Timing is everything. As I have mentioned before, my Grade 11 classes are putting together an e-book. In hopes of publishing it tomorrow, we have been working steadily. And then today it happens.
The class is focused. Engaged on the task. Those that have already finished are working on the cover, acknowledgments, etc. I don’t want to assume all students were being quiet, just working, learning. Then the bell rings.
Our 75 minute window was closed. Students were told to move along, whatever was keeping them interested no longer mattered. Their focus, unimportant. Not one student was packed up ready to go. And yet, they were told, get out.
Not five minutes into the next class, I see four of my students (who have moved onto different classes), milling about, dragging their feet to go to their next class. Unengaged in their education.
I understand the purpose, or at least the concept, of a set period where students move through a variety of subjects ensuring they get a breadth of subject coverage in a day. But the rigidness of which it is upheld, baffles me.
As Dan Pink states in Drive, the students were in “flow”. They were in that state where time and surrounding ceases to be a factor. The task, and in turn the learning, was all that mattered.
We need to find a way where we can engage students into that flow and then maintain it. We have to allow students a flexibility in their schedule. Yes, that may sound crazy, but if learning is at the centre, administration and teachers must work around it and find a way to make it work.
I have no illusions that this is easy. I also have no illusions that this is my class every day. In fact, there are many days where kids are pried away from wood-shop or auto when they’d prefer to keep working. I say, I think it is time where we consider that as important.
Let’s make sure we aren’t setting our students up for learning only until the bell rings.
Can we as an educational revolution please quit doing this? We keep wading ourselves into this rhetoric about the 21st century, like we’re visionaries. I’m just as guilty. But this phrase fractures the debate into questions of technologies and tools, rather than about better teaching, engaged learners and authentic learning. Isn’t the latter what we really care about?
I believe our focus as a revolution needs to be streamlined. We need to stop trying to sell it as a glimpse into the future. It is here. Now.
The 21st century that we talk and write about is elusive and abstract. Let’s change the vocabulary to that of the immediate, the actual. The “classroom of the 21st century” doesn’t exist, my classroom does. Talking about the skills needed of students today is much more pointed than the “skills of the 21st century”. As we force the individual and systemic change, we force the image of “bringing one to our side.” We don’t want that. I believe better teaching equals better learning. Better learning equals better learners. We should quit talking like these concerns are of the future and instead be recognizing their presence.
This rhetoric change will help us avoid the muck and mire of talking Facebook, access to technology and cell phones in the classroom and instead about relationships, community building and self-directed learners. We start talking about authenticity, assessment and evaluation with learning at its core, and tools that our students can use to fully integrate into the global village.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that by using the vocabulary of “the 21st Century” we lose our way a little. I think it is time to stop talking about the 21st century like it is on its way and start talking about better education that needs to be here. Now.
While we are at it, can we stop saying Web 2.0. It’s the web. That’s it. It is meant to be constantly changing, that is its nature. Web 2.0 is so 1.0.
I wanted to separate my thoughts on We Day into two parts, one where I left the message unfettered and pure and the second where I give you a few thoughts I had from my teacher brain.
1.) Engagement: The power of the Free the Children movement and especially We Day is in its ability to engage all students, for the entire day. They were constantly reminded the purpose of the day and their being there. They were provided with lots of opportunity to use unbridled optimism and passion and were encouraged to bring autonomy to their action. Finally, they day ran like a perfect classroom, a bit of a lesson, some entertainment where they could connect, relax and an organized opportunity to get up and being active, move, not just sit. Imagine if every class was constantly listening a little, being social a little and the chance to be kinaesthetic.
2.) Technology: Throughout the day, cell phones, digital cameras and all other technology was on display and encouraged. They posted recent text messages on the big screen. Yeah, some were frivolous but as a teacher, you definitely could tell when they were engaged, connected and interested and when they were distracted. The text messaging was also facilitated by using guided questions. Things like “How do you want to change the world?”, “What do you do to make a difference?”, etc. They were connected. Using this idea in your class through back channel Twitter feeds, or text message feeds allows you to see some of the real thoughts that are circulating the brains of our students. Yeah, there were a few, “Greyson Chance is soooooo cute
3.) Community: Despite the fact that we had only 12 students from our school, the entire building was made to feel like one group. You could see this at lunch when kids from all over were laughing, sharing in the optimism and connecting. The teenage networking luncheon. Now, this was very explicit on the part of FtC. The first message was one of connection. “Craig Kielburger asked who wants to help me? and 11 hands went up.” The idea of partnership and community was weaved through many of the speakers, especially Betty Williams asking everyone to stand and give each other a hug. We were shown the power of community again and again. To ignore this fact in the classroom is an incredible loss.
