I have taken 15 students up to the Northeast Regional Conference on the Social Studies for the last few years. They attend as members as the staff and are equal participants in the sessions.
They take over an area near registration and offer 1:1 help with different tech tools. They show teachers how to use tools such as Instagram, Flickr, Google Docs, Twitter, have a table where they interview attendees, and green-screen attendees into a picture with their favorite person in history.
The kids help with directions, work with presenters to solve any problems from broken projectors to dead pointer batteries, tweet out what is happening during the session, and photograph every session. They are thirteen to fourteen years old. I bring kids who teachers say never talk in class, and kids who sing proudly up on stage during drama productions. Kids who are behavior problems, and kids get student-of-the-month every year. I always bring some kids who just need a chance to be in a situation where they have the opportunity to realize that they are capable of doing things they previously did not know they could do.
The participants are always impressed with their capabilities, and so am I. The students create the plans and handouts for each tool, they decide how to “teach” attendees to use each and what classroom examples to use. They make the signs…and when the signs don’t work they walk the halls pitching their tool and have folks follow them back to their tables. I am always amazed at one thing. I will fill in at any station whenever there is a need for help. The teachers attending will always sit with the kids longer than they do with me. The teachers who had the kids help them will always come back with more questions for the kid who helped them, than the teachers that I helped. They do a great job
They arrive in charge, instead of arriving to be controlled. It is not school. For some the adjustment takes a few hours, they are tentative, a bit shy, and slow to believe that they are “in charge.” In the beginning I always sense a hesitancy, I sense a feeling of “why would some strange teacher want to listen to me?” But then the most amazing thing happens. They have prepared well, they sit with a teacher, and then teacher hangs on there every word. It is like a lightening bolt of empowerment. I love the faces on the teachers.
The teachers will actually skip sessions to sit with the kids. They walk away from the interview table amazed at the questions the kids asked, and always smiling having just been suckered into a conversation with a fourteen year old in which they lost control and ended up learning a little bit more about themselves, their teaching abilities, and reminded why they have the best job in the world.
I always wonder what it must be like to go back to school…back to being controlled, being told what to learn, when to learn it, how to learn it. I know after my daughter facilitated a couple of Edcamp sessions she remarked about how it was impossible to go back to school and just sit following someone else’s orders.
Every year I come back rejuvenated that all great teaching is a call to action. Everything we have done during the year has led up to this. Everything we have talked about that wasn’t in the curriculum, every activity we did that could have been a worksheet or multiple choice test, everything that they struggled through and solved on their own instead of me giving them the steps to follow, and the rubric to tell them what was right and wrong. It wasn’t what we were “supposed to be doing” that leads to their success. When they return for a visit and recall what we did that is allowing them to be successful in high school it was not what we “were supposed to be doing.”
In school we have begun to receive our common core aligned units. They focus on content. They focus on skills. They focus on the common core standards. What they ask me to do is easy. Cover a topic. Learn a skill. Nail a standard. There are a 100 books that you can buy that will give you strategies for doing those things. There are a thousand teachers who are doing those things. There are millions of kids doing those things.
Teaching can be a very easy profession when all you do is do what you are supposed to do.
I love to teach not because of what I am supposed to be doing. I love to teach because of the things I do that are not in the curriculum. I especially love to get kids to believe they are capable of doing more than they previously thought was possible. This year has been the toughest year for me in a long, long time. I have struggled so mightily to get them to once again believe in themselves, that they are powerful, that they are capable of doing more than they have previously been told. This conference gave me a wake-up call, it rejuvenated me.
My highlight might have been watching kids who had prepared for weeks by creating questions to interview teachers have someone walk up to the table who was not a teacher and without flinching proceeded on with the interview. If you happen to watch the interview, you’ll see one of the girls just close the laptop with the questions realizing they won’t be of much use. The guy who walked up and sat down happen to be best selling author Ken Davis. It’s not every day you get to sit across from someone like that.
I was pretty excited when a teacher came back in the afternoon and told me that she had eaten lunch at the same restaurant that Ken Davis did. She over heard him say that it was the best interview he had ever done–that would be better than CNN, NBC, NPR 🙂
And it’s not every day that Ken Davis sits down next to you to learn how to use twitter.
I was only able to bring 15 kids, I wish I could have brought more.
This post isn’t really about my trip to the conference, it is a subtle reminder that our kids are capable of doing so much more. They will do more when you infect them with vigor…not rigor. They will do more when given a call to action, rather than given a worksheet. They will do more when they see that you are willing to go beyond what you are supposed to do. When you do that, so will they. They will be who you are, not just who you want them to be.
Our kids are all getting something out of our classes bigger than the content we teach, bigger than the skills and standards.
Each kid takes a little piece of us with them when they leave.
Please don’t just do what you are supposed to do…
We need kids who are not just ready for the future, but who are willing to create it.