Friday, April 25, 2014

"Practice what you preach, Vellenoweth!"

Talking to myself - a sign of madness or just another mode of self reflection?  Either way, I do it all the time.  However, the real question right now is - what's brought this self talk title on?

Firstly, I want to introduce the role of a critical friend.  I value and enjoy having critical friends and relish the conversations and reflection that comes from their critique.  But I haven't always felt like this.  I still remember the days when critique about my practice made me feel personally affronted, defensive, judgemental ... So, what's changed:  the shift from personal to professional; to it being about the learner / learning, not about me; and ultimately, the shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset (another whole blog topic!)  Part of this process has not been just about valuing others critique, but also about being able to critique myself.  

This doesn't mean I don't slip back to what I know at times, but it's about being able to check myself when this happens.  I encourage everyone to become their own critical friend!

The title of this blog came from today's personal reflection on my own practice.  For the up and coming Term 2, I am running a SPIN module (100 minute block, once a week) called 'Passion to Project.'  My idea for this has been influenced by the Big Picture Education model where students learning is linked to their passions and interests.  I want to give students the opportunity to explore what they are passionate about it, make sense, focus, generate, test, refine, share - and be able to continually ask themselves so what? and where to next? (The stages of our Learning Design Model).  This might mean linking to mentors, finding funding, accessing local, national, world wide agencies.  Ultimately, 'Passion to Project' is about learners making their learning relevant, authentic and meaningful for them.  

This morning I started an email to Steve to ask him to send me a list of students who had chosen my module.  I had an idea in my head that all my students would be starting at the 'explore a passion' stage, finding an aspect to focus on and being able to turn their passion into a project.  I, "the teacher," was going to veto the list based on my judgements as to who was ready.


What was I thinking?
  • I was thinking, I can keep my course all neat and tidy.
  • I was thinking, I know who's ready to explore a passion and what their outcome will be.
  • I was thinking, if I control who is in it, the course will be a success.
  • I was thinking, I know better than the kids about what they are passionate about.
  • I was thinking, I can have this course planned and ready to go for day one and the pressure will be off.

How did my critical friend self react?  She said:
  • Who are you to assume the reasons as to why the students choose your course?
  • Who are you to decide wether or not these kids are passionate about something?
  • If these kids come with a passion in mind, who are you to tell them what stage they are at?
  • If you really want to engage kids in learning through their passions, then who are you to box them up, control their process and have a predetermined start and outcome?
  • Who are you to make this module about you and not about the students?  


In order to be your own critical friend, knowing yourself is key.  But, a willingness and openness to being a learner is paramount.  My journey at HPSS has allowed me to really explore teaching and learning - as a learner, not just as a teacher and this, I believe, has made all the difference.  

It's important to note that my revelations about 'Passion Projects' didn't just happen.  My shift from teacher-centred to learner-centred thinking was provoked through my own learning.  I never did finish my email to Steve, but instead picked up my latest read, 'The Falconer' by Grant Lichtman.  I've only just started it, but it was a certain reminder of what's important - the learner and everyone's capacity to be the learner, the teacher, the guide ...

My students and I will both be learners and teachers in the course of our 'Passion to Project' and what we do won't just occur in a 100min block once a week and it won't just happen within the school building.  Grant Lichtman writes about wanting us to "exhibit qualities like invention, courage, creativity, insight, design, and vision," a lot more than knowing "the capitals of South America or the sequence of presidents and kings, fractions, computer science, art history, running a cash register, or throwing a football."  He asks, "why in our great system of child rearing and primary, secondary, college, graduate, and postgraduate education is there no course of study titled something like Strategies for Becoming Who I Want to Be?" I love his reference to learning being a journey, much like Dorothy's in Oz: "There are just some things that no Good Witch or teacher or boss or parent can discover for us; we have to learn it for ourselves." 

I also revisited Ramsay Mulsallam's Ted Talk: 3 rules to spark learning.  He talks about students questions being the greatest tools for learning.  The 3 rules he identifies are:  
  • Curiosity comes first:  questions can be windows to great instruction, but not the other way around.
  • Embrace the mess:  trial and error are crucial.
  • Practice reflection:  what we do is important and it deserves our care, but it also deserves our revision.

Mulsallam challenges educators to leave behind the simple role of decimators of content and embrace a new paradigm as curators of curiosity and inquiry.

- I accept!

So, in order to practice what I preach, I will ensure the journey I am about to embark on is driven by the learners questions and curiosity.  I will embrace the mess and guide direction, rather than control it.  And I will continually challenge myself and my students to keep and searching for the 'so what?', and the 'what if?'

Ramsay Mulsallam's Ted Talk: 3 rules to spark learning


  1. thanks for some useful reflections!

  2. Growth mindset homework completed!

  3. Can't wait to hear more about the course! I love the reality check. What a wonderful story; one to which all teachers should aspire!