Classroom Ablaze

It’s always darkest before the dawn.  I don’t know the origin of this quote, but currently, in my life, it’s true.

  I realized before starting this that there would be a learning curve and dissonance; however, I thought it would be in regards to content and software and not my role as a teacher. I had no idea that, essentially, I would be questioning who I am. In some ways, I feel like a first year teacher again, but with better management skills.

The other thing I’ve come to realize, is that unless you’re experiencing this, you don’t understand.  I’ve tried to explain to colleagues and friends the significance of blogging, the purpose of what I’m doing, the momentous shift occurring in education, and the excitement of having people all over the world responding to  my posts. Often they look at me like I have three heads. 

At times, I feel like I have a double-life. I’m like Batman, but without the cool gadgets or car. Essentially, the people I work with have no knowledge of the momentous changes occurring in my thinking, my classroom, or what I’m passionate about.  

That is the darkness, now the dawn.

Wednesday afternoon, while my CE class was researching the LRA & Invisible Children, one of my students walks up to me.  She has a gleam in her eye.  This girl is a fire-starter, a world changer. She says to me:

“I know it’s important that we research all this stuff, but can we DO something?”

“Sure, what would you like to do?”

She proceeds to tell me, as fast as the words can spill out of her mouth, about Schools for Schools, on the Invisible Children’s website.  Can we be part of it? 

 As she’s talking, I bring up the webpage, and type in all of our information.  Done.  We’re signed up.  I flip my screen around and show her our school page. 

 “That’s it?  We’re really signed up?”  Yep.  She turns around excitedly and tells everyone in the classroom, “We’re part of Schools for Schools!”  

The class comes alive.  They ask, “Can we do Change for Change?”  Sure. Essentially, this involves placing jars at local businesses in the community and our school to collect change.  Two students rush to the office to put in an announcement.  

Within moments, most of them have posted it to their status in facebook.  One of my students creates a facebook page for it. Emails begin flying across the internet.  Another student asks if we can have it put on our school web page.  Using technology, is as natural to them as breathing.

Unbeknownst to me, a number of students sent texts to people who they consider important to this campaign.  I didn’t find out until the next day.  The student who confessed, looked at me sheepishly and said, “Sorry, Mrs. Wright.” Because she knows she broke the rules. 

To be honest, I wasn’t angry; I was sad. I began to see, and wonder, for the first time, why a legitimate communication tool is banned from our classroom, especially since texting is such a natural form of communication for our students.  

I understand that kids can use it to cheat, and that often they text instead of paying attention. However, why, in this case, would this not be considered a legitimate teaching tool in the classroom? But to allow it breaks school, and most likely division policy. Consequently, how can I possibly sanction the use of this tool in my classroom, even though I see the validity of it?

All of this happened during the last twenty minutes of class. Wow.

The next day, the excitement still hadn’t diminished.  Students got right to work.  Tables were shoved to the side.  Students lay splayed across the floor. To be honest, I was glad the administration didn’t pop in for a visit.  My room looked like it had exploded. Some researched.  Others worked on logistics. 

One student created labels for the jars that will be placed in businesses around the city.  Another student contacted the media. Some of us brainstormed.  We’ve decided to hold a roast beef dinner & auction, and a fundraiser, starting on Tuesday, that will result in one of the teachers being hit in the face with a pie. 

They’ve set their goal: $10,000 in less than 50 days.  I know they can do it.  It’s one of the reason I work with teenagers.  Adults would still be forming a committee.  Teenagers get right to it. It doesn’t occur to them that $10,000 dollars is a lot of money; they’re ambitious and they want to change the world.

Even with this small success, I don’t for a minute think that my struggles are over.  In fact, I’m guessing I haven’t experienced most of it yet. 

Some may think it is admirable to be leading my students through this. However, in reality, I haven’t done much in this whole thing, except to let them do what they want and support where I need to.  This is a huge change for one who usually runs the show.  At times, I feel pretty useless.  I’ve even wondered if I’m really doing my job. Can I honestly teach like this and still get paid?

But I’m also  beginning to wonder if good teaching might be simply lighting the fire and then getting out of the way.

These kids are alive. They’re on fire and making a difference. What if teaching were to become real life?  Imagine that.

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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16 Responses to Classroom Ablaze

  1. courosa says:

    This is really a wonderful post. Thank you for taking the time to reflect deeply about your practice.

    The point about breaking the rules has been really an interesting one to me, as a former highschool teacher, and now someone who guides teacher candidates. I truly believe that we must do what is ultimately best for our students, and that an element of subversion is likely the only way we can do this. Of course, this may go against what many believe as ‘right’, and perhaps it sends the wrong message, but at the end of the day, it is the only way there will ever be any level of true school reform. Ultimately, dissent guides us.

    I could pick up on a number of other points, but I’ll leave others to that. Please continue to share your posts like this – I really enjoy reading them.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Alec. I really appreciate it! I think when I started in this job, I thought it was about objectives and curriculum and activities, etc. etc. But I’ve come to realize that it is ultimately about what is best for my students. I love your statement that “ultimately, dissent guides us.” I think I might have to write a post on that at some point!

