This week, I have been inundated with a host of readings around project based learning. A key one for me is: The Main Course, Not Dessert How Are Students Reaching 21st Century Goals With 21st Century Project Based Learning? Authors: John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller Buck Institute for Education 2010.
This approach so resonates with me as a school leader working within and around a new model. In this model we acknowledge that there are focus areas students need within and across subject models to move forward toward higher level thinking. However, what we really want students to accomplish is higher order thinking around a set of cognitive skills which can be applied in every area of learning and by extension, life. This has huge ramifications for what our schools and classrooms look like and really requires innovating thinking around design, structures and the role of both teacher and learner in any environment.
This led to a tremendous amount of thinking around how Remi and Lisa have approached this course. The model is intentionally not teacher led--and to some extent, not really teacher guided either. As I look at the course from a meta-cognitive perspective, what I see is the intentional creation of a community of learners who are situating learning around central spaces of shared creativity, thought and collaboration. This is SO powerful.
My struggle as a school leader in a 9-12 school is creating this same type of learning within a structure which has an established status quo and centuries long tradition of remaining unchallenged as our public schools have become. This past week, I spent time with my new staff. None of them have experienced both the fear and freedom of letting go. They are well entrenched in traditional classrooms and encouraging them to leave that behind and start thinking less about how they are going to experience teaching and more about how students will experience learning has been a challenge.
For some of them, sadly it will be an impossibility.
For me, it will require diplomacy, the ability to coach consistently, and the patience of a saint.
For our students, it has the potential to engage them at deeper levels of understanding and a richness of collaborative thought that many will find liberating.
Hopefully, they will find a voice like Simon found in the Nilsson article. They will make a meaning for their experiences which will add to their identities and help them find a place where they truly can make meaningful contributions to their communities. That is the goal. I think we have lost sight of what is truly important about teaching--creating those connections and helping our students create them in a context which encourages connection to self and to others. There is a power in that that we underestimate. There is a power in empathetic thought and understanding.
This brings me full circle back to change and risk-taking. All of this requires paradigm changes and a willingness to take a risk. Remaining in this arena means that there are days when I will get beat up a little bit. I have to be OK with that--because firmly entrenched systems create barriers which are difficult to break down--even though we see that in order to create equity and access for all of our students, breaking down preconceived notions about learning, teaching, growing, and being is essential. The only way to do that is to take a risk and simply go for it.