A moment of thanks

I spent some time today dusting off my blog and found a draft of a post that I wrote immediately after the Center for Teaching Summer Institute’s Project-based Learning and PLC Facilitator workshops.  Sadly, I closed the lid for the summer before I hit “Send.”

With that, here’s a moment of thanks to the people that I worked with that week.  And let this suffice for the thanks that I owe the people I worked with over the last week in the CBL and iWorks workshops:

Last week I had the privilege of working with some of my favorite people and some new (potentially favorite) people.  For two days I worked with a team on cultivating PBL activities for the upcoming year, as well as cultivating a mindset of PBL in my own teaching.  The remaining three days of the week were spent working with my fellow PLC facilitators on preliminary planning for next year and some bigger picture goals.

The week was characterized by fluid learning spaces, bottom-up brainstorming, and strength in collaboration.  We used a newly installed idea wall to quite literally slap ideas on the wall and see which ones stick.  We picked our individual (reflective) brains and our team (evocative) thinking in answering questions such as “what do we want our adult learners to learn” and “what shall our goal be as a team.”  As a result, I learned a great deal and I helped to challenge my teammates’ thinking.  Thanks to Bo and Jill for a week of challenging, sometimes exhausting exploration.  And thanks to the teammates to took that journey with me.

This week I’m attending a three-day Economics workshop.  I’m teaching Spanish 5 Business & Economics course next year, so a colleague thought that I would benefit from this brief primer on current concerns regarding the teaching of Economics.  I’ve found some useful resources and I have managed to answer some of those key questions I need to build the curriculum.  I’ve also discovered that the day-to-day conversations I have at school and through social media are not the typical conversations going on in education.  In fact, these three days are more of a “foreign language immersion” experience.

First, I have been “sitting and getting” for two days straight.  I was handed a binder with inserts and we are following this curriculum as if it were a recipe for “Economics Pie.”  We are given breaks to stand up, stretch, and get a snack, and from time to time we stand up to do a sample activity, but for the most part, we sit and we get.

Second, the instructor, a former Economics teacher and current educational consultant, tells us repeatedly what is “coming down the pike” in the world of public education, change in standards, pay scale, testing criteria, etc.  He treats us graciously and conveys respect for the dozens of years of collective experience of the attendees, but there is definitely a sotto voce message being communicated: “I know and you don’t.”  Now, the fact is that I really don’t–I’m a language teacher with 0.0 years of experience teaching Economics.  But other teachers in the room would probably benefit from a more collaborative conversation about current and emerging decisions/trends in the state’s educational policies.

Finally, conversations almost exclusively revolve around “what we need to cover,” with little regard to what children need to learn (and just as doctors use professional language when prodding a suspect body part, yes, I believe that the difference between teaching and learning is a matter of professional use of language, not just breathless deployment of jargon–so “phthpt”).

Based on the language being used in the room (and perhaps these educators are using this somewhat informal venue to blow off the year’s steam), the child that struggles seems to be treated like a nuisance.  The only method of accommodation is to teach them less or less complicated material (the instructor’s opinion as well).  And most conversations point to one direction and one direction only: how can it benefit the teacher?  What’s in it for me?

Just to be clear, there are teachers from public and private schools, and they’re ALL speaking the same language.  I fully understand the challenges in teaching at other places (I’m a former rural public school teacher) and I also carry the DAY-TO-DAY thankfulness for the many blessings at my current school (I’m currently working my “dream job”).  In short, I’m not living in la-la land.

So from the last two weeks, I’ve learned the following:

  1. If I were a teenager, option A was an environment where I grew and helped others to grow.  My “instructors” not only didn’t bellow out the knowledge, they challenged us to find them in team.  As a result, I owned the knowledge before I “handed them over” for group consumption.  Yet, when other groups offered modifications, the knowledge only grew in depth, complexity, and relevance.
  2. I speak the same language with many of my colleagues.  It is a language that avoids categorical certainty and invites provocative rebuttal.  But even more important, whether in a PLC or not, the teachers I interact with daily are primarily focused on improving their practice, offering solutions to problems, and generating the best possible outcomes for the kids.  And regardless of our circumstances as teachers, that last little bit of language should be UNIVERSALLY understood.

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