It All Matters

Analytical Creativity in Progress

Creative Analytics in Progress


Inspiration Matters.

 

 

Every time I discover inspired learners in a school both the vibrancy of their projects and interest in their work reflect congruence with their educators’ value for passion-driven learning. No two spaces are quite the same and the learners’ work doesn’t follow formula.

For a couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting upon the inversely proportional relationship between passion for learning and standardization in schools. It’s pretty simple to observe as passion increases standardization decreases and vice versa.  We live in a time in which outcome metrics, fidelity to replication, and scalability of “evidence-based programs” are supposed to lead to growth in achievement as measured with precision by batteries of “objective” tests. This approach defines the education game of the day in almost every public school in this country – but not everywhere.

And Engaged in Serious Play

A Gathering of Educators Hard at Work

 

Teachers matter.

 

 

Despite standardization pressures, creativity and passion still grow and thrive in some learning spaces. Some of these creative educators, one-offs in their schools, live in an underground, often virtual, network where they draw upon each other to sustain each other’s vital signs as teachers. But, what a loss to our profession when these creative educators must live as independent contractors in their schools, never fully realizing the power of learning when an entire staff of educators is on a passion-driven mission.

Educator-Centered Principal Leadership
Learner-centered Principal Leadership

 

 

Leadership matters.

 

 

Others are fortunate members of communities where principals support and facilitate the work of teachers and learners as creators, designers, builders, developers, and inventors. Here, teachers become master artists at work in schools that are more like studios than factories. Their learners engage in learning how to learn through deep, engaging, interesting work rather than the drudgery of one too many worksheets or multiple-choice tests. Such models are few in number but they do exist in both poor and affluent communities. And, that tells me we all have the potential to realize rather than deny our dreams for contemporary learning spaces where every child can find their interest and passion niche as a learner.

foster intensity at any age

The interests of engaged learners


The work matters.

 

 

 

Educators in some learning spaces are choosing to transition toward less standardization. They reflect creative work in progress. I’ve observed a school transform from mostly blank walls to one that’s full of life, light, and color. The change reminds me of a day spent watching a painter at work along the Seine. She began with a perfect, white canvas that was altered with daubs of colour into a rich landscape teeming with life.  She stayed with this project for hours, refining each stroke of the brush to catch the light, the shadow, a child kicking a ball, lovers reclined on the river’s bank. I marveled at the passion and commitment it took to sustain such attention to her work, despite distractions all around her.

The Window as Learning Wall

The Foyer as Library


Learning Spaces Matter.

 

exercise ball as seat
lying and standing work spaces

 

Seating under table, in chairs, on floor

Recently, I walked a once-perfectly tidy school that’s in transition. I noticed signs of change in children’s drawings and writing on glass windows in the library a study in mirror writing. Another day, I returned to find children sprawled on a classroom floor working away on a project to redesign their room – a study in concentration. In another school, the librarian painted a still life with plants, benches, and tables onto the once-blank foyer outside her library. A few weeks later, the still life was landscaped with children, 2nd and 4th graders, reading together under the tables, on benches, and gathered together on the floor a study in multi-age learning.

the messiness of design think described by principals

Teachers in a third school “walk” their classes together discussing the dual importance of a safe and comfortable space as prerequisite to challenging learners to engage in rigorous, creative, and critical thinking/doing work. To shift toward multi-dimensional learning work, educators have to work hard to effect changes in practice. It demands a concomitant shift from the dominant use of the frontal teaching wall to systemic use of multi-dimensional spaces inside and out of the classroom. Design changes. Teaching changes. Work changes.

Team work as life skill

Collaborative experiences matter

Community of multi-age reading buddies

 

 

 

 

The distance between the painter at work on the banks of the Seine and educators at work adding color and life to their world isn’t so far really. Artists seek out each other routinely in formal and informal ways to share their work, “steal” ideas from each other, reflect on changes in technique, ask questions, and push the boundaries of their art.  Creative teachers connect for many of the same reasons.

the science of passion

 

the art of passion


Passion matters.

