Self, Work, People, Change, Space
Last term, in the process of pulling together the 'Effectiveness' training day, I decided that thriving as a teacher boils down to these five elements, and in each of the five we face dilemmas and contradictions. In each of the five there is insight and clarity to be had: a path forward through the forest.
Below is a brain dump on them. I hope it sparks your own thinking. You might use the 5 headings as a way of gathering your own observations, insights and curiosity.
Oh and please if you're local to Sydney, come hang out with me on June 9 and we can explore them together!
Almost every challenge is a self-challenge. Our biggest limitations are our self limitations. Our self-conceptions, self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-love, and so on, set the upper limit on all other development. For instance if a colleague or student really gets under your skin, the problem isn't with them, but with you. It simply gets projected outward onto what you perceive as reality.
I remember going pale with shock at a certain moment when I realised how much my 'self' was constructed by concepts of who I was that OTHER people had, and that I had then internalised and taken at face value. Rewrite the script!
You have reports due Thursday, parent-teacher night tonight, three students you have to catch in the playground, a cheque requisition form to drop off at the office, two unplanned lessons, a conversation you have to have to with a colleague, a phone call to see a dentist, a stack of marking, and then when you glance up you realise there are 30 new unread emails! This is no caricature or hyperbole, is it? In fact I could go much further without exaggeration.
How can we thrive in the complexity and chaos of school? How can we be creative when we only get the top 5% of our 'to do list' done?
I have felt so much better since I cracked this one with the GTD methodology. Once again I recommend How to Get Things Done by David Allen. It is a life saver. Or... come to my next workshop!
All work is people-work, especially at school. Students are people. Colleagues are people. We convince, inspire, neglect, insult, deride, undermine, praise, negotiate with, get permission from, give permission to, equip, resource, empower, assist, mentor, damage, save and enable each other.
Picture a school as a network, focal points around optimists, pessimists, leaders, and gate keepers. Where do you fit on this map? What are you broadcasting? What are you known for?
A helpful tool I find is the notion of 'social currency'. What is your currency? Is it high or low?
How can you improve your currency? How can you use it to better shape your responsibilities? How can you use it to benefit others?
Well everything is changing. Society is changing. Traditional schooling is a dead duck, plain and simple. The model we grew up with, and see in films and in soap operas, is bankrupt. Schools that don't come to terms with this will not survive another 10 years. I suspect many schools will indeed go under, while new schools will be seeded with a much different charter and radically different structures.
Much resistance to change comes from the reality that we are confident experts of the old model, whereas much of the new model is still to be worked out. If a teacher has spent 5 or 10 years of their career perfecting techniques for 'getting control' of their class, they may be reluctant to embrace a model where 'control' is not even sought.
It's not only starting from scratch, but it's going where no man has gone before. Yikes!
But then, who said we had a choice?
I repeat this like an automaton now. I think these words are original, so yes you can quote me:
"Technology mediates relationships. Space mediates relationships. Technology is space."
Gettit? Two people in a meadow. Their proximity allows them to hear each other and have a conversation. The space mediates the relationship. If they stand further away they can't hear each other, so no conversation, so no relationship.
Ah, but if they use technology... such as smoke signals, or a telephone, then although they are not in the same physical space they are in the same virtual space. Technology is space. Technology creates space.
Furniture is technology and is also therefore space.
How does your classroom mediate relationships? The shape of your room is technology. The furniture is technology. The layout, centres of gravity, signs and decorations, doors and windows, are technology.
And yes of course the computers and internet are also technology, and are also therefore space. Does your class move through virtual space as well as physical? Do you help your students nurture a virtual persona? Do they publish online? Do they tweet? Do they Skype? Does each have a profile page representing their current learning? Do they answer questions from other students in other schools, and ask their own questions in turn?
Very tricky one, space. Whatever we do we mustn't take it at face value, or ignore it. Every decision about the physical space of the learning environment, from chairs to the internet, is laden with meaning and implications.