I feel like a fake. I don’t really know how to do my job, and that’s difficult. I’ve thought that I should consider changing the name of my blog from Wright’sroom to Lamentations, considering the amount of struggle that surfaces here lately.
I don’t feel like a consultant, and I don’t have any idea what it would feel like if I did. I don’t remember if I felt this way when I was a beginning teacher –that was awhile ago. I attend meetings with other consultants, who have an extensive knowledge of their area, and I feel like I have little to offer in comparison. I think to myself, “I can see why they have their job; how in the world did I get hired?” And I’ve considered that maybe I should just go back to my classroom.
What makes it difficult is that I’ve left a role I knew so well, even in the midst of an inquiry classroom that had just fallen apart. I knew who I was. I had a solid identity as a teacher. I knew and loved my students. But I think the bigger thing is that I had agency. I was able to empower myself to make changes and my students to become learners. I’ve discovered that’s a really important thing.
In my current position, I feel like I have little agency. The question often asked is, “how do we help teachers create student-centred classrooms?” How do we help them make the shift?
I’m not sure how many teachers are aware there’s been a shift. I know for a number of years I didn’t. I ran a pretty decent teacher-centred classroom, not because I thought it was the best option, for me it was the only option I knew of.
Part of the problem is that we continue to perpetuate the system. Our universities continue to graduate teachers who establish traditional classrooms. Why? That’s what they know. How many inquiry/PBL/flipped/tech-centred university classrooms exist? Tech classes are considered electives, and until education programs begin to produce teachers who are student-centred, we’re going to have to continue to help teachers unlearn and relearn this teaching thing.
The other night I was discussing my new position with a friend; he used to be a consultant for the health region. He posed the question, “If your time was money, where would it best be invested, and are you investing it there now?”
Wow. The first thought that came to my head was, “well, I’m creating an inquiry/PBL wiki.” But to be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to say those words. They sounded hollow, almost pedantic. My second thought was, “Really? You think you’re going to create change with a wiki? All the wikis in the world won’t create change.” So instead I mumbled something about needing to think about it.
“If your time was money, where would it best be invested?” This question has haunted me for days. The answer that I’ve come up with is people. Find teachers in the division who want to shift their classroom and invest heavily in them. I think the key to this is being real about what a student-centred classroom is really like. Messy. Disastrous at times. And likely the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But exhilarating, like you never thought teaching could be.
Start with 5 teachers. Invest in the infrastructure they need. Maybe it’s round tables painted with whiteboard paint, so that students can draw & collaborate, instead of rows of desks. Maybe it’s technology. Maybe it’s training. But this in itself won’t make the difference.
The difference is investing heavily with time. Right from the beginning of the year, sitting down and planning the first unit together, walking through what an inquiry, student-centred unit looks and feels like. Brainstorming the possibilities as a team. Facilitating the use of technology. I think once teachers hear the possibilities, they get excited and begin to envision what it can look like too.
Teachers have the same difficulties as our students. It can be hard to envision something other than what you’ve always known.
After planning, team teach the first unit together. It might mean as a consultant being there every morning for the first couple of weeks, so that teachers can learn and grow in confidence, as we facilitate their learning. So that they’re not left alone when things fall apart, like inquiry classes inevitably do, causing them to retreat to what they know “works”. Helping with prep. Helping with assessment. Helping students unlearn and relearn, as necessary.
This requires an ongoing, working relationship, and it needs to be a priority. The intention is to slowly work your way out of the job — at least with that particular teacher. That was my goal as a senior highschool teacher. I scaffolded as necessary, and then worked my way out of a job as my students became confident, self-sufficient learners.
To me, this is the solution that’s sustainable in the long run. While it creates small change at first, it holds the possibility of creating lasting change. And I wonder, if the investment occurred year after year, that there might be a tipping point.
But this idea isn’t easy. It’s certainly not cheap. And it’s likely only for the brave. There’s also no guarantee it will work.
I don’t think there’s a silver bullet to fix education, to shift classrooms, and sustain change. I think only a great deal of hard work, struggle and creativity will do that.
Photo courtesy of Flickr cc: Martin Gommel