Tagged: big picture

Career turn…not again?

Breaking news

One thing one probably couldn’t accuse me of is doing the same thing for many years. Teaching, ed tech, Moodle, PhD, back to teaching, different schools and approaches – a moving feast. Latest? Well, I am sliding away from teaching ‘social studies’ (geography, history, philosophy, politics, sociology …) I have taught since 2000. Next week, I am starting an intense six-month course (1 year equivalent) to re-train as a Design & Technology teacher. I will still teach at YBC of course but I will spend last two weeks of Terms 2,3 and 4 at uni (hence the image above I tricked my class with). Bus(ier) school terms and holidays here we come.

But it will definitely be worth it.

At the back of our school, we have massive manual arts workshops which have been gathering dust for many years. We have a number of potential mentors in the community who would be keen to work with our students through Mens Shed and other channels. We have many students who do and would love getting their hands moving and mind engaged differently in their learning, chasing their passion that the Big Picture model affords so well. We enjoy a long standing supportive relationship with Brierty Engineering. Personally, I have the support and blessing of our staff and as a sweetener, my course is actually paid for by the Department of Education due to the shortage of Design & Tech teachers. It seems that this change of tack in my teaching career is a bit of a perfect storm and one that is simply too good to miss.

I have a vision. Details of it will sharpen and change as we go but I can see a living, breathing learning space, infused with hands-on/minds-on experiential learning ethos with 3 questions (asked by the late Grant Wiggins) plastered all over the place:

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • What does this help you do that’s important?

Call it STEAM or ‘maker education’ or more old-school manual arts, woodwork or metalwork … the labels explain as much as detract sometimes. I may have been a humanities teacher but I have seen many a ‘no good’ student in class absolutely shine when they had a physical, tactile, spatial and similar problems to solve. From fixing bikes, making buggies, boxes, shelters, claymation, transport baskets, monopoly boards, simple switches, mini basketball hoops, plaster-of-Paris models, laser-cut wooden heralds and mock weapons, laying ground cover and more, so many of these kids felt valued, engaged and useful. I have seen them turn from sullen, careless or aggressive teens to a different, usually calmer, smarter, even funnier person in a very short amount of time. Difference? In most cases, they had a purpose that appealed to them, they were judiciously left to create or solve own problems, learning went from tangible to abstract, and usually in the company with others too (Dan Pink’s Mastery-Autonomy-Purpose spring to mind). Something we all desire in our work perhaps?

Now, I am not changing (or rather adjusting) my teaching direction to merely keep the hands of the lost, uncatered for souls in the educational landscape busy. I am doing it to provide new paths for any student at our school to taste success, flourish and learn the lessons of life and themselves through materials and people they will be working with.

Well worth the effort, I think.

hands on minds on

Guitars

I don’t really ‘play guitar’. OK, I know about 15 chords that make me able to rustily strum through a rock’n’roll list but I only grab it a few times a year. My favourite guitar time however is when I do the ‘Wave Hill strike’ lesson with Year 10s, learning about the struggle for Indigenous rights in Australia. We learn about it through Paul Kelly’s classic ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow‘ and the amazing story behind it.

I’ve done this for a few years now and it’s a highlight. Today, I even had my Principal serendipitiously sitting with us during it. We watched, sang, laughed, pondered, discussed … visceral stuff, not a worksheet or a website. Great lesson. But that’s not the main story here.

From Little Things Big Things Grow
From Little Things Big Things Grow

The story are the guitars I brought in today. They were a hit. During advisory time, I found that a couple of my students fancy themselves with a few small riffs. I couldn’t get the guitars out of their hands.

Next period, I left the guitars out, played as kids filed in. A couple of quiet Year 8 girls grabbed them and we played Stand By Me before moving on. Layer of students uncovered, new connections made. Laughter. Genuine enjoyment of music, of trying too, by all.

