I recently had an opportunity to listen to Mr. Kevin Brookhouser’s speak on the 20time Project at the Toronto GAFE Summit. His message: teachers who offer choice can meet learning goals while creating powerful experiences that lead to increased motivation, creativity and divergent critical thinking. Simple yet very profound. I wrote the following thoughts while on my plane ride home.
My teaching career started when I was in high school during a job shadowing experience. A real-world learning experience inspired me as opposed to memorizing facts and figures in my core subjects…who knew! Imagine 16-year-old me, I liked music, I was pretty good at it, the music rooms were my second home. When I had the opportunity to mentor someone, it just seemed natural to shadow my band director. I had my “lightbulb” a-ha moment when I was presented with an opportunity to teach a rhythm lesson to 10-year-old budding percussionist. I helped her through grasping a concept and when she got it, I got it…I want to teach.
Little did I know, that moment would lead me down a very interesting path in education. It has been a path that has engrossed me, a path that is unfinished, a path that if you squint hard enough drops off to…where?
Prior to seeing clarity with the scary (yet awesome) realization that our 21st century educational thoroughfare is being built as we travel it, I taught instrumental music in a very rural and high-poverty school for almost a decade. I loved it, was good at it, and kids usually liked coming to my class. Naïve-me thought their engagement in my class was a reflection on my teaching – ha! I eventually figured out they liked coming to the band room for the same reasons I liked it when I was in high school – they enjoy music, they like playing an instrument, and my classroom felt safe. One could argue that none of those reasons are because of me. This is where my mother’s voice pipes up and says, “Now Meredith, they feel safe and secure in your room because you fostered that. They love music because you have inspired them. Etc., etc., etc.” Ok Mom, I’ll take a tiny bit of it but it really comes down to the fact that they felt empowered in my classroom.
Learners felt safe – check.
Learners felt supported – check.
Learners were given autonomy – check.
Learners were given an authentic audience – check.
Learners were passionate and interested in the content – check.
Learners saw a potential future with the work they completed – check.
Here’s the kicker – my learners chose to be in my class. That’s huge. It wasn’t until I was out of the classroom teaching teachers, facilitating professional learning, presenting to all content area educators that I realized most educators don’t get to experience the luxury of being an elective teacher and how absolute key that was to my (accidental) classroom success.
Now and probably for the rest of my time on this earth, I will encourage all educators (and leaders!) to pattern after or emulate an elective class by giving student voice, choice, and ownership on their learning while also providing some authentic audience and networking outside of the classroom walls. Technology obviously provides an accessible avenue to achieve this work.
I’ll sign off by asking one simple question: Do you want to take your class?