Learning to Disrupt: Six Courses that Must be Required for Every Pre-Service Teacher


Why doesn’t education change? Largely because the vast majority of adults involved in it lack both the experience that makes change imperative and the understanding of what something different looks like.

First, education is filled with educators who were very good at school. If you’ve been very good at school it can be hard to understand why school needs such radical change. Second, Pre-Service Teachers are taught by professors in courses which look traditional and have traditional evaluation practices. Then they go intern in traditional schools, often with very traditional teachers. How would they know another way?

I’ve been thinking deeply about this as we plan another New Teacher Academy for the beginning of August. How might we truly solve the massive deficit in change-understanding among those we hire, whether “new new” teachers or “old new” teachers.

How much better if our Teacher Training Institutions might help. How much better if our universities were actually committed to change.

What would that look like? Here’s a suggestion. Six courses that really must be required if a Teacher Education program is to stay accredited.

Choice, Comfort, and Student Agency

Or we might subtitle it, Managing without Management. How do you create learning spaces where students learn, learn how to learn their own way, and learn how to make pro-social and self-rewarding decisions? Currently teachers still learn to bribe and punish, and how to react, and this course will change that. How to throw out school furniture; How to find free and cheap comfortable furniture; How to arrange a room kids can rearrange; How to light a classroom; How to spot kids as they get uncomfortable and help them learn how to shift position; How to allow kids to control time.

Universal Design and Toolbelt Theory

Stop telling kids how to do it, and watch learning and engagement grow. Universal Design for Learning isn’t about school adults making choices, it’s about kids working things out and becoming experts on their own learning. From how (or if) to sit, to how one reads certain things best, to the best times to get things done, and how best to communicate, UDL is about teachers creating possibilities and students creating pathways. This course then works through Toolbelt Theory, a way to help kids consider how to build a lifespan way of choosing and using tools based in understanding the Task, the Environment, your own Skillset, and your growing knowledge of Tool choices.

Letting Kids be Kids

Subtitled Children Need Risk. This course explains the dangers of the ‘zero risk childhood’ that has become our sad societal — and our defacto school — norm. Topics covered include recess risk (“nobody ever died from twisting on a swing”); academic risk (how grading and behavior rules destroy initiative); general physical risk (“why can’t they run in the halls?”); and the desperate requirement for risky adolescence. Future teachers will learn how to create risky classrooms for healthy kids.

Unscheduled — learning without limits

What if you didn’t have due dates? Or expected homework? Or switched activities based on a clock? Time, as “they” say, is the first technology of school and the most destructive of learning. And so this course will explore learning with adults only rarely telling kids to stop. With adults never saying, “a mediocre project now beats what you really wanted to do.” With adults never saying, “I’m sorry that you’re in a great conversation about engineering but now it’s Drop Everything And Read.”

Finding your way to a relatively ‘time limit free’ learning space isn’t easy. It goes against everything we know about school — which is why the switch is so important. You know that teacher that says, “You’re late!”? Never be that teacher.

Real Technologies

Which might be called “it’s not 1990.” Because imagine that it’s 1850: Should you avoid adopting the chalkboard? the student slate? the steel pen nib? machine-made paper? news that came via telegraph? or via penny newspapers? None of these technologies had been available to students ten years earlier. None had been “proven superior” to whatever had existed before.

This course will ask you to rethink what technology means, and what it is. It will ask you to think about the entire set of tools and structures we humans use, and why we use them. It will ask you to eliminate biases preferring the existing. And it will ask you to trust your kids.

Trusting Children and Childhood

In which your colonialism will be challenged, your sense that you are there to change children, especially ‘at-risk” children. Because let’s be blunt — just about everything your K-12 schools did was wrong. It was wrong to divide kids up by age. It was wrong to expect kids to sit in chairs for any long period. It was wrong to have less than an hour of recess and an hour for lunch every day. It was probably wrong to insist that kids learn the alphabet or work on reading before age 7. It was wrong to limit technology use in school. It was wrong to teach content as separate subjects. It was wrong to not be accepting of a much wider range of behaviors. It was wrong to believe that you needed to cure, or at least provide extrinsic motivation for, children.

This course will help you learn to trust children, childhood, and adolescence. It will help you to understand why passion-based learning is so superior to project-based learning, because you can trust kids to find what will carry them forward. It will help you to understand how kids work together, how they use space, and how creative they can be when freed from the limits of teacher-created rubrics. Mostly, it will help you be a joyful educator instead of a beaten down teacher.

You will know that you can guide and support and love, while helping kids become who they themselves need to become.

And once our pre-service teachers have handled these six courses, it will be easy to remind them that their job is to go forth and serve our children well by making every decision based on what’s best for kids. And it will be easy for them to know that they have come to change schools into something completely new.

  • Ira Socol

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