Educational Insights, Victories, struggles, Parables and questions
Ever been so wrapped up in your own head and your own self that you missed what was going on with others? Ever done something that benefited you, but disenfranchised another? Ever taken the easy way out, knowing it wasn't the best for students? Or your peers?
I'm finding myself in a place of a bit of conviction about pride, selfishness and arrogance. As an educator, that is a horrible trifecta.
We've all had selfish days. Many of us have ambition, but can sometimes forget Education is about relationships- and ambition must never trump relationships- I am sorry for sometimes forgetting that.
I am eager to grow as an educator and I believe in the methods I use to reach students. In my zeal, I may come across as arrogant- I am sorry.
I have been impatient with students and hypocritically slow to respond at times. This is me putting myself before students- I am sorry.
If if I have missed your request for aid, or not given you the time you need, or acknowledged your concern- I am sorry.
I share this this because I am coming to recognize that as I seek to increase student voice, I need to model transparency and honesty. I have come to feel that I have fallen into habits reflected in the confessions above, and I wanted to express my regret because teaching is collaborative with our peers, and with our students. Pride and selfishness get in the way of that.
So my goals from here on are simple- be present for my fellow educators and my students. Be patient, and be humble. And when I am not- seek forgiveness. And if I am unaware, kindly accept an admonition.
We grow through reflection and coaching, but it doesn't just have to be about instructional methods.
It it can be about character, too.
Here are the final two components of the CREATE ClassroomL Timely Relevance and Environment. These two vlogs explain how to connect content with students in a relevant manner and how to design a physical and cultural environment that fosters collaboration and openness.
In chapter 6 of George Couros' Innovators Mindset, he opens by sharing a story of a cab ride with a deaf cab driver. He relates how he engaged the cab driver through gestures and careful mouthing of "Thank you" to close their ride. He then tells of a story of another cab ride, and another deaf cab driver, but this rider used YouTube to learn how to sign "Thank you." (Couros, 2015).
This story shows the difference between engagement and empowerment.
Couros goes on to argue- and I totally agree- that this versus is not like Batman Vs Superman where one is clearly better. (Batman) No, this versus is more about what they look like, what is the difference, and how do they actually work together(Couros, 2015).
My CREATE Classroom, Didactic Cafe, was created to increase student engagement. More conversations, more peer interaction, less napping and Snapchat. That was accomplished pretty quickly via Coffee Talks, our student led discussions that start each class. Engagement regularly runs at around 80-90%- which was my goal. These are daily shoulder taps and mouthing words like Couros did for his cab driver.
But are my students empowered?
Couros also relates that another versus exists: school vs learning. He argues that school seeks answers, learning seeks questions (Couros, 2015).
Coffee talks are student led- so the students are coming up with the questions- which is technically empowerment. Students are now taking discussions in class to administrators- mostly about dress code- but they are taking their voice outside of class. They are also taking ownership of their learning in other classes and with their personal time outside of class.
These are all things that have been happening all year in my class. But there is still a place where empowerment is needed.
Civility and open discourse.
We live in a time where civility and open discourse are hard to find. Our students see that, and often ask me what they can do. The answer to that starts with me asking- what can I do?
1. What should I do next?
I had already planned to try this, starting tomorrow, but I am waiting to write details until after I have run a few days of it. The plan is- Coffee Talk will be used in my debate classes to build each other up. The "facilitator" sits at the front of the room, and the rest of the class shares what they like about that person and/or what inspires them about that person. A little social emotional connection to empower each other with peer support.
2. Where could I use this again?
I want to see how this works, but I definitely see potential for it to roll out in Psychology classes to increase support and ultimately collaborative learning. I want to see, after a few iterations, what other benefits it could have.
3. What is important about it?
It builds a culture of support and collaboration. My students know that communication in society is not civil or kind- but this has the potential to empower them to make a change- to look for the good in each other. I believe this will lead to a more collaborative and supportive culture for classes, which will lead to more extended and impactful learning.
