What do you call a thriving and blooming educational system on the verge of breaking out and impacting others? Well, according to Fairview High School in Boulder, Co; a virus. A panel of their English teachers as well as their Vice Principal spoke at the NCTE 2013 conference about a change that has happened within their school. They used to be a department of enemies-fighting for books, materials, office space-you name it and they fought over it. And one day, they realized it was time for a change.
The Virus: a small, positive, relational change. This virus focuses on giving students control, breaking the “structure” of the classroom, and allowing students to construct their learning. This virus also encourages TEAMWORK, COLLABORATION, and COMMUNICATION among the staff and “big dogs” aka the principals.
The panel discussed the importance of support. Having your Vice Principal “on your side” helps to spread this virus to other departments as well as give you credibility. However, they also stressed that what works in your department might not work in others; so don’t force something that won’t budge. But even if the budge isn’t ready to move, show them your ideas, show them how your ideas work with your students. Showing is contact and contact is where the virus is spread.
Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. The virus spreads through relationships. Don’t be afraid to contact fellow colleagues, talk with them about your ideas, contrast teaching styles, compare what works for students and what doesn’t, create. Fairview shared with us their “Salad” days; days set aside where everyone brings a side dish, dessert, and their ideas. What’s better than food and discussion? Food, discussion, and cats? Could get interesting. But it’s the collaboration and communication that strengthens the virus.
“It’s not ALL unicorns and rainbows”
The virus takes time just as any change takes time. The students, fellow faculty, and the parents are not used to this “structure-less structure.” We have to be the TEACHERS and teach them how allowing the students to control their learning actually engages them rather than allowing them to “go through the motions.” We are teaching our students HOW to learn not WHAT to learn. They are learning life-long processing, discovery, and development rather than 20 vocab words and a scripted essay. We are giving them the power to control their future.
“Some students don’t know how to handle that type of control” So show them. Scaffold a project. Scaffold contract learning. Work alongside the student-always. Struggle with your students, fail with your students, and SUCCEED with your students. The classroom community that you create will infect other classrooms and other teachers. It may not happen all at once, but a virus infects slowly; slowly, but surely.
My infection grows by the day.