I got to be admin for a day today, and I was looking forward to sitting in with principals on disciplinary actions and fetching students and maybe fielding some phone calls.
Instead I was tasked with counting every desk in the school.
CSHS is a school of over 2,000 students, just under 100 classrooms, four FLEX labs, and three portables with 6 classrooms.
I was at first, disappointed. I was expecting one thing, but then got another. I had to count the rooms because there was a need to have it done quickly and a simple email request would not be as effective.
So, I set out to do it.
At first, it really was just counting desks, but quickly I realized this was a beautiful opportunity.
I would get to set foot, in an administrative role, in every class on campus in one day. Positive interactions with teachers and students all over campus on their turf, not mine.
It was an amazing day.
I saw several students multiple times- students I did not know struck up conversations with me because they had seen me in their class and I was smiling. I did joke that I was doing this and it might be a "prank the sub admin" thing, which was a hit.
But at the end of the day, I had more than 14,000 steps- I had an insight to my campus that is fresh and new. I got to joke with students and teachers and they got to see me as someone approachable. Instead of sitting in discipline meetings, I got to be in a place to remind me why we do it.
I’m not an admin yet, but I learned today that being in the classroom will give you the fuel you need for those tougher interactions.
So I challenge my administrator friends: Set aside one day this month, get an admin sub if you need to- and go to every class on campus. Count desks if you need to, but be seen in the classroom with a smile and no agenda other than getting to know your school better.
It will change your perspective and that is a good step to take.
Two farmers lived side by side.
One walked out to his fields and poured the seeds on top of the ground and left them to grow.
The other took time to hook up a plow, and go and till the soil. Once the earth was broken, he sowed the seed in the broken dirt.
At harvest time, the first farmer reaped some crops- the hardiest seed had taken root and grown, pretty much despite the farmer.
The second farmer reaped a full crop- having first prepared the soil for the seeds.
Every educator knows that relationships matter.
But knowing and acting on knowledge are NOT the same thing.
When I was younger, before I taught in schools, I believed that it was the content that mattered, not the relationship. To be fair to myself, I was a minister at the time, and was attempting to diminish my role in my congregations spiritual development.
While content absolutely matters in education, it does not matter to our students.
In the parable, the content is the seed, the students the soil. Many of us are the first farmer- we toss out content expecting it to take root on its own merit. Some of the content we share finds its way into the soil and takes root. But it relies on a method that means only the strongest content and only the most accepting students will connect for learning.
We have a lot of content to go through. I added World History to my classes this year, meaning I have to cover all of human history in 36 weeks. That is a lot of seed to sow. But I still endeavor to act as the second farmer- I till the soil first so that the content can take root.
Our plow is relationship building. For me, that means discussion and conversation. I have done student led discussion to open my debate, sociology and psychology classes for the last two years, and now it is a part of a core content area- world history. I believe it is having a the same effect as tilled soil- knowledge is taking root and growing.
See, when soil is tilled, it is not simply opened up for knowledge, it is mingled in with the soil around it. Class discussion not only opens minds, it mingles them. Students share themselves with teachers and with each other, and learning can become collaborative.
This is the tilled soil of a learner-centered classroom.
My children decided to be born early in the morning, after a long night of not being born. So my recollection of their births is tainted a bit by time and a lot by exhaustion (nothing compared to what my wife experienced- to be clear!).
But I do remember this. My children were born in a room designed to usher new life into the world. There was space for doctors and nurses to work, tools to check their health and tools to quickly address any concerns, and of course the right furniture to address the needs of the delivery process.
Delivery rooms are designed with purpose. Walk into one, and you know immediately why the room exists. Intentionality is dripping from the walls.
Now, walk into a classroom, and what does it tell you? Does it convey that ideas are born here? Or does it tell you that this is where standardization reigns supreme?
I believe that a classroom should be a delivery room of ideas. Space must be created for students to collaborate, find and use necessary tools, and for urgent needs to be addressed. Creating that space could mean physical spaces using flexible seating or simply intentional design when it comes to decor and seating arrangement.
Creating a space should also- or at its core- be cultural, philosophical, and relational. No matter how well designed a room is physically, if the cultural, philosophical, and relational culture is not present, ideas will be stillborn. Students need to know they can share their ideas and be heard. Students also need to develop the skills to critique and receive criticism of their ideas so that they can refine and develop them. Ideas are born in the collective, and we need to create interactions to foster that.
Ideas are also born out of what looks like chaos. Sometimes, idea birth is scary because it means letting go of some of the control . A student may have an idea that scares you because it is new, different, or not the way you would have done it. And maybe that is for the best. After all, if the old way of doing it is not the best for someone, why not dream up a new way?
Additionally, the Delivery Room of Ideas is not just the classroom, it is the campus. Those delivering ideas may be teachers or administrators. When I read about or see stories on places like Ron Clark Academy or this school in Houston, I see these as delivery rooms of ideas- from students AND educators.
I want to challenge you to think intentionally about the spaces you create. Design Delivery Rooms of Ideas- a place to bring new life and innovation to the world. And for motivation check out this great TED Talk: