Posted by: principalsintraining | February 9, 2014

Week 3 #slowchatED Reflection: All Hands in the EDUhuddle

Cross-posted at SlowchatED

This video is the product of two students (Ben Enbom and John Hassen) at my school, Sir Francis Drake High School.  The ONLY thing I did was give them the driving question.  We collaborated on this project – well, it’s more like I mooched off of their artistry and passion for film.  I didn’t follow them around, I didn’t pick the people they interviewed, I didn’t review the final edit.  We talked ahead of time about my general ideas for this week’s chat and I trusted them to do the right thing.  And guess what?  They did the right thing.  Why am I so un-surprised?  I see kids doing the right thing all the time – they just want more opportunities to make meaningful contributions to the mini-verses of our schools…and beyond.

I’ve thought this question over for years – long before I stepped into my “authority/boss” role as assistant principal: while education certainly is a service we provide, the best classes I’ve been a part of (as a teacher, as an observer) feel like startups – everyone working shoulder-to-shoulder to create something unique.  It got me thinking: do we really want to continue a model where we TELL kids what to do and how to do it, or do we partner up as co-workers?  If we want them to be college/life/universe ready when they depart our (high school) shores, shouldn’t we give them the chance to ACTUALLY have a say in how those four years go?

I threw down a CHALLENGE in advance of the chat: invite your students to participate.  Have them make videos about the ideas we discuss and post them to the chat.  You know what ingredient has been missing for so long in the work I’ve done alongside my adult colleagues for 16 years?  Students in the room, giving us their perspective, ideas, and expertise.  Students putting their hand in the huddle when it’s decision-making time.  We can turn that around – but what will that involve?  What will we have to change, give up, leave behind?

I shared the first five questions ahead of time, but didn’t feel a genuine Q6 the Sunday before the chat started.  So rather than fake it, I decided to see where the chat would take us, and let Q6 flow from that.  I also have a confession to make: I worded each day’s question somewhat differently each of the 2-3 times I posted it.  Why?  Because it felt more natural that way.  We’re all asking big questions in these chats and there is no ONE way to ask something; if education aspires to be anything, it should be about teaching the art of asking questions, so it was really fun to let the questions shift, grow, and maybe become a bit more nuanced and interesting throughout each day.

Monday Q1: Being co-workers implies mutual trust/respect: talk about your school culture through the lens of St/adult relationships: strengths & areas 4 growth.

Tuesday Q2: Are YOU satisfied with the role your students play (or, if you are a student, YOUR role) in how your school operates?  Is the level of engagement where it should be? Explain why/why not.

Wednesday Q3: Do you think students need more of a say/voice in HOW your school operates?  In how your class operates?  Why/why not?

Thursday Q4: Talk about PD at your school: are Ss ever involved in meetings? In planning sessions? In debriefing how “the work” is going?

Saturday Q6: Forget pie-in-the-sky: what are you going to do TOMORROW to empower kids w/the knowledge/confidence that their voice COUNTS?

“…many flames of us, but one fire.” Ender’s Game

My basic approach to composing this summary/reflection post is to identify some of key threads of thought that emerged over the course of the week and include just a few of the relevant tweets to represent them.  (PS: You need to be following all of these awesome people!)  For each “category” I have also included items for our collective “resource quiver” (you never know when you will need to draw a thought arrow!).  This is at best a paltry attempt at capturing six days (actually seven – some of us were getting our thoughts in on Sunday!) of dialogue, sharing, and shedding of traditional perceptions of our roles in the school setting.

I pulled the above line from Ender’s Game for a few reasons: 1) I just read the book 2) This book is approximately 99.7% about flexible learning models, leadership, and cultivating a mindset of adaptive thinking rather than fixed knowledge/expertise 3) All of the chat participants were “flames” of thought, burning hot with their ideas and commitment to their work – this week’s chat was a fire indeed!