I want to learn.. passion

When teachers create, adopt, and adapt their work, they function similarly to artists. They share and learn from each other. Like artists, they fuel themselves with their own passion and, in doing so, create a contagion of creativity (borrowed from @irasocol) that fuels learning passion among the young people they serve. They’re not cookie-cutter teachers and they look for every opportunity to design away from cookie cutter learning work.  It’s routine for their children to ask questions, pursue interests, wonder and search, make meaning, create original responses, and amplify knowledge into deep understanding and growth as a learner. Together, educators and young people alike dream learning that’s writ large through passion, not writ small through standardization.

Principals in the Learning Trenches

Principals who Embrace Passion for Learning

 

Permission matters.

 

 

 

If I could gift every school with the opportunity to dream big, I would start with restoration of passion. From recent conversations with teachers collectively engaged in design thinking, I’ve found one common theme emerging. Educators need support of leaders who’re not afraid when teachers take necessary risks in pursuit of learning as they change the spaces, change the learning, and change the tools. Each step of the way, they diverge along different pathways just as artists also do.

In giving up the safety of mass standardization, they simultaneously sustain an in-common vision that young people can accomplish learning beyond our wildest dreams when they’re inspired, passionate, and interested in the work they do.

It works for educators. It works for those they serve.

Images: Albemarle County Public Schools


habitats for learning? we must first abandon the lecture-room

When I Heard the Learn’d  Astronomer

“When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”

….. Walt Whitman 1865

I have always loved the voice of Walt Whitman and the loft of his words. He defines for me the poetic storyteller, the reflective teacher, the fierce truth-sayer.

Whitman speaks in yesterday’s language about today’s learning challenges. So many young people in our world feel sentenced to school; a place of doing time until they too can wander out of our classrooms and into a world where sitting in lectures no longer sucks the life out of learning.

We’ve worked for years to change up pedagogy with little success. Mostly, we continue to teach as we have taught for years – in front of the teaching wall arranged along assembly line classrooms of our factory schools. Could it be that changing the lecture room must be our focus before we try to change the lecture? I’m pretty certain after a week of intensive observation and design discussion facilitated by @irasocol with teachers, librarians, and principals that learning communities can not form unless spaces are designed to become communities.

It  became apparent to me – one of those “ahas” of life- that creation of vibrant learning communities today is more than just teachers’ application of the right combination of  technology, content, and pedagogical knowledge. A teacher’s expertise in creating a contemporary community of learners for learning also depends upon an effective intersection of color, light, furniture use, available furniture, floor covering, space flow, space gradient, and multidimensional space. What makes this so complex, indeed, difficult to accomplish?

Each learning space represents a unique challenge and there is no one right design answer that can be applied universally. That’s the puzzle of the social architecture essential to crafting a built environment for each classroom community. It’s about figuring out just the right ingredients for each habitat for learners. It’s about selecting the tools we need to construct those spaces. And, it’s about the time to look in classrooms and find the design that sustains the uniqueness of the teacher while providing a zone of comfortable learning for each learner, all day long. This takes a sense of design aesthetic, a resonance with the community, an understanding of the full range of technologies needed in the space, and a feel for flow. These are not a set of skills used in isolation, but rather a set of skills used in collaboration.

Someone said once that if we continue to do what we’ve always done, we will continue to get what we’ve always gotten. Why would we ever expect either teaching or learning to change as long as children continue to enter classrooms where desks line up in rows, chairs stand at attention and a projector takes aim at the target of a stark white board?  Perhaps, we need to take out the desks, the chairs, the teaching wall, the single projector, and all the books lined neatly on shelves around the perimeter. I also wonder if we need to wander outside and look up at a starry night, then come back indoors and begin anew to create a habitat that sustains communities of learners.