Teacher Inspiration Overload

Each morning I get up early to start my day.  I read through my email.  I check my WordPress reader. And I peruse through the numerous inspirational reads and video links that my teacher friends from around the world post on Facebook.  This morning, after plowing through numerous articles and 30 minutes of talks on YouTube, I began to suffer from a case of “Teacher Inspiration Overload.”

So what is this Teacher Inspiration Overload you ask?  Well it is a combination of things, really.  It is that feeling of wanting to stand up and cheer that this video/article speaks to the chore of what I believe to be true.  It is the feeling of gaining so many insights but wondering when I will find the time to incorporate those insights into action.  It is the feeling of seeing what the future could look like, but wondering if my school has the will and resources to move in that direction.  All of this inspirational talk leaves a teacher feeling helpless, wondering where to start first.

The Culprits

My friend in Stuttgart posted an article on Facebook about rigor in the classroom.   Although the article was written about the American public school system, the questions the author was raising are relevant to any classroom around the world.  Are we creating academically rigorous classrooms?  Or are we overwhelming our students with busy work that has no real rigor?  When discussing with past students about the benefits of an international education, most of them complained that they felt their time in the IB Diploma program was wasted with ridiculous, time-consuming assignments that didn’t seem to help them later on their exams.  At the end of my current students’ careers at my current school will they say that my class was rigorous? Or will they say that I just kept them busy?

I then watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about “How to escape education’s Death Valley.”  To me Ken Robinson is one of the best promoters of good teaching we have out there.  I love his sense of humor, but most of all I love that he stands up for a well-rounded education. He is not for an education based on tests scores and generic standards.  Yet at the end of his talk I wonder…Am I crushing my student’s creativity or am I teaching them to use their creativity to solve real world problems? Am I boring my students with content or am I letting them move about it and work with it?  Am I looking at each child as a unique learner, or am I just teaching to the mass as if they are all the same? Am I an educational leader that helps my students find their dormant potential?

And because I’m a glutton for punishment I clicked on this TEDx talk which was linked in the scroll alongside Ken Robinson.   A middle school student is speaking to a crowd of adults about the secret to life and a better education: Being Happy.  How did Logan LaPlante gain so much wisdom so that he could discuss the topic of education with experts?  He designed his own curriculum.  Although I am not a proponent of homeschooling, whatever this mom did, she did it right.

LaPlante’s talk reminded me of the students in Vermont who designed their own school environment called the Independent Learning Project.  Yes, these students were highly motivated.  They sought to do what made them happy.  They created their own curriculum to push themselves toward excellence.  But they weren’t all stellar students before they entered the program; they simply had the will to show their instructors that they knew what was best for their interests and education.

So how can I bring this to my classroom?  How can I design lessons that are differentiated for all learners?  How can I offer them choice?  How can guide their inquiry, yet at the same time train them for the academic rigor of the International Baccalaureate?  I have no idea.  I just know what I would want my classroom to look like.

What would my perfect classroom look like? 

My class would be full of Hokki chairs in various colors.  My class would be full of tables that could be raised so students could stand at them, but also tables that could roll and form larger work areas for groups doing problem solving.   My classroom would also have a huge whiteboard with an interactive projection screen to allow my students to come up and demonstrate newly learned skills.  My classroom would be equipped with a cart of iPads or MacBooks allowing my students easy access to information, to create videos or presentations, and to collaborate with their peers or with experts to solve real world problems.

And when you walked into my classroom day after day, the arrangement of students and desks would rarely be the same.  One day their tables might be facing the wall and windows, giving students a quiet less distracting space to complete an independent task.  Another day might have their tables pushed together in pods of 3 or 4 as they work together, sometimes in loud voices,  to solve a problem or work on a presentation.  At other times their desks would be in a theater setting as students act out a moment in history or discuss a specific topic.

And you would see movement.  Kids would be moving around.  They would be active.   They would feel comfortable choosing the type of space that works for them.  They would be challenged and feel that their work has purpose.  They would be happy.

What changes in Education do you find most inspiring and overwhelming?

4 replies

  1. Totally! Last year I was lucky to get a class set of those big balance balls donated (through Donors Choose) and I had the kids “earn” their new chairs one by one. They were bright orange and people would walk by and do a double take. Parents and strangers would often come and and introduce themselves just wanting to get a look – it was like a visual that something “different” was happening. I also pulled out a wrench and raised my big table to be a standing desk and the kids LOVED it.

    • Ok, now I need to know how you made them earn their chairs. I’m getting some Hokki’s in the next few weeks. My original intent was to put them at the seats of my most tippy students (they are always tipped back in their chairs). Yet earning the chair makes way more sense.

  2. “At the end of my current students’ careers will they say that my class was rigorous? Or will they say that I just kept them busy?” I was a bit concerned when I read this in your blog. What do you define as the end of their careers? When they finish high school? College? Life? Our perspective changes throughout our lives and what might seem pointless busy work to us in high school might actually resonate later in college or a job. We are not teachers to entertain our students fancies. We need to push them, to challenge them, to interest them in things that have never crossed their minds before. If, as a couple of these videos suggest, that students are allowed to self-direct, then many will never grow outside their limited scope of interest. As a teenager, I would have thought that that was great. As an adult I cringe at the thought and thank the stars that school as an institution compelled me to take courses that were outside my range of interests. There is a reason why I became a teacher and that is to help my students stretch, grow, and develop as people, and part of that is urging them to go where they might not have on their own.

    • I guess I would define career as when they leave our school. I want them to think back on their time here as being one of challenge.

      I guess I don’t see what you mean in the videos. In each case these kids had mentors or teachers that were guiding them in the process. Especially in the Vermont school, students are asked to meet once a day with their mentor, once a week they present to a group of peers, and their products are then judged to give them a grade. They are given some freedom, but the basics must still be covered.

      I am all for rigor but I am also about choice that will allow my students to explore topics to deeper levels. I am all for rote learning, when those rote skills will allow them to more quickly explore topics at deeper levels.

      I get your feeling of cringe, but I also know how awesome it is when my students take the knowledge I am guiding them through and turn it into real life work and into products that I never imagined myself.

      I’m not for “Hey everybody…go out and learn something!” I am about “Hey everybody…these are the topics we are going to explore, let’s see where that takes us!” Sometimes this has taken us to writing letters of complaint to chocolate companies for buying cocoa beans picked by slave labor. Sometimes it has led students doing in depth research on a local historical topic that fits with the topic in class.

      So thanks for your comments. I think I just answered my question. 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s