Then my Year 9 class came in. The ‘bottom’ kids who are ‘not academic’, the self-proclaimed ‘dumb class’. They are learning about something that interests them about Australia’s home front during World War 1. And yes, there’s a few strummers in there too. A kid who has struggled all along (with both the content and playing guitar) pipes up and says he wants to stay in class during the break and look up World War 1 songs. Part of me says ‘yeah right’, a part of me dreams …

I leave the class during long break and allow a few kids to stay in and play. I also leave my laptop in (not deliberately). When I get back, I find my laptop on a student desk, clearly used. I dread a bit. Then I find this was searched for:

Please notice the search item. This was during the break and I was nowhere near. These guys were clearly ready to learn, to figure out, to give it a go. I could trust them, probably learn from them too.

It made my day. It made my week. It makes relationships go. And that makes education go. But you have to “Give [kids] a Chance” … you know that one? 😉

The no good Noongar kid

Meet ‘Ricky’. He is Aboriginal, Noongar his people. He’d be a poster boy for many of the statistics and labels entrenched in public psyche about this group of people, particularly when young – low literacy, poor school attendance, lazy, the only good thing he can do is kick a footy, use hands, drawing and art … want more? You want to hear his life story and reasons why he is currently in DCP care and protection? You don’t.

Ricky has just finished his first ever Big Picture exhibition (a presentation of student’s work over a term). He is pretty shy and I didn’t want to put him on the spot to ‘talk to an audience’ for half an hour. So we dropped ‘the standard model’ and did it together. I listed, introduced things he had accomplished this term, he explained them, answered questions, expanded, showed. Nobody stood up, we just sat around the table with another staff member who was our audience. It was a conversation with, around and about Ricky.

He explained in detail about his bricklaying ‘Try A Trade’ course (he did brilliantly there!) and his use of tools, principles of physics, maths, spatial awareness, precision, motivation, all in conversational manner.

We moved to his first website he started creating with me. It’s about dirtbikes – first picking the images (stage at now), then descriptions, followed by comparisons and reasons (all coming up next term). Through the conversation about bikes it emerged that he regularly gets spare parts off other bikes and puts them on his bike to fix it. Just like that, ‘no big deal’.

Then came a guided demo of of a couple of online games he plays – problem solving, maths, economics in action, right there on screen but without the fancy terminology and lingo to describe it exactly. But skill and knowledge of principles? Easy!

It also turned out that he has probably achieved the highest sporting achievement at the school this term by playing (well!) for Peel Thunder in the 2012 Nicky Winmar Cup (football tournament for Aboriginal youth with top metro, country, even interstate teams).

We talked about his care about getting the right spelling when writing his two journal entries and a couple of weekly reflections this term. Nobody in class writes slower out of care for getting things right.

We talked about his trampolining prowess, his ability to get along with students and staff, his calm and cheeky ways, the respect he gives and takes and which is miles from when he started coming to our school last year. He does not have any enemies here, truly.

At the end, he wrote down his strengths and weaknesses (pictured above). And we talked about them. He was really honest, he didn’t shirk back from saying he is lazy sometimes and wants to go and get more things done.

We laughed, shook hands to congratulate on a job well done. His exhibition took 55 minutes, more than any other in my room!

Not bad for a ‘no good’ kid who, on paper, has ‘low IQ’, ‘low aspiration’ and a bagful of other ‘low’ descriptors much like many of his brothers, sisters and cousins.

I have goosebumps as I write this, the colleague who sat in with us welled up with tears afterwards.

Low? Bullshit.

Go Ricky, you got my back any time mate!

What I learned in 2011

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

My big(gest) lessons and reminders of 2011:

The importance of doing what you love doing in your career.

I never have or will regret joining Moodle HQ but I never have or will regret leaving Moodle HQ this year either. Thank you Martin & Moodle HQ. I love Moodle and its community but I am really happy to be a Moodle volunteer again and get paid (less) to work with teens that I dare say majority of teaching colleagues would not want to see in their class.

The importance of expectations.

You don’t significantly change or disrupt status quo by doing more of the same (way) but harder. Changing expectations shifts things dramatically.