Something happened about 12:14 pm, Tuesday, February 11: a student joined a chat about students.  I obviously kept my cool despite the internal Richter Scale hitting 7.9:

RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE FOUNDATION (> BEING CONTENT EXPERTS)

OWNERSHIP, VOICE, AUTHORITY, DECISION-MAKING 

Resource Quiver:

  • “If Students Designed Their Own Schools” (shared by Peter Strawn)

MATURITY, EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

LETTING GO OF BEING THE “EXPERT” TO EMBRACE LEARNING ALONGSIDE EACH OTHER IN THE MOMENT

Resource Quiver/provocation:

SCHOOLS SHOULDN’T BE RUN LIKE A SHELL GAME THAT KIDS HAVE TO “GAME” IN ORDER TO GET AHEAD

One thought here (sorry to interrupt the flow), but I have to chime in on this one.  I frequently hear people defend this separatist, my-classroom-my-world silo-thinking that decades of educational tradition have infused into the air we breathe (perhaps more ubiquitous in HS, though not necessarily).  Why do people defend it?  They say that it teaches kids how the “real world” works, that they’ll have to deal with arbitrary bosses and arbitrary rules so why not get a head start?  Baloney.  I’m a “boss” of sorts I suppose as an assistant principal responsible for hiring, evaluating, and occasionally firing employees, so here’s a few questions to chew on: should I practice this same doctrine?  Make up a different set of standards for each person I’m responsible for evaluating?  Let them figure out what it is I require?  Yep, exactly – those are ridiculous and there are rightful safeguards against that kind of behavior.  This bleeds into the thread below – our fragmentation hurts students and teaches them that it’s not about their learning, it’s about figuring out what this adult wants out of me.

FRAGMENTED STRUCTURES/ADULT RELATIONSHIPS DON’T TEACH KIDS THAT ALL IS CONNECTED

Resource quiver:

ENGAGEMENT/EMPOWERMENT & STUDENT’S GIVING US FEEDBACK 

Resource Quiver:

STUDENTS AS PD PARTNERS

Had to include this, even though it happened during Week 2 of #slowchatED.  Each chat is invariably weaving connective threads with the others!

Resource Quiver:

In posing this topic, I meant to be more of an agent provocateur than anything else, to throw an idea-splatter up on the wall and see what stuck.  Students as co-workers is, after all, an idea, a concept, a thought experiment.  In the real world students won’t start drawing a salary anytime soon (not that they’re asking to).  We are adults, they are children, and cognitive development, law, and broad societal mores mean that we, ultimately, are responsible and accountable to oversee our schools and classrooms.  I’m also not insinuating that we adults don’t have a lot to offer and that our knowledge/experience/wisdom aren’t key tools in making education great for all kids – like everything, it’s about striking the proper balance:

(That does not mean that adults are always right or fit to do the job they are doing – but that is true in every sector of society; education takes so much heat for every “bad” teacher/counselor/admin out there because people feel rightfully protective of kids…)

So the real question is this: when it’s time to evaluate how we’re doing and look ahead to where we need to go (as schools, districts, Education writ large), do we have students in the huddle?  Are they in the room with us grappling with these questions and, ultimately, contributing to the BIG decisions on the horizon?  If the answer is “no,” then we are robbing ourselves of expert voices and disenfranchising them of an opportunity to get their hands dirty with “real world, big kid table” work.  It’s NOT too late, ever, to open the doors up and get those kids involved in the conversation as true stakeholders and decision makers.

We adults need to show we aren’t scared of change; if we really are worthy of being looked up to, then it’s time to be inclusive, not directive.  It’s time to expand our Learning Team to include kids as colleagues.

I’m really happy that this chat coincided with Valentine’s Day.  The most powerful thread that emerged for me (of all the hundreds upon countless ones!) is the LOVE educators feel for what they do.  Do we really struggle to define our purpose as a profession?  Nope – our purpose is right in front of us, the 4-18 year olds who need us in different ways according to their age and life circumstance and other unknowable factors, forces, and tensions…but they need us all the same.  The schools/organizations we work in are complicated places; as layered, multi-faceted and nuanced as each individual who makes up a part of the whole.  So we shouldn’t be surprised when we disagree and fight – we should see that as the beginning of a deeper commitment to each other and to the common purpose that brings us together.  I’m most proud of the work I’ve done with people I don’t (won’t?) necessarily consider friends; we have our differences but it’s the love we share for our work and the kids we serve that allow us to set those aside when we step into the #EDUhuddle.

February 14 (2013) is also the day I first posted on my blog.  The French writer Colette’s quote says it best: “Writing only leads to more writing.”  What has struck me most about this medium is that I am perfectly free to write from as limited a perspective as I wish; but more and more I choose to include more people and perspectives in that writing.  It is one thing to reference others from whom we take inspiration (I did so in a number of ways in my first post) – it’s entirely another thing to have those people co-author the post in their own words.  It feels like the short story author Teju Cole  composed from others’ tweets – stitching together something whole out of seemingly unconnected threads.

Massive UPS to David and Catina for leading off with two tremendous weeks of learning and connecting.

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