Imagine a 30 by 30 room, with students sitting silently in rows, ostensibly listening to lectures, text messages covertly being sent inside hoodie pockets, and whispers here and there. Eventually, completion of multiple choice exams at the end of an instructional unit measures learning. Sadly, this probably sounds familiar. While there is a time and place for extended direct instruction and lecturing, the majority of kids do not benefit from this type of instruction, as it does nothing but increase the chance for more disengagement, failed tests, and I don’t care about anything at school uttered from freshman to seniors.
One reason why I teach and enjoy my current position is possibility. The possibility to redefine what teaching and learning looks, sounds, and feels like. The possibility to forge community partnerships to give students models of successful adults in various roles. The possibility to give students chances to unearth passions and shift their perspectives.
The more teachers are allowed to blend personal passions with instructional standards, the better. Peters, a former chef, and Franzen, an avid urban gardener and sustainability leader in the community. They are collaborating to teach Food Lit. at Fern Creek, a hybrid junior English course. Interdisciplinary instruction is endless–when you talk about food, you’re talking about biology, storytelling, ecosystems, the environment, health issues, history. Students have met with local farmers and chefs, worked in the school greenhouse, explored family traditions, and written editorials about Asian Carp.
Break out of the 30 by 30 box, letting an exchange of people, activities, and ideas permeate the classroom. On my end, I’ve partnered with WFPL’s Katayama and Kertis Creative, a local media strategy and production company, in my digital storytelling class.
If you teach science, why not use Skype with biologists or university professors? If you teach art, why not contact local art associations and galleries to set up student art shows? If you teach PE, why not invite college athletes and fitness trainers in to design exercise programs and share them with the community? You get the gist.
If you’re a principal or building leader who shuns innovation, community partnerships, and dynamic uses of technology, you’re short-changing hundreds of students in your school. I could care less if your test scores increase. Your school may look effective to some, but what about the students? Can you look them in the eye and tell them you have done everything you can to prepare them to be productive citizens in society? Do your students toss their graduation caps in the air, excited to continue pursuing a project or idea learned in school?
We educators–especially those of us at “struggling” schools–are still under immense pressure to increase test scores. But that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the pursuit of possibilities for redefining and creating successes for our students.
How about you? Did you have a teacher with a creative approach who embraced possibility? Should more schools strive to build partnerships with community members and experts? What was your most powerful learning experience?