I just added two very important slides to my deck, or arrows in my quiver. Last weekend at a Unity Church service we attended with friends in Santa Fe, the minister selected two quotes which hold both personal power and a real message for educators. The Tao te Ching tells us:
“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”
And someone wise said:
“It takes wisdom to know what to cut. It takes courage to do it.”
I have increasingly been asking teachers to hold up a mirror to their practice and to repeatedly and deeply ask “what am I doing that I could turn over to my students?” Even teachers who routinely practice many of the concepts of deeper learning often start a sentence with something like, “I built a list of options that my students can select from…”, and I rhetorically ask “Could your students have participated in building that list?”
If students are conditioned over many years to just ring the bell and get a treat, as they get older they will not have the skills to own and design their own learning. We must constantly invite them into the process. Most educators in my workshops know this to be true. They know that cutting away is the key to wisdom, and they know that wisdom, not knowledge, is the unique power that we have to offer our students. What we need is the courage to actually do it. Those who do, within learning systems that allow it, quickly see how much more engaged and powerful their students become.
In our school, UCDS (Seattle, WA), we have spoken of teaching jobs as coaching for years now. We sit, kneel, stand and lean in beside our students and listen and watch carefully. Letting go has been our norm and our students are engaged, empowered and in charge of their learning. As our fifth grade students help facilitate a portion of our school tours each admission season, we receive a great deal of feedback from the prospective parents about the student’s involvement. They say things like “Wow! They spoke so well about UCDS! They are confident and it looks like they have a lot of fun learning here!” We also hear from middle school teachers and administrators after our 5th graders graduate and move on telling us that our group of students year after year demonstrate a great deal of self awareness and maturity about their strengths and challenges. This only comes from a elementary school experience where teachers have been beside students the whole journey but have done everything possible to put the kids in the driver’s seats. Teachers design curriculum where students have a great deal of personal hook and direction that is required of them. As they work, teachers are cheerleaders, pointing out to them their gifts and strengths and also serving as their trainers, giving them stretch and support as needed along the way. I love the “new” idea of letting go as a teacher! I’m all for it!
Thanks, Deb; great to hear. One note of concern : we see more of this kind of relationship at younger grade levels, disappearing as students get older and we somehow (often caused correctly or not by the college entrance process) think they need more, not less structure at school. So we rob them of that strength with the idea that we are helping them in the long run!