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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

When a Classroom Works (and Doesn’t)

By Peter DeWitt — January 17, 2013 2 min read
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At most events, competitiveness born from insecurity trumps mutual support.” Seth Godin

Recently, Seth Godin posted When a Conference Works and (Doesn’t). The blog focused on the importance of making meetings and conferences productive. However, as with any of Seth’s blogs the very short narrative he offers inspires the readers to come up with many different interpretations. As I finished reading the blog, John Bennett, who often reads this blog, suggested that there were implications for the classroom. He’s right.

Seth suggests that meetings work well...
”...If everything is on the line
...If there’s vulnerability and openness and connection.
...If there’s support. If the people you meet have high expectations for you and your work and your mission, but even better, if they give you a foundation and support to go even further. (At most events, competitiveness born from insecurity trumps mutual support.)
...If it’s part of a movement

Godin’s suggestions can be adapted to the classroom as well as the school building. Educators spend a great deal of class time with students. Sometimes those classes go well and “work” as Seth Godin suggests and other times they do not. Part of the issue may be that class time is defined. It’s set every day or every other day.

When educators over focus on textbooks and what they have to “get done” the opportunity for real teachable moments are lost. It’s one of the reasons teachers and administrators are so concerned about test prep. Teaching is at risk of something that teachers and students have to get through, and not something that allows real self-discovery.

If everything is on the line - If at any moment a student brings up a topic that wasn’t even on the teacher’s radar. Something that is educational but even radical or inspiring. Those conversations can change the nature of the classroom.
As a teacher or student, do you remember when those moments happened?

If there’s vulnerability and openness and connection - Encouraging risk-taking. Whether you’re a principal or teacher you can encourage risk-taking in the classroom or school. Too often in schools, both teachers and students are trying to do the right thing which sometimes is not the most inspiring thing. Take a risk. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

If there’s support - This goes for both administrators and teachers. If there is support, great things can happen in the classroom and the school. If everyone is worried about their job or upsetting the applecart, change will not happen. It will just be more of the status quo. As Seth says, “insecurity trumps mutual support.” Insecure colleagues can sink the best ideas.

If it’s part of a movement - In the classroom, every day really is “the building block to something important.” Teachers, students and administrators shouldn’t believe otherwise, because the efforts they make succeed are “part of a movement.”

In the End
The classroom experience can be exciting. Some days we have to get past the political arguments, and focus on why we all jumped into education. The students, conversation, classroom discourse, working out issues and finding teachable moments are the reasons we love education. When a classroom works...it’s why our students love education too. When it doesn’t...they become disengaged and we lose them.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.