Picture the expectations of a kid (and his surrounds) who has been told, overtly and covertly by the system of mainstream schooling, that most he can aspire to be is a dumb poor loser with some dead-end job as his only option (like many in his family). Suddenly, he completes a great project in the field he is passionate about. He is told, for the first time in his life, that a local university is offering courses in that field, and that, on the basis of things shown and in all sincerety,  going to uni and/or getting a well paid, challenging job in the industry is a realistic option for him in a couple of years if he puts in the effort. I saw the reaction of this kid and his parents. And it gives me tingles as I write this.

The value of Big Picture.

Big Picture is not a panacea for all our educational ills. It also isn’t for every kid out there. It requires a special kind of educator to really ‘get it’ too. But from what I have seen, learned and experienced this year after working in a Big Picture school and seeing some great work of kids and colleagues in BP schools around the country and the world, it is an approach, a state of mind rather, that truly empowers.

‘School’ is deeply ingrained in our societal DNA

It is soooo damn hard to ‘forget’ what ‘school’ looks like and does. In a ‘school’ you learn to play the game (usually called ‘what does the teacher or test want me to say’) then pass … and largely forget. There is a teacher, the knower, and a bunch of students who need to be ‘taught’ stuff prescribed by often someone else and contextually remote. You need a grade to show how much you are worth. Above all – you don’t ask (tough) questions. Things like: ‘What are we doing this for?’ And if kids don’t learn, the teacher says ‘I taught them that but they didn’t learn it’ (akin to a realtor saying ‘I sold them the house but they didn’t buy it’ …).

No wonder it takes us a very long time at our school (yes, we are one, but a Big Picture one) for kids and parents to come to terms with statement/questions like: “What are you passionate about?”, “What is worth learning?”, “No, I am NOT going to tell you what to do next, but I am happy to figure it out WITH you.” “You (student) know more about this (topic) than me (teacher) already so I am going to learn with you.” Crazy stuff huh? Or is it? Ask yourself why (not).

The value of networks

You have no idea how grateful I am of my, well our, network. This goes particularly when I see you from around the planet interacting with kids at our school, kids who, in most cases, have barely left their suburb all their life. Things like comments to ‘John’s’ motorbike website or ‘Billy’s’ ‘World Of Drugs‘ wiki project (one I am hugely excited and hopeful about in 2012) are small but priceless.

Every comment here on Human, every @ reply on Twitter, every *Like* on Facebook, every email, Skype call, shared document or other interaction reinforces my liking for Stephen Heppel’s observation: Previous century was about making stuff FOR many people. This century is about helping people help each other.

and finally … drumroll …

Watching students flourish in front of my eyes in moments during the year and particularly during their Big Picture exhibitions reminds me why I want(ed) to work in education: not to be “the knower” in some field and bang on about it as if it were the most important thing in the world but watch and help others becoming knowers (of) themselves in the fields they chose and share.

PS. If I don’t post anything before Christmas/New Year it probably means I am playing with my own kids and enjoying a bit of holidays. But I do check in here and Twitter …

Have a peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Kiss your kids and loved ones and tell them you love them. Often. And mean it.

More than a game

Monopoly play small
Our very own !

I get to play at school. No, really. And so do our students.

This time, we gave birth to an idea of converting a couple of broken plastic desktops destined for the rubbish tip into a giant Monopoly set (not a new idea). And this was not going to be just an extraordinary set in size. The challenge was on and today – we played our first game!

The set is ‘ours’, based on our (school) surrounds and places, streets, stations, utilities where our students spend their lives. The custom Community Chest and Chance cards are a work of many suggestions from students and staff in person or via Moodle forum, full of lines some of which only we would fully appreciate and laugh or curse at. Cards were designed and worked on collaboratively by several people via Google Docs.

On the ‘physical’ side, the tables were cleaned, sanded, primed, painted, balanced, hinged and carefully detailed – again by many! Cards had to be printed, cut, laminated, shaped and collated, thanks to the work of a bunch of students over the week in a very relaxed working atmosphere.

