This blog has been a bridge of learning between my previous work with the Quaglia Institute and my present work as a classroom teacher. Now four months into reflecting each week on moving from theory to practice, I remain grateful for the opportunity to articulate those reflections. The blog has helped bring greater clarity and focus to my theoretical understandings of pedagogy and education and greater intentionality and engagement to my classroom teaching. If you have been reading along, you know that the effort to implement approaches Russ and I have written about in Student Voice: The Instrument of Change (which recently was published in Dutch!) has not been easy. But it has been incredibly worthwhile.
A second suggestion Russ made about bridging the thirty thousand foot view of a Chief Academic Officer and the on-the-ground view of a classroom teacher was to connect my classroom and students with the classroom and students of the many schools I have been in or worked with in my role at the Quaglia Institute. Technology makes possible video conferences in which my students can talk to students in California or London or Montana or Holland or any of the dozens of other states and countries School Voice and Aspirations work has an audience. When Russ suggested this, I knew almost immediately the connection that would be most interesting.
As you may recall from a previous blog, I teach a world religions course. One of the religions we study is Islam. And one of the schools the Quaglia Institute is currently working with is the Universal American School in Dubai. UAS has an Islamic Department. This is an obvious and wonderful opportunity for my (mostly) Catholic students from Boston and the surrounding suburbs to talk with students in an Arab and largely Muslim culture. Last week, when Russ connected me with an administrator at UAS who would help facilitate the connection, I emailed her: “This is so great! How is next week for you?”
Ok, perhaps my email was not that naively enthusiastic… I did point out the nine hour time difference and possible solutions given our schedule. I even asked my students if they would be willing to come to school early to connect with students in Dubai. Many said they could and would. My rookie excitement at being able to make this connection was tempered by the email response from the veteran educator nine times zones ahead of me which suggested we consider how to maximize the learning opportunity for our students. What data could we collect prior to our meeting? What questions would our students prepare ahead of time? What rubrics could we create to shape our conversation? What outcomes did we hope for? How might we assess whether we had achieved our goals? Thrilled by the connection itself, I was ready to flip on the cameras and have our students simply chit-chat. My colleague in Dubai wanted our students to learn, not just meet; to connect to correct stereotypes and misconceptions and not just to connect classrooms. We have decided to create a joint lesson plan so that after our respective holiday breaks, we can bring our students together in a mutual and meaningful learning experience.
Along with many other lessons I have had as a rookie teacher in my fifties, there is a lesson in this experience as well. How does enthusiasm for a new method or approach (PBL, flipped classroom, 21st century skills, Student Voice!) overtake the need to carefully plan for the sake of meaningful learning? When positive emotions rush (consciously or not) implementation of good ideas, what is sacrificed? These questions pertain both at the classroom level, as in my case, and also at the school level, where new programs and curricula seem to drop into schools every other or even every single year. Perhaps a failure to slow down a little to work on a plan for implementation and not just work from a desire to implement, leads to that spasmodic approach. As hastily enacted schemes and good ideas misfire, there is then a need for a new one. If that new program, in turn, is put in place based on the heat of excitement and not the light of clear steps, metrics, and a connection to mission, the cycles continues. The end results are a lot of meetings and work with little real change. In the long run, any enthusiasm for new approaches wanes into eye-rolling and then non-existence.
I am grateful to my colleague in Dubai for reminding me that our role as educators is to advance the learning, not just take advantage of cool opportunities.