Reflections of a Third Day Faculty of Education Instructor

I’ve just completed teaching my the third class of a course called “Literacy Across the Curriculum” for fourth and fifth year Education students (teacher candidates).

Having an impact on the teaching of over 30 future teachers is a tremendous responsibility. Linking traditional practices and notions of literacy with current multiliteracy and multimodal ideas of literacy as social and cultural practices for making meaning, is a challenge within the university space, where the literacy practices of listening to an instructor and learning how to follow explicit directions are more the norm.

For years now, I’ve been immersed in the practice and research of “innovative” learning (inquiry, makerspace, self-determined, personal learning…). I’ve also participated in face-to-face discussions (EdCamp, forums), online MOOCs and cMOOCs, Facebook groups and Twitter chats with other educators in order to reimagine education considering what we know about how people learn (quite differently) and what motivates them.

While it seems easy to push back against traditional school learning practices, I’d prefer to see the push back as pushing off. We can use what we know already to propel us forward, whether that’s asking, “Why are we still doing it this way?” or asking, “What would happen if we now tried to…?” We work from a place of knowing to enter the unknown.

Unfortunately, too often our fear of error, of failure, of “messing up,” strengthens our resolve for stability, which weakens the potential for change. We have a glimpse of where we can go, and we don’t know how it will turn out, so we hold on, hoping that something will change or someone will change things for us or call us back or the earth will open and a pack of dinosaurs will grab our ankles and keep us grounded.

So how do you head into a challenge?

By leaping, not stepping. By diving into the waters below like the metaphor in Al Pittman’s poem “Cooks Brook.” An excerpt here:

…Not everyone had guts enough

to dive from the top ledge…

And always there was that moment of terror

When you’d doubt that you could clear the shelf…

As the water parts like a wound

To engulf you

Then closes just as quickly

In a white scar where you entered

And you are surprised always

To find yourself alive…

I need to lead. And I’ve jumped.

My problem is that I head off in new directions as an eager adventurer, a wannabe trailblazer. This is where I get ahead of myself. I have this same problem when I travel. I know the destination I want and as I’m travelling I say to myself, “You probably should have checked a map to see what route you should take to get there.” I don’t like to follow someone else’s tire tracks in newly fallen snow or play the notes in sheet music exactly as they are. Thinking about the thinking behind my actions is how I tend to map my way forward. Discourse with self.

I enjoy figuring things out, even if it’s frustrating — this is learning. Telling someone else feels like I’m taking that adventure away from them and I know that telling isn’t learning though it can certainly set someone on their own learning journey. Discourse within community is what is needed.

I don’t want to create followers, I want to create other leaders.

Leaders look ahead and anticipate change.

“Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?” asks Rosalinde Torres in her TED talk “What Makes a Great Leader?” Good question. “Most impactful development comes when you are able to build the emotional stamina to withstand people telling you that your new idea is naive or reckless of just plain stupid.”

I have abandoned successful practice to try new things. I fear I have not been clear about the new ideas that I am asking the students to embrace. This is where I have perhaps faltered in my desire to have learners construct their own meaning by questioning and connecting ideas. If students are used to the “dots” being presented and the connections being made by the teacher with a notion of “here’s how to do it,” then I have failed in creating the bridge, the scaffold, and the tools of construction for each to create their own connection of dots. How am I going to do this?

“Surely some revelation is at hand.” — William Butler Yeats

Why not curiosity as a tool?

“…(C)uriosity doesn’t just have utilitarian value. It doesn’t just help you find solutions and make progress and understand yourself and the rest of the world better. It can actually help you have a better life, one in which you’re engaged, energized, fulfilled and constantly learning,” says Amanda Lang in The Power of Why.

Curiosity begets creativity and innovation. The end destination is not known nor is it the goal. The questions lead to new, different and meaningful ideas, which are then trialed in action. I’m not exactly sure of the questions I was anticipating in this third class, though what I heard was, “What do you want us to do now?”

First, I do want there to be an “us,” a collective searching, in this case, of appropriate literacy strategies and practices suitable for multiple, diverse contexts. (There is more to say here but I’ll save it for the class).

Now how do we do this collectively? We all want to be “nice” and avoid conflict and disagreement with the result being that it’s easier to stay where we are and avoid having “winners” and “losers” of proposed ideas. And yet, that’s how we all lose.

Teachers need to be adaptive and innovative leaders. From her research, Linda Hill identifies three key capabilities innovative leaders and organizations have:

I’m trying to create an environment that embraces the clear messiness of enabling and enacting experiments and reflecting on the results. So I ask myself, how do I create a sense of community in a space where people will interact with vulnerability and trust, to willingly come alongside competing ideas to create new understandings and processes?

My learned educator instinct, tells me that I can’t revert to the recipe book approach where a teacher (or a textbook) disseminates curated content in the same fashion for all students, as if their presence has no bearing on the usefulness or merit of the material presented. We’re all familiar with hearing or saying, “I’m sure glad that course is over.”

I want the course to be meaningful and am challenged to provide fertile ground and seeds and nurturing to make it happen.

I want the course to “end” with students having a feeling of being pushed and propelled forward, to have the questions, challenges, experiments, the wonder, the celebration of possibilities and opportunities, and ultimately, the desire to learn more, to never end.

I’ve leaped. Go ahead, call me “reckless, naive or just plain stupid.” I can handle it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that my current teaching experiment is influenced by Dave Cormier’s notions of community as curriculum, and my interactions with educators in #rhizo14 and #rhizo15 and the ongoing discourse in multiple Facebook groups.

Also published on my blog.