But this was not just ‘anything goes’. In design, for example, everyone was encouraged to have a go at even the trickiest little detail. “Go on, have a go and don’t worry if you stuff up. But do know there are standards expected and you can just do it again if not ship shape.” (eg. all letters had to be stencilled, no free hand). Failure was no huge deal but willingness to (first, at least) have a go and improve WAS. Some kids contributed a little, some a lot, none of it compulsory, none of it forced.

There were kids who handled a power drill for the first time, done their first roller paint, first masking tape, those who learned the need for a washer under a nut, learned the difference between oil and water-based paints (made an interesting clean up time I tell you 😛 …). there were kids who gave up but came back to do a better job. There were kids who had done nothing all term but were now happy to spend a couple hours working on the cards, laminating, contributing card entries. There were kids who saw the ‘magic’ of a collaborative online doc via Google Docs for the first time and more …

And then there were questions! Last week, I tweeted a link to a document to encourage deeper questions about our lives that games like Monopoly can stimulate. And have we got some beauties there – thank you @7mrsjames @drb @scratchie @malynmawby @billgx for your contributions.

We have already asked the kids, casually as we were making the set, and more formally this morning in class, to reflect on some the questions asked. And, as expected, the occasion generated some gems of insight. So far, we have touched on themes of (I’ll list, so many there, statements are all students’ unless indicated otherwise):

  • poverty (“oh, but I live in Medina (lowest property on our board), that makes me a poor **** doesn’t it”),
  • economics (“if the bank just printed more money everything would just get more expensive, people wouldn’t actually have more of stuff … [inflation anyone?]),
  • equity (“yeah but if some ****** has everything to start with how harder is it for me then. That’s bullshit, not fair!…),
  • opportunity (“some players get behind but they can make up for it and get smart and start winning…”),
  • racism, prejudice of kinds (“if you had a special rule for one player and they couldn’t get shit unless they did what others asked them to do … that would suck, I wouldn’t want to be that.”),
  • importance of learning (“Monopoly is about half luck and half skill”. Me: So, you have no control over luck but you have control over skill. How do you get that? Student: You learn stuff and understand. Me: Bit like in real life? Student: Hmmm … yeah, it’s a bit like that yes.)
  • moral choices (“… but if you could just steal stuff and everyone else would steal yours and you want to then carry a shotgun around that wouldn’t be good in the end.”),
  • philosophy of happiness (“I don’t know what makes a successful person. In Monopoly you have to be rich I suppose, I real life you don’t always have to be but it’s boss if you are because you can buy shit and all that…”)

… and more!

All these are individual gems, many overheard by others in the chaos and teenage noise but they were like a razor cutting through to what I believe is the purpose of great education – learn how to ask and wrestle with questions, problems that matter to you and the people you share a community with.

Thank you to all question contributors, thank you for your supportive tweets all along (you know who you are 🙂 ). Most of all, a massive thank you to the 16 contributing students and 3 staff members at our school for making this happen and giving us a sense of being a part of something good, successful, enjoyable and maybe, just maybe, triggering a few lifelong reminders.

Now that you got through all these words … please do check out the photos 😉 (click on the image to see larger). Cheers!

Better place

 

weero
"Gotcha!"

This is ‘Billy’.  He is 15.  He allowed me to post this photo of him from a visit to the local animal centre yesterday.

This is one of my favourite photos. It means so much. A couple of months ago, Billy was in a bad, dark space where no young person (or adult for that matter) should be. Desperate, lashing out at things and people, horizons closed. Not all his problems have gone yet but things have turned …

Yesterday (Halloween), he got on to the dressing up act (yes, I too walked around the school and public with a fake knife and blood to my head), allowed his face to be painted, went in public with it, played with animals at the centre and relished the company of a little weero on his head and shoulders with a SMILE on his face. This term, we are deliberately working on strategies to express himself – writing, drawing, music … whatever! He’s in a better place, albeit precarious for many reasons. But he is beginning to flourish! Little by little.

