This mantra came from an epiphany I had about how I feel about curriculum. I was sitting in a staff meeting, mind wandering, as minds do when one is asked to sit and listen after a long day of teaching (to be honest, I could have ended that sentence after sit and listen. I am a terrible, terrible listener. The only saving grace is that knowing this about myself helps me understand the kids better). All around me, teachers were talking about the new curriculum; what the changes mean, what they might look like for teaching, how they might plan their new units and lessons.
(For those of you not from BC, let me bring you up to speed: our Ministry of Education has brought in a new curriculum, one that focuses on big ideas, not on (such) a long list of content area outcomes. One that focuses on skills that kids need to succeed, not a laundry list of memorizable facts. It stands to be great for kids and great for education. Our job is to figure out how to make it that way.)
As I sat there, listening to the conversations taking place around me, I reflected back on similar conversations that had taken place that morning with a different group of teachers, We had come together to pool our collective knowledge, problem-solving and planning skills to co-create some.......thing. It could be lesson plans, it could be learning tasks or activities, it could simply be deepening our knowledge of a particular area of interest (but, let's be honest here, what teacher willingly walks away from the opportunity to create useful classroom materials?). It is an ongoing process and one for which I am very grateful to be given the time. However, on this particular day, one of the facilitators had backed me into a corner, essentially demanding I use the planning template they had developed (and spent considerable time on, I have no doubt). I have nothing against her planning template, really; I'm sure it's been a fantastic tool for many people. It's just that I don't start planning a lesson without the kids in mind; I need to picture what this lesson, this unit is going to mean to the kids who will be learning from it. What will it look like? What will it sound like? What will it feel like? How will that one kid who hasn't engaged in a single freakin' thing all year respond?
The lovely facilitator did not understand my process. At. all. She needed, no, demanded, that I use the template. There wasn't (and to my knowledge, still isn't) anywhere on that template to include what your lesson will feel like, so thanks, but no. Thankfully, a good friend and colleague sitting across the table managed to dispatch this woman gracefully (before I lost it all over her and her damn template) and the morning was salvaged.
Anyway, back to my epiphany. As I reflected on both the insistent focus on curriculum in the morning and the conversation about curriculum in the afternoon, I realized that I don't really give a damn about curriculum. I know I should and, most of the time, I do use it to guide my teaching. But the biggest, most important factor in my planning always has been and always will be the kids. What is their current skill level? Where do they need to go? How do I get them there? What do they love? How do they learn best? What are their interests and hobbies and how can I use them to get them to the next step in their learning journey? What is it going to take to get this kid or that kid to learn something new and amazing?
What I love is seeing the aha moment; I love creating the conditions that allow a learner to move in to a new space that has opened up for them. I love finding the hook that keeps them coming back for more, that keeps them curious, wondering, questioning, poking, prodding. I cannot impart that moment, that feeling, in a carefully crafted lesson plan that is based solely on what they are supposed to learn and not at all on who they are.
One of my best friends and colleagues likes to say "It's not about the life cycle of a fish!" (with, perhaps, a few expletives thrown in there depending on the day) and it's not. It's about creating conditions that make kids interested in exploring the life cycle of a fish, or equivalent fractions, or reading (on that note, if you haven't read Donalyn Miller's books, please do yourself a giant favor and grab either The Book Whisperer or Reading in the Wild. She is an absolute genius when it comes to inspiring kids - and adults - to want to read and read voraciously). As educators we need to be curators of opportunity and wonder; we need to create the desire to learn and then step back and watch (with glee) as it happens.
For a very long time, I have had this quote by Socrates as part of my introduction to Socratic Circles. I encourage the kids to discuss it, wonder about it, question it. It is usually, even in Gr. 4 and 5, outside their realm of understanding of what learning is and that makes me sad; at the tender age of 9 and 10, they already see learning as something passive, something that happens to them. Socrates had it right though - I really can't teach anybody anything, but I sure as hell can set the stage for wonder, for excitement, for the sheer joy of learning something new.
How will you inspire wonder and joy in learning today?
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!