If you live in my part of the country you are experiencing a glorious day today. It’s Labor Day, 69 degrees F, 57% humidity, 5MPH wind. It’s beautiful. Clear blue skies, a hint, a soucent of apple-crispness and promises of an effervescent fall to follow. Ah, lovely…
It’s mellowed me out when I think of my first week back to school, not that I needed much mellowing in truth: it was a wonderful week. We have new admin, new support staff, and new rules that make a lot of sense for students and teachers. The only ones that threw me off were when students can get into the building, which of course I made sure to send out an (incorrect) all-staff email and was summarily and kindly corrected. (It was concerning when students can get into the building, which is a good change –I always just made a pass for the student ahead of time, but this way there will be more flexibility.) The other change that threw me off was the whole-school hall passes: we have a safety vest for ALL THINGS PASSING, and I kid you not, in the first fifteen minutes of class a kid was called to the office and another had a nose bleed. The nose bleed won, and got blood on the vest. (Biohazards are part of the job.)
I am hoping our new principal allows us to manage two passes: the vest for bathrooms, water fountains, and lockers, and one pass for nurse/office. We’ll see. Her philosophy includes ‘no stupid rules,’ and I’m sure she will support us supporting our students.
And I have to say, I am noticing the shifts, and not just with new admin, but with teaching practices in the elementary grades. When asked to ‘turn and talk,’ students in my class did so with ease and honesty. They really did TURN AND TALK – ! — so perhaps some of these pedagogical practices are taking root. There are so many good ideas out there, so much I want to share and discuss, it’s exciting. And once again I am reminded of the nature of the middle school child: when discussing dress code, got in a lively and engaging debate with one 7th grade girl about our culture of shaming, etc. while other students (mostly boys) looked around wondering what the heck was going on. The disparity in development, awareness, and social cues are vast, but that’s what makes middle school kids awesome. But think about it–what if some teacher said, “Hey, I have a great idea! What if we let kids talk about their ideas!” and other teachers said “What, are you crazy?! Kids can’t be trusted to talk.” Nothing would progress.
And there are a few metaphorical grubs and vermin under the rock. As excited as I am to try and share new ideas, and refine some solid ones (I feel very pioneering when I think of my Burning Questions unit, for example, and other original units I created). I was told in a meeting when I asked about starting a “genius hour” that “We can’t do that” by a colleague. Not sure why, or what her reasoning is, just a “no.” But hey, some folks are the proverbial “not the boss of me,” my students are, so I’m going to try it anyway. Cult of Pedagogy just reminded me of this, and so I’m going to think about its implementation when the year gets chugging along.
But how to go about this? Well, I guess I’m using my 20% time to figure it out! One thing, it’s not a ‘free for all’ time:
JG: Is there a “wrong” way to do 20 percent time?
AJ: The worst thing you can do is assign this project and then sit back and say, Alright, it’s on you guys, 20 percent time, learn what you want! I’m here if you need me! That’s the worst way you can do it. It doesn’t work out. The teacher has to be more active in this learning experience than anything else. Because students need coaching. They need to be connected to the right resources, to the right people. They need help on their projects. There are going to be pitfalls and failures, and they need someone there to kind of say that’s okay, that’s what it’s all about.
I’m not sure how to structure this at first, or when. This LiveBinder is a great place to start, as this bread-crumb starter of an Edutopia article. I am really liking the idea of “pitching” a project as my starting place for them.
My students are chomping at the bit, happy, and engaged–I don’t want to mess this up. I don’t want negativity to undermine them. I can’t help the watchdog in me. I am hoping I can get some support from other staff members, but if not that’s okay. I’ve got the Internet and my PLN, and my students have me. It’ll all work out.