Billy also saw a crocodile for the first time yesterday. A few other kids saw kangaroos (!!), eagles, snakes, lizards for the first time. In Australia for crying out loud – they are everywhere! But they are ‘everywhere’ if your world expands beyond your couch, your mate’s couch and local shopping centre. If you have been taken places by your family, shown, read, discussed, laughed about them. And they are the things we need to keep in mind and never assume.

Today, we did not assume that all our students would automatically know what Melbourne Cup is (for good and bad) in the fabric of the broader society, beyond the limited circles many move in. At the spur of the moment, we turned half the day into a Melbourne Cup day. Kids helped make the snacks and fruit punch (non-alcoholic …). We rigged up the big screen and watched the big race via live stream from Melbourne. A bunch of kids started making hats. Some cracked jokes about horses. Some came up with and others answered questions about horse racing. We sat around our big shed and watched the race.  Relaxed, spontaneous, caring, as a community, a family of a kind.

After the race, I got sprung by a bunch of kids and sprayed with foam streamers while they were singing Happy Birthday (to me, very important number now 😉 ). Priceless!

sprung
Sprung

Yesterday, I was quizzed by a person filling out a funding application about kids’ progress.

Me: ‘They have hugely improved their social skills. Confidence and maturity have grown, communication has come along in leaps and bounds.”

Person: “OK that’s fine. What about learning outcomes?”

Enough to make anyone who knows what makes learning go and who has worked with young people (especially those ‘at risk’ ones …) blood boil. But I did reply politely 🙂

Or as my good friend Ira would say: Evaluate that!

I fail too

kite
Our 6 year old son flying a kite.

Most edu-bloggers, myself included, predominantly rain down on our keyboards to share our successes, ‘what works’, fire the odd rant and share musings on how things could, or even should, be.

Well, I am writing today to share a struggle, possibly a failure. Excuse the odd expletive in there but they are part of the story too.

If you click on Big Picture category here you’ll get a bunch of older posts about the school I now work at and the particular educational philosophy we have embraced as a school. In a nutshell: we are NOT your nice middle class aspirational school by any stretch (low socio-economics with assortment of, sadly, all too familiar related issues) and we follow an approach that may seem ‘out there’ with many who have ‘done school’.

We don’t have subjects at our school. I don’t teach ‘a subject’. I don’t give and mark tests and assignments (phew 😉 ) in an area of my expertise. Kids find and follow their (legal 😉 ) interest(s) in (mostly) areas they already know more about than me, I’m there to help with generics, help find mentors in the community and oversee their progress. Don’t wince in horror or get too rosy eyed just yet …

If I do prepare what I think might be an engaging activity (and probably would be so in a different context, school) it is often met with ‘boring’, ‘I’m not doing that’ and a bunch of cop outs. Ours is a tough crowd, burnt by years of unsuccessful mainstream schooling and suspicious of things ‘educational’.

Back at their old school, there was ‘work’, a teacher (often at their wits end) to tell you what to do and lots of examples to confirm that you suck at school.

To compound the trouble, this new, Big Picture way of doing things independently is something they have never really tried and is still pretty scary. They, the students, need to drive the thing, not the teacher (called ‘advisor’ at our school) telling them what to do. And the freedom is scary!

Like any good confused teenagers,  many of these guys want someone to tell them what to do (like in their previous school, because that’s safe and “that’s what school is” and “teachers make you work and you hate it”) … but they don’t want to be told by the teacher what to do all the time and “do shit that teachers want us to do”. They like the freedom but it is scary to leave the sheltered feeling of structured, pre-fab, teacher-led environment even if they didn’t exactly excel at it. For many, this means doing, creating, trying, learning as little as possible. Safety mechanism.

Or as one of my students said, insightfully, in a lively discussion yesterday: “The problem isn’t the freedom in choosing our interest, the problem is that we choose to do fuck all”.

As you can imagine, refusals, shoulder shrugs, “CBF” and “I dunno …” are common. I have a couple of students for whom I have not a shred of evidence to have created anything in over two months – a letter, drawing, photo, note, recording, journal entry, hardly even a verbal, a question of some learning-related kind … nada, zero, zilch!