4. My goal?
I want to see my students see their safe place is not my room's physical structure. I want them to see the safe place is each other, and me as their facilitator of learning. I want to see students love learning, and feel safe to ask those questions that lead to empowered learning.
I plan to share more of this "positive" Coffee Talk soon. I look forward to seeing where it leads!
There once was a politician that prided himself on being a man of the people. He volunteered at soup kitchens, visited the sick, spoke at rallies for important issues, and donated to causes that helped the downtrodden. People respected him, because he appeared to be a man of integrity, a man who listened to his constituents. He spoke often of the "Power of the People" and the beauty of representative democracy.
One day, there was a big vote looming. The politician had made up his mind, and was prepared to vote. His constituents had their own opinion- and it was in opposition to the politician's planned vote. They wrote emails, called his office, sent letters- thousands of them!
But the politician did not listen to the people. He felt that- on this issue- he knew what was best. Even though he knew there might be validity to their concerns, in the end, he KNEW that his vote was the right one, and the people would ultimately thank him for it.
He was voted out the next term.
Voice is powerful.
But when voice is ignored, when voice is not given opportunity to exercise its power- is it really still voice?
We are currently in a time when people share their voice constantly- social media, protests, and we just had a big election. The availability of ways to share our voice is at an all time high. We can interact with our leaders in Google Hangouts, like or express anger on Facebook, and follow on Twitter. We can post open letters, instantly email, and there is still good old fashioned mail and face-to-face.
But I dare say we feel less and less like we are heard.
I recently saw the very scenario above play out- minus the ending. A politician expressed their position, THOUSANDS of people emailed, called, and responded to his Facebook post, all in opposition to his stance. He voted that way anyway. I expressed my voice, but felt ignored.
Now, let's look at my classroom.
A few weeks ago, I was overseeing a Coffee Talk- our student led discussion- and it was over dress code. Again. See, I think the dress code is fine and necessary- and really not that bad at our school. I went to a school where guys could not have facial hair. One of my friends was folically advanced, and would shave before school, then be asked to shave again by lunch. So, having to wear something over your leggings is not so bad to me.
Anyway, in the course of the conversation, I was defending the dress code, and students kept disagreeing, not seeing the point of dress code. I felt my opinions hardening and my mindset setting. Then a student said this "Sometimes I feel shamed when I get dress-coded."
That got through. I immediately stopped and realized that I was failing to hear my student's voice because my opinion differed. I told my students that while I still agreed with dress code- if any student feels shamed by our actions, we need to take notice of our practices.
Let us not be the politician in the parable- so sure we are right, that we know what is best, and silence our students' voices. Student voice is not just letting our students talk and share ideas, it is also helping them see that their voice can have impact. Sometimes, their ideas cannot happen, but if they can, are we working to see them find a way to implement their ideas?
I am sure that we all hear our students' voices- but our we listening to them? Are we providing them opportunities to work out their voice, their vision, their dreams? Or are we deciding that we know best, and their valid concerns will go away when we do what we KNOW is best?
They cannot vote us out like the politician, but we can still lose them.
My campus has Cougar Cabinet- where voice matters and practical opportunities to work it out exist. At least one campus in our district has students sit with interview committees for new hires. Teachers encourage students to write to their representatives or even get involved in the political process through volunteering. And fine arts teachers are constantly finding ways for students to display their voice.
Voice is not voice if it is just heard, it must be listened to, and students need to see that we are willing to act on it. Even if we are not able to always do what they want, they can see we listen. And there is a difference- hearing is just registering a sound is made. Listening takes the words and thinks on them, sits with them and lets the weight of the voice impact us.
When I told my students that I would definitely be thinking about my own practices when it came to how I approached discipline- the were appreciative. "See, that's why I like Lehrmann, he listens to us."
We often complain that our students- and our own children-do not listen to us.
Are we listening to them?
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.