Deeper Learning 2019, an education conference held at High Tech High in San Diego, changed my life. It was a spiritual awakening that made me reevaluate everything I thought I ever knew about what it means to be an educator. It also inspired me to believe in myself as a disruptor and a change-maker. I am a public high school teacher in one of the largest school districts in the country, and I’m writing this blog as a window into the journey I’m about to take. Here’s where I’m at right now…
I believe that it is our desperate and urgent job to re-imagine school and make big changes to our education system. Technology is pushing our world forward at such a rapid pace, and much of schooling is based on antiquated ideas about rote memorization of designated content instead of building and developing skills. With the technological advances of the 21st century, the soft skills are the important ones. Critical and creative thinking. Problem solving. Curiosity. Asking open ended questions. And getting students those skills by empowering them to learn, instead of “teaching” them. And creating spaces where students feel safe to try things, fail at them, then try them a different way.
We need to flip education on its head with regards to recognizing success. What does success look like? How do we measure it? As educators in a field that is predominantly white teaching a community of students that increasingly isn’t, are we fully appreciating and celebrating the successes of students of color? Even when their performance doesn’t mold to normative white culture? We need to ensure that school is helping to recognize the spark and magic inside all of our students and push our students to be free to embrace their whole selves. How are we defining success right now? Are we defining it based on behavior? Adherence and ability to play the game of school? Or are we helping each student become the very best version of their amazing unique selves?
We need to appreciate and love and recognize each of our students as full people. Each student that comes into our classroom has a whole life full of experiences, and their own individual set of circumstances that makes them who they are. Each of them brings so much that we can learn from. We need to listen to and respect our students. Listen to them when they say why they did something the way they did (or didn’t do something they were supposed to). Respect them and their time with the amount of work we are giving them outside of the classroom. Respect them by giving them tasks that will help them grow those important skills, and letting them understand the why behind what they’re doing.
Self-work is critical to being a successful educator. Spending the time to work on myself and reflect and question and call out my own BS and reflect and adjust some more is vital. If I can’t be completely open and real and comfortable with myself, how can I ever develop that confidence in students? As educators, we need to be vulnerable. We have to be vulnerable enough to let our students know when we struggle. The more open and real we are with our students, the more they will see us as a position of safety and feel safe enough to really open up. That’s where the growth is going to happen.
I just want to be clear that there are SO many educators that I know who are already doing so many of the awesome things that I’m talking about here. I see them in my building, in my district, on my Twitter feed. I am in awe of them and I respect them and I appreciate them. I lean on them for guidance and support when I (often) need it!
So now what? Now I’m going to start by trying to re-imagine what my US History course could be. I know this is personally an area where there is major room for growth for me to become the educator I can be, and I’m supported by a great collaborative team of teachers who I am excited to learn from. My vision is to build a course around project-based learning and student inquiry with authentic assessments that are centered around growth and skills. I want to figure out how to completely throw out multiple choice testing, while figuring out what meaningful assessments can take that place (And that don’t take so much time to grade that I’m prevented from having a life of my own). How does that work? And what does it look like when right now I have 158 students? And how can I build in opportunities for the students to showcase their learning?
I’m super inspired and nervous and overwhelmed and scared and excited about all of the ideas I have and how to actually turn them into something concrete, so I hope this blog can be a little window into the process of now what.