And this is what I mull over, often. This is where I start running out of ideas to engage and motivate (standard ones perhaps, might to get more creative :D). This is where I question my professional ability. Can I do better than this? Am I doing the right thing by these kids to keep waiting for them patiently and keep handing the responsibility for learning back to them? As a teacher, I am trained, employed to help, not keep keep putting the ball in kids’ court? What can I then do to ‘start their engines’ so to speak?

But this is where I remind myself of a couple of other things: the ugliness of (middle-class) salvationism and … time.

I have always been suspicious of being a “knight in shinning armour” who will deliver the poor kids from their lot and ‘make them more like me’. Sure, the odd call to a kid to lift their game is fine, even very necessary and welcome (in the long run, often unseen) but it is condescending, unrealistic and damaging to assume that we share values and chances in life. It can turn into the tyranny of of the well meaning C.S. Lewis described so eloquently.

I have expanded (with others) on this ‘salvationist’ reflex and its origins here (see Rolling up sleeves: education as production). Yet this is implied in much of teacher training and the societally assumed job of teachers. And it is damn hard to wrestle with!

The second thing I am reminding myself of is time. It has only been a term and a bit with these kids. It’s only been a term and a bit of Big Picture for all of us. Things take time. Things need to be seen in context. The kid who hasn’t ‘produced’ anything has been coming to our school most days, totally unlike his old (mainstream) school. It’s a start.

I write this for myself, to clear my mind a little. I fail but I carry on. It takes time.

And if my little soliloquy makes you reflect on the work of educators – it’s a good thing.

Can scootering save schools?

I have shamelessly re-purposed the title from what has to be one of my new favourite TED talks, alerted to by @malynmawby (Thanks Malyn!). See it below …

Did you catch those points?

  • Failure is normal.
  • Nobody knows ahead of time how long it takes anyone to learn anything.
  • Work your ass off until you figure it out.
  • Learning in NOT fun. (‘Flow’ and  the ‘Goldilocks challenge’)
  • No grades.
  • No cheating.
  • No teachers. (well, optional…)
  • Real-time meaningful feedback.

OK, on the surface of it, like many TED talks – inspirational, catchy, memorable. Don’t get me wrong – I love the clip but it does beg a few questions.

The clip is  is not ‘universal’ in all of its points all the time. Not everything you learn in life is by trial and error on your own, sometimes it is mighty valuable for someone (a ‘teacher’?) to show what (not) to do and for different reasons  – the notion of real-time meaningful feedback Dr. Tae mentions. Sometimes performance is more important than learning, sometimes the other way around and for different reasons (more on that dichotomy here), and so on …

We could start nitpicking here – and miss the good bits!

But here’s a story. A true one.

There is a bunch of very talented scooter riders in my class (scooters or skateboards – same diff in terms of Dr. Tae’s clip). For their first ever Big Picture project, they decided to complement and extend their passion and interest in scootering and learn how to (better) edit a video clip of themselves.

It has required some gentle manouvering of teens who run away from anything smelling remotely like ‘school work’ as they put it. But last week and today, we went to two different local skate parks and filmed them in action.Today, we even took our school media enthusiasts to do the filming!

At first, the four boys almost didn’t believe me we would go and do such a ‘non-school’ thing but signed up enthusiastically. There’s a whole blog post and beyond about what trips and opportunities like these do for building relationships with kids for whom the staff at our school may be just about the only stable adults in their lives but more on that another time.

We had a lot of fun (read meaningful effort!).  The boys scooted their butts off and we got a bunch of still images and video and some of it is simply awesome, judged so even by the kids’ standards themselves!  Over the next three weeks, these four guys will learn how to edit and put together a great mashup of video, stills, audio and special effects, then present the finished product AND the story of their learning to myself, their parents and whoever else they invite to their exhibition (central item in Big Picture approach – what you do is public and you need to ‘stand behind it’).

Here is a small taste of their talent just off my phone, I will feature their finished products (with their permission, of course).

