A part of change is adjustments, and in my new position I am finding the biggest adjustment comes from the freedom I have in my position. The two biggest factors of that freedom are time and working.
Spending the last 12 years in high school, time is segmented out for you. The calendar is set, the bells ring every 48 minutes, planning period is the same everyday. Life in school is a tightly run routine.
The second day on the job I wanted to go to the Casey’s up the block for a pop. I stopped at our secretary’s desk to ask if it was OK. She was nice about the situation, but I saw in her eyes that “I can’t believe this” look just after I asked the question.
Also that week, the staff was gathered together for lunch. Guess who was done first? Yep, me. Finished in less than six minutes.
The freedom of my time affects the second aspect; my work. I am responsible for producing my product. If I have an idea, I’m responsible for it. One example is an idea for an online only workshop covering 2.0 tools for teachers. My boss likes the idea. So it is up to me to produce it. Yes, there are some guidelines and standards to meet, but if I want my idea to be a reality I am responsible for it. Powerful way to work.
Powerful way to learn? Yes, I think so.
The first aspect of time is crucial to the second aspect of learning. Every teacher has had the situation when the class is just clicking. The energy is high, students are engaged, as a teacher you are flying. No one notices, or cares, about the time… then the bell rings. You try to finish the point you were on, kids are trying to listen and grab their book bags at the same time. You can see the bell has intruded on them too.
There is no easy answer for the time constraints in school, without some radical change. But, I think it is an aspect of school reform that needs real attention. In my discussions with students, one area that time has the greatest negative impact is the industrial and art classes. In one conversation with a student who was taking a welding class, he expressed his frustration with only getting 10 minutes of real welding done in a typical class session. There is attendance and class issues first, then prep work, and then having enough time for cleanup.
Which brings us to what students produce. The freedom to work on things they love, or to stay with a concept until that light bulb goes off. Some of my best teaching has happened as I walked with students to their next class (so they wouldn’t be tardy) talking with them until the idea clicked. That is a teacher’s gold medal: that look when a student’s eyes get big, the corner of their mouth moves into a smile, and I swear, the room becomes bright.
What would school look like with more freedom?