Through the power of connection, experience and affirmation, 18,000 students and “change agents” were treated to We Day 2010 in Toronto today. I was fortunate enough to lead a group of students from my school to hear speakers like Deepak Chopra, Spencer West, Betty Williams, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish and Michael Chikwanine. We were also treated to performances by K’naan, Down with Webster, Rocky Dawuni and Greyson Chance. The entire thing was, of course, facilitated by Marc and Craig Kielburger.
The message was simple and clear. As a generation, it is time to make a change by being the change. Each speaker was able to offer their story and modification to that message. A few of the high points:
Deepak Chopra reminded the youth of the world that the world is a series of questions and answers. We must be asking the BIG questions of life and living the answers. But sometimes, we will not find the answer and it will not be revealed to us simply, so we have to remember to “live the questions.” We have to have faith that “there are no missing pieces”. One of his greatest messages was that “action without love is irrelevant.” Everything that we do must precipitate from a place of peace and love. He implored the crowd to “awaken yourself to your deeper identity”, to explore not just your physical, social, mental and spiritual side but go deeper into the core of your being where you will find that helping others is what we are here for and to recognize the “power of intention.” One of my favourite quotes he used was, “A dream we dream alone remains a dream. A dream we dream together, with action, becomes your reality.” The notion of connectedness ran through his entire exploration of the self through service. What a powerful dialogue!
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish told of his story, how he lost his three daughters to violence and decided that he would not let hate into his life. He showed a deep and unbridled passion for peace and understanding. He implored that “our real enemy is our ignorance.” That it is our duty and responsibility to connect with others because we don’t know each other enough.
Betty Williams had a profound message of power. Reading to us a declaration of independence for children around the world, she finished by saying that all abusers and violators of children worldwide, take note, we will hold you completely responsible for your actions. I could have listened to her talk of her experiences for another 15 – 30 minutes easily. Not to mention that sweet Northern Irish accent!
Finally, Spencer West, without a lower half of his body spoke of the importance for humility and gratitude for everything life provides saying, “be gracious and humble enough to know when you need help and to ask for help.” He reminded everyone that we need to be part of the community, “to give help and to ask for help.”
Overall, the message and the day were reminders to all to connect, affect, respect and to protect each other and to listen to the call for “Freedom”, to answer the call and to take real action. I think I leave with a reminder that it is our responsibility to work in the service of others always.
As I was reading Dan Ariely’s book, “Predictably Irrational” this quote jumped out at me:
“We should probably first rethink school curricula, and link them in more obvious ways to social goals (elimination of poverty and crime, elevation of human rights, etc.), technological goals (boosting energy conservation, space exploration, nanotechnology, etc.), and medical goals (cures for cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.) that we care about as a society. This way the students, teachers, and parents, might see the larger point in education and become more engaged and motivated about it. We should also work hard on making education a goal in itself…” (Ch. 4, 36)
This is one of the key pieces that we keep skipping over in many of our ideas and “high yield” strategies. We, as a group of professionals, continuously spin our wheels with new directives that fail to address the major issue. School is barely relevant. By turning the ship around and recognizing the social, ethical, and technological world that our students are living, we can engage them.
It is time that we tell our students the truth, writing an essay is not important. Being informed citizens, understanding how to argue effectively, how to stand up for your beliefs and how to attract an audience to your message (corporate or social), that is what is important. Yes, an essay can do that for you, however, so can YouTube, a well-executed Twitter update, a blog entry, a protest, a face-to-face discussion. Let’s stop pretending that the same assignments we have been doing are good enough.
I think it is time to truly become a profession.
So, is it time for the revolution? Who’s in?
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