Agency, Change, Design, Inspiration, Leadership

If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit…?

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Bringing about choice in the classroom via John Spencer. 

If you had a pair of shoes that didn’t fit – too small, too tight, too loose, too high – what would you do with them? Put a bow on them and a row of sparkles and wear them anyway? Cram your feet in and mash up your toes, bloody your heels, and suffer?

No. You would put them in a recycle box, trash bin, or donate them and move on to something that worked.

Why don’t we apply this analogy to school? So many of the embellishments we are slapping on: iTime, differentiation, personalized learning, flexible seating, choice boards, passion projects – are the bows and sequins that don’t make the shoe any more comfortable or any closer to fitting.

What if instead of focusing on building agency, we focused on building a school that is radically different to the production-line-based factory model we are currently saddled with? Agency already exists. We are born with it. It is not something you give someone. But schools and the structures we have created, do a great job of taking that agency away and out of the hands of the learner.

So, what do we do? 

While we work on the audacious goal of revolutionizing school as we know it, there are small things we can do now, to make a shift. Here are five things every teacher could do to start the journey of change:

  1. Stop making decisions 
    • Take a tally of all the decisions you make for your students. Better yet, write them all down – you’ll be exhausted. How can you switch so that more decisions are made by each child for themselves?
  2. Unplug the photocopier
    • Kids don’t think in A4 or legal shaped boxes of paper! And they don’t need us to pre-think on this paper for them. Try ditching the grids and templates and cookie-cutter forms and see what your kids come up with.
  3. Teach like a designer
    • I just retweeted this image. How can you use your observational powers to see where the paths need to be laid instead of rolling out the concrete where it fits best? Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 5.06.22 PM
  4. Go behind the curtain
    • This one stems from a phrase we used a lot at the Learning2Asia conference this past week. Think of freeing kids from the checklists and criteria and just let them play, create, explore, make, do! YOUR job (behind the metaphorical curtain) is to be tracking their learning and watching for what they can do independently, with support, or haven’t gotten to just yet. Guide. Observe. Ask. Or even just say nothing and keep quiet while they get on with the real work!
  5. Bring back boredom
    • You don’t need to entertain your students. That doesn’t mean you can’t be entertaining, but it does mean your job isn’t to ensure that every second is packed with – wait for it – ACTIVITIES! Let them play, them them iterate, let them be bored. They’ll soon find something to do.

As John Spencer has pointed out, we need to move from entertaining our students (“The kids love this activity!”) to engaging them by connecting them with real ideas that matter, and then go further to empowering them to seek out the learning for themselves instead of waiting for it to be delivered.

john spencer

 

These ideas have been percolating for a while and the perfect place for them to synthesize a little more clearly in my mind was over the last three days in Shanghai at the Learning2 Asia Conference.

In addition to some excellent practical tips and ideas from Jamie Stevens and Nici Foote in the realm of Makerspaces, Tinkering, Playing, and STEAM, I was incredibly inspired by what I am calling my “Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung” Sandwich.

First layer: Unconference Session #1 in which a group of 20+ passionate educators discussed the idea of student agency and in which I got to meet (in real life!) Taryn Bond-Clegg, the educator extraordinaire behind the blog Making Good Humans.

Sandwich Filling: Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung (Best. Name. Ever) and an extended session on Launching Student Learning with a focus on who we are really here for – the students. Coupled with a really interesting discussion with the Deputy Director of WAB, John D’Arcy on the concept of Flow21 and WAB’s 2021 vision for the future of learning.

Top it all off: Unconference Session #2 in which 20+ shrinks to 7 and we have yet another focused, inspiring, and fast-paced discussion on agency and beyond.

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 5.17.09 PM
“Nothing’s more powerful than a group of committed educators who believe they can solve any problem together.” –

In sketchnotes, the Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung sandwich looks like this:

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This is a huge thing to think about and it can seem overwhelming to know where to start. In addition the ideas mentioned above, I would recommend exploring the Global Goals and seeing where these might take you and your students. These goals encompass a wealth of understanding and knowledge – and “it’s hard to change the world if you don’t know much about it.” –.

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4 thoughts on “If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit…?”

  1. Thanks Sonya for sharing your thinking. I really enjoy reading your thoughts/ideas, wondering and provocations! I have been thinking about the word JUST a lot lately. I am thinking we need to stop using that word as it negates the power of playing, creating, exploring, making and doing! I love the metaphor of the curtain and how you highlight how it is our job to monitor and document learning and put this information to good use. This means we also need to be intentional about taking the time to observe, which is so much more than ‘just saying nothing’.

    1. Thanks, Anne. I don’t mean to negate the power of playing and making. I just spent the last part of the day in a 2nd grade class where they had choice time and the learning through play that was occurring was exactly the type of scenario I think we need more of. Have you read much by Teacher Tom? I was directed to a piece he wrote once about teacher talk and our need to fill the silence which could actually just be silence. I think we need to be intentional about when we choose to interrupt children and the types of questions we ask them. You are right about observations. We discussed the idea today of something like an old fashioned switch board where we could light up different examples of learning exhibited by each child – I know this could be on a laptop or iPad but drawing out the analogy of OZ behind the curtain: watching, sneaking back to note what we see, moving on. I think sometimes the idea that we are not saying anything implies we are not connected but I think our job is to ensure we are very connected to what the kids are doing so we can support them in growing their skills and developing their interests.

  2. Follow the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy and see all of that and more being lived in this extraordinary living educational system!

    1. Yes! You are so right! Its on my bucket list of places to visit. I have seen some amazing Reggio inspired teachers and I have long thought that education reform could take a massive leaf from the books of Reggio inspired teachers. What is it about Reggio that inspires you?

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