The countdown is on here in Ottawa and we will head back to school in T-minus 1 week. I am super excited to get back into the classroom as I am feeling relaxed and recharged after some time away from school and have enjoyed some amazing family time and travel throughout the summer. I have also been reflecting on the past school year, reading books such as A More Beautiful Question, Social Leadia, Code Breaker, The Wonderwall and Pure Genius, listening to podcasts, chatting with like minded people, connecting with community people and organizations that we will be working with in the fall and have been wrapping my head around what next years classes will look like.
Although I am excited and feel rejuvenated I am still anticipating a few roadblocks / obstacles in my unlearning journey. Some obstacles I have already dealt with, while I am sure there will be new ones that pop up as we go. Below are three of the most frequently asked questions I get about transitioning into a passion based / inquiry classroom. If you are not sure about the unlearning that is happening in our classroom you can check out some of my earlier posts that outline our journey.
Does your Admin support this type of learning?
YES!! I would argue that most administrators have jumped on this bandwagon and are looking for teachers to take risks and try out new things. They too are unlearning and figuring out how to support these types of classrooms. I have found that communication is key in getting support of your administrators. Explain to them the what, why and how of your vision and I can guarantee that they will be on board.
Roadblock: Board policies – Some of the biggest issues that I have faced when trying to change things up are understanding all the board policies, rules and regulations and staying on top of paperwork. The unlearning process can be tough and these rules can be a huge deterrent for teachers, as most are rule followers. Experiential learning can be tough when there are all kinds of hoops to jump through. Also as a teacher it is often tough to stay on top of all of the paperwork during the school year.
Suggestion: Obviously there are rules that cannot be broken, but having an open dialogue about some of the archaic rules and regulations can help in finding ways to work within them. When it comes to paperwork, work with whoever is in charge of field trips and get them to help you with it at the beginning of the school year. I am super lucky to have an administrator who helps me with it all 🙂 I am hoping to get as much paperwork completed before school starts so that it can be sent home right away, get it collected and let the hands on learning begin.
How do you get Students to buy in?
At the beginning of the course I spend an entire week with my new students in grade 10 (I have taught most of my grade 11s and 12s before so I will have an altered version of this) having them go through an “unlearning” process. Instead of going through a course syllabus we discuss things like skills and characteristics employers are looking for in their new employees, the changing world that they live in that requires a more entrepreneurship and philanthropic mentality, we discuss creativity and innovation and look at how school has conditioned them not to think or be creative and finally we discuss the fact that society has failed them in convincing them that failure is a bad thing. We watch TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson (Creativity & Innovation), Angela Duckworth (GRIT) , Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset) and I tell them that FAILURE is expected in my classes. We talk about assessment and how it has prevented learning for the sake of learning but “learning” for a grade. We discuss that the process is what we will be focusing on rather than the product. We talk about the need for them to network and learn how to use Social Media in a meaningful way.
Roadblock: By the end of the week I would have to say that I have a quarter of the students who are super pumped, half of the class that are a little confused but intrigued by this new method and then there is the last quarter who have been very successful in school and are very weary and still ask me, so how do I get a 90 % + in this course?
Suggestion: Keep reiterating the importance of process to all students especially the ones who just want to know what they have to do to get the 90%. Eventually they will understand that if they take a step back and try and figure out what they are interested in and passionate about the 90s will come.
How do you get Parents to buy in?
At the beginning of the semester I send an email to all of my students parents introducing myself, explaining what we will be doing over the semester and following it up with my teaching philosophy. My introductory email is intended to have parents “unlearn” how school works and understand that in order to support their child in their learning they will need to “relearn” the way things work. I continue to email parents about once a month about what is happening in the class so that they can continue to support their children. The students are all on Twitter so they should be able to follow what is happening and I share everything that we are doing via Twitter as well.
Roadblock: Even though most parents are supportive of what we are doing, they are still very concerned about the mark. I get where they are coming from, because unfortunately as of right now that is what will get their children into University or College.
Suggestion: Again, I really believe that the more you dialogue with parents, the more they will jump on board. If students are working on passion based projects, it is inevitable that everyone’s “marks” will be great!!
I am NOT an expert, just a teacher trying to model risk taking, trying things out, failing and learning from each failure. I am happy to share the good the bad and the ugly and love chatting with others about what they are doing.
Thanks for unlearning with us.