Saturday, June 29, 2013

When Questions Outweigh Time

When I started this new age teaching/learning journey with Twitter, blogs, edcamps, and a growing international PLN (professional learning community) about four years ago at a MassCUE  conference, I was amazed at how many like-thinkers and passionate educators were right there, at the stroke of a key, to inspire, assist, and challenge me as an educator. At once, I found the world of educational thought and learning I desired since I entered the profession--a 24-7, accessible, efficient community of dynamic, diverse conversation and growth.

This summer I find myself at a new turning point, a place where my questions and needs outweigh the time in a day. To date, I've met this challenge with continual prioritizing, new work/collaborative structures, research, and tweaking the daily schedule to include daily reading, writing, and thought. But now, that's not enough. This turn in the road calls for a different approach and schedule.

The first step in this change is a change in focus. I will concentrate more on the questions, and not expect to have all the answers. Sharing the essential questions with the learning community means that I don't have to research or find all the answers as the learning community will choose the questions they want to answer, and work towards that end sharing the answers with me as they work.

For example. Yesterday I realized that great student opinion writing is supported by reading across genre about a particular topic. For example, if students were to write opinion essays about what makes a great friend, those essays will gain strength by reading multiple genre and authors about the topic of friendship, then synthesizing all that thought into worthy opinion pieces. I began to worry about the job of finding all that genre. Yet, now with this new approach, simply saying to the learning community (students, families, teachers, leaders, community members), "Let's collect text across genre about friendship," serves to inform the process with greater learning, strength, efficiency, and collective effort.  Further, I could back step and simply set the learning community on "go" by posing the question, "What's a topic you're really interested in discussing, debating, and understanding better? " Starting there could potentially create even greater enthusiasm and momentum as we push forward with an opinion writing unit. I can envision the path as moving from questions to genre search to reading to writing to sharing to debate to final conclusions and next steps.

When questions outweigh time, it's time to turn those questions over to the learning community with time for conversation, research, debate, share, assessment, and next steps.  No one knows it all, and we all have a job in this quickly evolving education landscape we inhabit.  Hence, my role as educator is broadening to "poser of questions" and "answer/solution coach."

The questions I'm posing for the year ahead include the following:
  • What are the ingredients of apt, brain-friendly, child-centered learning design?
  • What topics do students want to learn about, research, and debate?
  • How can we find text across genre about the topic students choose to study?
  • How will I find the time to build in meaningful small group and one-to-one coaching/conference times for all learners often?
  • How can I set up the classroom and teach routines so that children are able to work with comfort, care, independence, and success?
  • How can we change the spaces in school and roles to best meet the needs of all learners, projects, and necessary tasks?
  • How can we streamline efforts so that most of the time in school is spent on direct service to children that matters?
  • How can I balance my efforts so that I am both an effective educator, healthy person, good friend, and supportive, loving family member?
  • How can I work with families to best support students' learning at home?
These are beginning questions. I now know that I don't have to have all the answers, and there is strength in actually posing the questions--letting questions free in the edusphere of students, families, educators, leaders, and community members.  When questions outweigh time, don't worry. Pose the questions, and keep your eyes open for answers as many will come your way.