This week the Coöp asks, What must we do to transform schools into places of authentic, democratic learning?
I’m with Becky and Paula. I join them in urging us, essentially, to forget the tests, to stop separating kids, and to build instead a joyful classroom community around shared work, authentic learning, and compelling assessment.
So here are my suggestions for transforming yourself into a facilitator of joyful communities and authentic learning:
- Publish your beliefs. Help your students, parents, colleagues, and administrators know you. You’ll find yourself in much more meaningful conversations about learning once you’ve taking a stand and sloughed the adaptive camouflage of compliance with traditional schooling. It’s easy to compromise your beliefs to please others when the system gives you all kinds of leeway in “managing” students, cooking grades, and designing inauthentic work. Take a risk and declare yourself. Your work will become more meaningful to you. It may not be comfortable anymore, but it will be true. There is a kind of fulfillment, if not comfort, in acting in accordance with your beliefs.
- Build a support network that celebrates you, but also supports you in meeting the accountability goals you set for yourself. Find people with whom you share core beliefs about children and learning who are, nevertheless, unafraid to question you. Invite them to challenge you to revise your thinking and work on kids’ behalf. Ask them to call you on compromises of convenience. Reciprocate with enthusiasm and constructive criticism for their work.
- Be willing to get hurt; refuse to hurt back. There have been times in my career when I wanted control over a classroom to keep from feeling rejected by non-compliant students. The students were non-compliant because nothing in what we were doing offered a compelling alternative to resistance and rebellion. No one was unsafe, but no one was doing what I wanted them to do. In situations like these, really consider whether or not winning the fight is the best course of action. Most teacher failures happen publicly, in front of children. These failures sting. We have to stop stinging back. We need to own up to these failures, acknowledge them as quickly as possible, and either suggest alternatives for learning – but not consequences – on the spot or somehow solicit from students their own ideas about how to learn better in that moment. We have to be hurt and go on anyway. We have to hold on to that hurt and dump it somewhere where it won’t hurt kids or damage the communities we build with them. We have to be hurt and let go of the test for the kid who is ripping it apart; we have to be hurt and let go of the project that doesn’t fit our kids’ notions of engagement; we have to be hurt and heal ourselves by doing better for our students than perhaps our teachers did for us. We have to be willing to be hurt by parents, communities, and supervisors’ judgments when we refuse or subvert harmful educational practice. It sucks, but that’s okay. Stand up to the system, not against kids.
What else do you think we have to do to transform schools? I’m excited to learn – please help.