- Describe your dream house and where it would be, etc.
- What will be the reason you quit this job if you ever do?
- What do you need from our school in order for you to be a success?
- What would you be doing if you were not a teacher?
- Paint a picture for me of a student-centered environment without using the word student or centered.
- What do the best virtual teachers do to ensure their students are learning?
- If you could redesign one thing about schools, what would it be?
- What question haven’t I asked that you would like to answer?
- How do you think culture impacts learning and what have you done about that in your career?
- What famous person would you like to have a coffee with and what would be your first question?
Schools have adapted very well to the logistics of the current pandemic. Congratulations. Masks, hallway directions, temp checks, social distancing. New timetables.
Now for the hard part.
What are we going to promise about the learning? Continued excellence in the IB and AP? Reading and writing above grade level? Ivy leagues?
I, for one, do not want to be the violinist on the deck of the Titanic. I know many of us don’t either.
I’m not talking about lowering expectations. I’m talking about tuning into the importance of what learning is and how we define it.
My definition of learning is simply what happens when prior experience is disrupted by new knowledge, experience or information . That’s it.
Last weekend, my son and I went on a long bike ride in the Croatian countryside (he’s trapped with us doing virtual University and eating us out of house and home). We got a flat. I haven’t had a flat in months. We didn’t have an extra tube or a pump. We were in a village. A kindly old couple came out to help. We switched one of the tires so I could ride 35k to fetch the car. They offered him roasted chicken and potatoes while he waited. He refused since they invited him inside and weren’t wearing masks. (I would have taken my chances). But I digress. Today we went out on another ride, pump and tube in hand, got another flat, and fixed it in 15 minutes. #learning.
Last week, a teacher was almost crying in my office, pleading with questions about how she was going to maintain current expectations in a hybrid virtual environment. “Isn’t learning whatever we make it?” she said. “Why have we made it some immovable object that we have to reach no matter what is going on?” I touched my hand to my mask (even though it’s probably not sanitary). She was right. The world is being forced to pivot, not just with the obvious things like social distancing, but with deeper things that we care about, that we learn about, that make us human.
So, what should this mean? The only example I could think of was the stool (and apologies if it’s a tired metaphor). If we knock one leg out, let’s call it mathematical logic or reading comprehension or science labs, then what happens? Can we drag one of the legs over to replace it? It’s still two legs. Can we replace it? Yes, but that takes a lot of time and we don’t have that option right now. Do we lean it against the wall? Maybe, but you can’t sit on it that well. That’s right, the stool is weak and cannot meet its intended purpose. In other words, this new experience is forcing us to think about the purpose of that two legged stool.
This is us. The two legged stool.
We have obviously been disrupted and I’m thinking that the leg that got knocked out is academic excellence. The two legs left that I’m looking at are socio-emotional learning and community. Those are the things that we all talk about on our websites but rarely do much about. After all, parents never yell at us for not succeeding in those things.
It’s time to pivot. It’s time to pivot to the disruption and take learning from that, not from whether or not 10th graders can solve a statistical analysis problem. Sure, that’s a nice distraction. What is also a distraction is the incalcuable stress, heartache, loneliness, boredom, sadness, and disconnectedness that is clouding learning.
It’s time to pivot. To community. To what makes us human. To what kids care about. To what they need. To what legs on the stool are left so that they can learn. Because if we deny this and pretend that all three legs are still there, it’s going to hurt when we hit the floor.
This picture has nothing to do with the post, but I took it when I was hiking this summer in Switzerland and my head was really, really clear and uncluttered by my “to do” list. Maybe it is related!
According to Wikipedia, “high performance teams can be defined as a group of people with specific roles and complementary talents and skills, aligned with and committed to a common purpose, who consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation, that produce superior results.”
With all the talk about disrupting class, innovation, and re-inventing structures for learning, I am fascinated by the conversation brewing around the organization of learning. I’m not talking about what happens inside the classroom. I’m talking about everything that surrounds it. We talk about ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning yet the days in most schools are subdivided into discrete, immovable parts that cause people to dash from one thing (class) to another (meeting).
Schools are really hard places to work because we can never tell if we “got it right” and are always in disagreement about what the final product should look like. Do they have similar conversations at Apple? Maybe. But one thing that I bet they have at Apple that we don’t have in schools is time.
I’ve never been to Apple, but I’m fairly confident of this fact; 90% of their best employees are not giving direct service to clients 70% of the time. Consider that. The average day school teacher provides direct service to his or her clients 70% of the time he or she is at work. (I took a nine hour day and divided it by three hours not scheduled with classes).
That is a very precious 30% left over. Three hours per day, fifteen hours per week to be committed to a common purpose and consistently show high levels of collaboration and innovation in order to produce superior results.
Here’s the kicker: Half of that 15% (some may argue more) must go towards preparation for that direct service to clients. That leaves 15%, or 90 minutes a day to achieve the goals of high performance.
Does the organization of learning know this? Has your learning organization ever assessed its learning architecture around this 15%? What does it do with it?
Consider the student experience, whereby (at the secondary level), a student interfaces with five or six service providers a day, none of whom communicate (usually), leaving the student with an amount of expectation and work that could be considered impossible in most work environments. How many people have five or six bosses? And how much time is there for the average student to meet these demands within the organization of learning?
I don’t know what to do about this dilemma. All I know is that I think about it a lot. And all I know is that the responsibility put on the educator to perform at high levels requires more time to assess practice and the organization of learning, not less.