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  3. Great story unfolding in your classroom. Looking forward to the next chapter!

    You mention feeling like you’re not doing anything. I had that experience this Summer when I gathered some colleagues at a meeting to flesh-out an idea that popped up a couple of times. One colleague ttly nailed what we’d all been grasping to describe. We ended up with a nice concept that I’m continuing to explore.

    Sometimes I finf myself feeling a bit, er, jealous? cheated? superfluous? It was my colleague that had the great idea, after all. Do you feel anything like that, with your students doing all the work (and receiving the great feedback)?

    But then I recognize the importance of facilitating the “discovery”. We might have missed it without my initiative. I hope you realize what a fantastic thing you did, and continue to do, releasing all that energy pent up in your students. Keep it up!

    Peter

  4. Stephen King says:

    I’m an administrator and I applaud the work you are doing with your class. I’m not sure about your administration but I’d love to have some “rule breakers” on my staff to ignite the discussion that needs to happen. When learning is taking place, you are doing your job!

    I love your reflection on having a double life – I often feel somewhat frustrated that I cannot get others I work with to see the power of technology in terms of teaching and learning – I keep hearing you need to slow down, there are too many things on our plate already. Your post reminds me that there is hope that the change will come.

    • Thanks for your gracious words! It’s frustrating, at times, to feel like you’re a team of one when it comes to technology. That’s how I often feel, and yet, it’s a crucial part of our student’s lives currently, and in the future, that they learn how to use it in positive ways.

  5. Ryan Holota says:

    The rapid pace of technological growth and adoption is going to forever leave establishments, governments, and sanctioning bodies playing catch up. When rules are created, they will cover the lowest common denominator of usage – even if that means that legitimate, powerful uses are also banned.

    If it works for you in the class room, do it. The only thing I would be wary of is making a student who does not text or have a cell phone feel out of place. Most cell companies allow you to send a text from their website, or send a text from an email client (the phone’s email address usually follows the form 2125555555@pcs.sprint.com) Being aware of this and providing computer access to these students or providing alternate assignments should keep you in the clear and allow you to use technology with your kids to get them engaged and learning on a deeper level.

  6. After reading your post I wish that I had been a learner in your classroom as well. The part that has really struck me the most is,

    “The next day, the excitement still hadn’t diminished. Students got right to work. Tables were shoved to the side. Students lay splayed across the floor. To be honest, I was glad the administration didn’t pop in for a visit. My room looked like it had exploded. Some researched. Others worked on logistics. One student created labels for the jars that will be placed in businesses around the city. Another student contacted the media. Some of us brainstormed”

    What you have described here is the best mix of inquiry, social action, constructivism, and above all student engagement utilizing tools that are a part of their normal everyday lives. There was a sense of comfort and knowledge displayed by these students that your administration would have found refreshing. The best examples of learning these days are the explodable moments of on-task behaviours far removed from desks in rows and quiet students reading and writing using paper. I wish that your administration had popped by for a visit. Maybe next time you should extend the invitation while the explosion is occurring. :-)

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  8. Students excited about doing something for others? That’s an amazing way to help them learn, and kudos to you for encouraging them! I could see some schools complaining that the students were working on a project that lies ‘outside’ the curriculum and then would try to shut it down. Isn’t it a shame when “school” gets in the way of kids’ learning?

    I often feel like you- dual personalities while I’m in the classroom. A lot of educators I know rant on about what they think is important for kids, yet it’s the same thing we’ve been doing for 50 years. Others make excuses that they don’t have time to learn the things that help students now. Sad.

    I hope that my kids and I can do something like this as well! Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Authentic tasks like this project will often teach our kids more than my best day as a sage on the stage!

    As for flexing and breaking the rules, I agree with Alex (courosa). Go for it. Rules often need to be changed and won’t be if they remain unchallenged. In a recent conversation with a Ministry staff member about all the rules that we are flexing and breaking, his response was that it is time to change the rules!

    Sometimes it is best to try and ask for forgiveness. Other times it is better to ask permission before you try. Wisdom is knowing which.

    Keep posting, looking forward to hear how it goes!
    Cheers,
    JB

  10. Lyn Hilt says:

    I’m involved with a PLP cohort right now and sometimes I can sense from my teachers that they are feeling the ways you described in this thoughtful post. I can tell from the looks on their faces that they are embracing the new ideas we’re discussing, but are feeling somewhat distraught about this shift. What they formerly knew to be true about best practices and student learning is falling by the wayside. There’s a lot of work to be done, and that’s overwhelming. One of them actually said, in a shocked (somewhat sad) voice, “Why have we been spending so much time doing it this [old] way?” Thank you for embracing student passions and engaging them in this project. It will mean so much to them and your learning together!

  11. ktenkely says:

    I just shared your post on Twitter, your Batman analogy is more than perfect for describing the double life that a lot of teachers lead between online and offline interactions.

  12. dwees says:

    I wish I could get my classroom as excited about what they are working on as yours. I often feel like I am trapped by the curriculum and content I am “supposed” to cover and lose the time I’d like to be able to work on the important task our students have: changing the world.

  13. Pingback: When School Becomes Real Life | Wright'sRoom

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