Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Essentials Exercise

The Essentials of Education exercise
Through the months of November and December, I wrote on this blog about what I felt were the essentials of education.  I whittled down everything I teach to 7 key ideas.  I attach all my learning intentions to those 7 essentials.  I find the framework useful because it justifies everything I teach and helps me to focus on what is important.  So at the same time, it is liberating and focusing.  But it is even more powerful when I take another teacher through the same exercise. 

Last month, I took two staff members through my little exercise.  It was really, really interesting.  I have taken other people through the process before, but in a very informal, conversational way.  Even though it was only two people this time, I ran it as though it was a workshop.  It took a couple of hours, (plus a couple of pots of coffee, some pastries, and a thick stack of sticky notes), but I found the conversations rich and sometimes intense because I really pushed L and K (I knew I could because we have a lot of trust). 

The really funny things is,when we started looking for patterns within their lists of essential things in education, the things they chose were very similar to mine and to each other's.  The other times I've done this, the overlap was not as significant.  Were L and K's similar because we have similar teaching styles or foci, or because we are on the same staff and see the same things, or was it because of something else?

Improvement, Engagement, Adaptation
We did differ though, in another interesting way.  My overall "umbrella essential" is Make Things Better.  I am about constant improvement, or kaizen, in my teaching, in my life, and in my spirit.  Like the movie, "Groundhog Day," if we're not here to improve ourselves and each other, then why are we here?  (I think I might be a closet Buddhist.  Nah, too materialistic). 

When I worked L through the process, she was really adamant that her teaching approach was about Engagement.  She really wants her students to embrace everything they do.  And that makes sense because she can be a very enthusiastic and passionate person.  And it shows in her classroom because she draws kids in with her love of what she does.  It like what Parker Palmer says: "You are what you teach," or "Teach your own truth." 

In the same vein, K was about Adaptation.  She wants her students to be able to respond to change, to interact with their world, and to fit in.  And that totally suits K's personality.  She works so hard to meet the needs of each of her students, sometimes in extreme ways (e.g. trying things outside of her comfort zone, bringing in all kinds of resource people into her classroom, teaching two or three separate lessons at the same time, co-teaching with another teacher for an entire year, etc.).  And why does she do these things? To adapt to her the needs of her students.  She does not teach from the same cookie cutter lessons, but seems to reinvent herself based on the diverse needs of her students. 

I think I'll have shirts made.
Mine will say: "Improve.  Make Your World Better."
L's will say: "Engage. Embrace Your World."
K's will say: "Adapt.  Change with Your World."

Maybe this exercise will be my new thing.
After all, it fits in with my vision of improvement.  I enjoy taking people through the process, and I like seeing what comes out the other side.  Maybe I'll do it with you sometime.  Let me know (How about  you, Z?).  It could be really enlightening.  You might not be as lucky as L and K.  I made them lunch too.

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