Expanding My Perimeter of Ignorance to Create More #StudentAgency

I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wanna reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

As we bump down our muddy street in Vientiane, those U2 lyrics swell inside our balmy truck.  I stare out the window, thinking. Their message pierces a part of me, the part of me that longs to make this year different. It’s hard to imagine that I am going into my eighteenth year in education.  circle of knowledgeI strangely feel incompetent as I reflect on the “circles of knowledge”  (aka, a perimeter of ignorance) that I learned so many years ago in my DP Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class. There is still a vast amount of things that I don’t understand about this elusive thing called “best practice” and supporting real growth in learners. I don’t know why so many people think teaching is easy. It’s hard. Damn hard.

But over the years, I’ve broken addictions. Just like quitting smoking, I quit textbooks, worksheets and being “the boss” of the class. I think there are some other ugly vices that I can let go of this year.

Our team has made a re-dedication to play this year so we can see and hear what it is that students are interested in, what they care about and who they are as learners. We are making the first weeks of school about developing an understanding of who they are as learners, for us and for them, in an effort to increase their agency. We are putting a decreased emphasis on rules and routines and more about leaning in and listening to them, giving them time to play and invent, providing structured unstructured time. Although on our planner it looks like provocations around our central idea: Our choices and actions as individuals define who we become as a community, it’s deeper than that. It’s about releasing control so we can empower them to be self-motivated and independent learners, and we want to do that Day 1.

The truth is, they are ALREADY self-motivated and independent learners, we just need to listen and pay attention to the whole child, not just the part of them we wish to see–the one that can write words, recognize numerals and raise their hand. I think it will be more interesting to observe the “why” behind these behaviors so we can cultivate the best in them, as well as going on a scavenger hunt, finding what else there is about them.

Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn. — Alice Miller

I’m not sure where our discoveries will lead us, but I hope we find this place “where the streets have no names”, venturing into new terrain and creating a different direction in our learning community this year.

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