Now, don’t tell me these kids are ‘poor learners’ or carry a learning disability. They must have failed hundreds of times, worked hard and kept going until they landed these tricks … in short, they embodied exactly the points Dr Tae was talking about! They embodied, purposefully and dare say joyfully, not just learning but, more importantly, the power of wanting to learn, even love for learning in their lives.

The words of my wise mentor water polo coach in former Yugoslavia still ring in my ears, now decades past: “Tomaz, your most important job with these juniors is not how to pass the ball and shoot well – your main job is to get them to fall in love with the game.”

Over the coming weeks, we will hopefully use their efforts in scootering to extrapolate and transfer things about the power of ‘love for  learning’ from scootering to other areas in life they come across.

Now, if you think ‘well, scootering isn’t going to get them a job’ or ‘get them to uni’ or ‘teach them geography’ and things like that, you may, but only MAY be right and even so, horribly myopically. Because what I, as a mentor to these kids, know is that these sorts of things have a chance of giving them the confidence, opportunity, resilience, love of learning that no textbook or teacher can teach.

And THAT is what our school is about. And that is what I am about. And that is what so often, so many of our schools, unwillingly, kill off, for the sake of things that simply … don’t matter.

So … can scootering save schools?

Well, that’s a long shot but if joy of learning is something to nourish and stimulate, it has a thing or two to offer, for sure.

PS Inspired in part by Dean Shareski’s piece ‘Why Joy Matters‘, alerted to by Pam Moran. Thank you both!

I did nothing

I got some very kind replies on Twitter about this ‘golden moment’ so I thought I’d expand and tell the full(er) story.

Quick background: Our class (well … group) is in the middle of (re)designing our room. We have come up with a design, we’ve found and from today already have a large, lovely second-hand corner couch in the class, we have changed desks around so we can easily shift them around or put them away to suit what people are doing, we are creating murals for the walls to transform a boring off-white wall to something that is ours and pleasing to see and (importantly) maintain and more. I’m directing traffic a little, the rest is done by my students. More on the project and the pictures another time.

‘Steve’ (not his real name) is the quietest, most reserved and shy member of our group of nine. Confidence to do things at school had been shot well and truly in the past of his schooling and much meets the resistance and reluctance to give things a go.

A couple of days ago, he started sketching a drawing. Soon, a sketch became a lovely picture of the Road Runner against a landscape. He decided he wanted the whole thing as a class mural … big! This by a kid who’d rather hide and fly under the radar most of the times, suddenly expressing himself.

We found some large boards and he sketched the painting in pencil. Today, he started painting it. Patiently, slowly, precisely, totally immersed even at the recess break. This plus we know that the finished mural is going to look awesome.

Today, a couple of kids from our class were hanging around Steve before lunch. I asked Steve if he would like them to help him with the painting. “If they want to!” was a curt reply.

“OK …” I backed off, issuing no instructions just stepping back a few steps.

Next thing, the two boys, now joined by another, quietly picked up the brushes and started talking to Steve how he wanted things done. Steve directed them with a couple of purposeful instructions and away they went, all painting, creating, helping Steve and each other with no fuss.

mural crew
Magic !

Small thing? Yeah, it may look and sound like to a remote observer who’d probably miss the intrinsic value of all this, particularly if not knowing the kids in question.

Our deputy principal walked past and could not believe her eyes how these four boys and another one from our class also working on his mural, worked well, perfectly content and happy to be there, purposefully helping Steve and one another. This for a class of, *ahm*, notorious for ‘behaviour problems’ (and they do have their moments and sometimes entire days, trust me 🙂 ).

I don’t know exactly how Steve felt today, but this shy, barely ‘literate’ and so often ‘good for nothing’ 14 year old kid got an important lesson, so to speak, of the hidden curriculum at our school – you matter, others can and DO care.

None of this will see the light of day on school report cards, league tables, NAPLAN, pollie and other pundit speeches, performance reviews, ‘merit pay’ and the likes. But it was spine tingling to see, a moment to savour and just enjoy for its beauty.

