossed paths with so many phenomenal educators, with so many inspired students. I’ve seen students explore their passions, dedicate themselves to producing incredibly original and meaningful projects. Years from now, I will still remember the then tenth grade student, Elena Lie presenting her incredible multi-touch book (which had hundreds of readers from around the globe). Years from now, I will still be awed by the leadership of one twelfth grader, Christy Z as she modeled what service is all about, and that Margaret Mead was more right than she will ever know.
SO WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?
After more than a decade’s worth of hours as an educator, I’ve learned to get out of the way, to make more space for students, and to let them own the learning. This is only possible if the teacher takes a step back, and remembers that the learning environment belongs to the entire class. This means I can’t dominate the conversation, I can’t ask students to just be quiet and listen. Instead, I’ve learned to facilitate networks, to try and be a catalyst for connection. It also means providing a void where students can tinker, think, and struggle with ideas. Because that is one of the most important things we all have to learn: how to cope with, and then how to thrive as a manager of your own thinking.
So what am i still learning?
Creativity isn’t just some self-indulgent feely thing. It has largely defined us as a species-Jesse Richardson
Because I believe that learning how to think is crucial, I must then value mistakes. I must then value frustration (here’s how you can start thinking about this further). I must then make room.
This isn’t always easy to do. The traditional role of the teacher is one of control and dominance. But what can students learn from that? Not much. If I do my best to be flexible, inviting, and generous with time students can learn so much. If Creative Problem Solving is the most desired, and hardest to find skill (according to this report), it is my obligation (and joy) as an educator to facilitate experiences which organically foster the growth for that aptitude. And creative problem solvers are not likely to be students who have been scolded and shushed. Making our way through conflict, over obstacles, and beyond the mundane is a noisy, risky, and collaborative endeavor. Becoming a creative problem solver takes time, practice, more practice and a willingness to make loads of mistakes.
That, is why I love blogging. I think it is a worthwhile experience for every learner to have a portfolio documenting, showcasing, sharing and breeding ideas. Will every post be incredible? No. But incredible ideas–moments of ‘a-ha!’ are the direct result of dozens of attempts at wondering. I could spend lesson after lesson lecturing. But I would rather spend lesson after lesson listening, and allowing ideas to find other ideas. The very best basketball players in the world spend hours on the very same shot. I hope my students will put in hours taking aim, shooting higher, dribbling with thought, and learning to love the sport of wondering.
So, fellow teacher readers–what lessons have you learned to treasure? Students, do you feel you are authentically learning to become a creative problem solver? Tell me all about it in the comment section below.
All photos via Flickr’s AMAZING Creative Commons Collection