It reminded me strongly of Evaluate that! And I mean it too …

And what did I, a teacher, do in all this? I did nothing. The kids did it all themselves.

Update:

Well, today we finished the job with the help of a few talented artists from a couple of neighbouring classes. Take a look of the whole process …

And going back to ‘Steve’ – he asked me today: “Will we be able to take these home at the end of the year?” He is PROUD of his effort, something he had thought of, planned and saw it to a great conclusion while including others too.

And that my friends, in the parlance of a popular ad:

Materials … $150

Artists … 7

Days … 2

Feeling of confidence in one’s efforts … priceless

A kindred soul in our school

This afternoon, after lunch (and those who teach will tell you the vagaries of THAT particular time) we gathered about 25 school staff and students for a chat with an interesting guest speaker via Skype – Ira Socol. If you don’t know Ira I recommend you check his blog and/or connect with on Twitter – you won’t regret it.

I didn’t want any long convoluted introductions of Ira, just a few factual ‘hooks’ about him (can’t read or write ‘properly’ as many would have it, hated ‘normal’ school, called ‘retard and dumb’, used to be a cop in South Bronx and similar) to start the questions going. This was always going to be a two-way street, not a one-way delivery.

It was wonderful to be a part of the conversation Ira had with our kids. First, he disarmed the initial posturing many would find offensive and rude with simple “yeah, that’s what I was doing when I was like you, I’ve seen it all”. Huh 😀

Ira's skype-in ...

He introduced himself and told us about himself a bit, showed on Google Maps where he worked, grew up, attended school. Of course, being a cop in Bronx was a cool thing to explore. Did you get shot? Did you get to shoot anyone? Did you see any drug deals? and so on were begged to be asked and answered. We also touched on his difficulties in dealing with dyslexia and ways in which people have helped Ira out and the ways he has had to ‘strategise’ to do things he really wanted to do all along.

Among many things, Ira also spoke with deep respect for the late Alan Shapiro as the teacher or rather a person who has affected his life so strongly and things he had done for him. One of our students asked, insightfuly: Where would you be without that person? The reply was vintage Ira: “I would  at best be a pre-fab concrete operator, do drugs and die young. Nothing wrong with concrete operators but only if by choice not as the only option and aspiration one has in life.”

The hour was at times chaotic, at times engaged, funny, noisy, thoughtful, with questions, big and small, exchanged both ways. We kicked a couple of kids out before they literally had a fight, a few left on their own, but towards the end, half a dozen moved closer to the screen and had a more personal chat with Ira. It was wonderful to see …

Through stories and anecdotes, the skype-in was laced with and concluded with Ira’s battle cry for education and life in a broader society – find what you really want to do and work out what is getting in the way of it, strategies to get it and deal with obstacles and successes along the way. Chase your passion and give a damn about yourself and others around you!

And speaking of passions …

Earlier today, I had the first student not just in our class but in the entire school present his first exhibition (a presentation of a project to parents and anyone else invited by the student, a prominent feature of Big Picture model)

This wasn’t a full term’s work or some deep exploration of a topic, it was more of a warm up to many of these in the future. The student spoke very confidently about the topic he chose: comparing parts of scooters, materials, prices, value etc. He acknowledged that there were many things he could explore further if he wanted (for example, materials in alloys scooters are made of, ways of welding, design of wheels etc…). Magically, we got to the point(s) where “I don’t know” did not make him sound stupid but more like an invitation for further exploration, if chosen.

I thanked the student not only as his advisory teacher but as a person wanting to buy scooters for his kids in the future. I genuinely learned A LOT from this young expert. And it was so damn fantastic to see this kid who has been ‘no good’ in so many places come alive as an expert, with confidence in something. His parents beamed with pride and promised to work together even closer with me and their son in the future.

Yes, passion and interest change things. And they are starting to change things for good at our school, despite the mountain of obstacles we as a community of learners have to overcome.

I think we’d make Ira proud 😀

PS Ira, thank you again for the ‘visit’ and apologies about the ungodly hour (1-2am).