Monday, December 2, 2013

Are We Overthinking School? (aka an #edcampOC reflection)

David Theriault, John Stevens and I (photo by David)
I got to go to edcampOC a couple weeks ago. It was awesome - old friends, new friends, folks I had only met on Twitter, folks I was looking forward to seeing on Twitter more in the future. Just an all around #EduWin. But as I've marinated on the day, I'm left with a thought, a thought that arose out of my day down in the OC: are we overthinking education?

Some context for how I got here is needed. The next two anecdotes come from the Teacher Confessions session I went to that was started by Stephen Davis and David Theriault. There is strict confidentiality about what gets shared at teacher confessions not getting repeated to the outside world, but I got the okay from the people I am about to share anecdotes from.

So. Are we overthinking education? Over the last few years, thanks in large part to the diversity of opinions that I’ve gotten from my PLN, I’ve really started to examine what my class should be all about. What do I want my students to be able to do when they leave my class after two years with me? It used to be hardcore critical thinking and analytical writing. With some content knowledge thrown in. Now? Maybe it's more of an ability to find and synthesize information and then to go out and create. Create something, anything, to demonstrate your knowledge. This swing has come at the definite expense of overall content knowledge.

Even now, as I am about halfway into my first year of 1:1 (and my assessment structure is in shambles), I wonder what my class is really about. Engagement? Creation? Is that what it should be? Have I swung too far away from content knowledge? What about skills? Will my students be able to write well enough? What about public speaking? Presenting? Will they be able to defend their ideas well enough? Test scores? Okay, not that one.

I don’t have answers to these questions. However, I feel like I SHOULD have these answers. I’m paid to have these answers, right?

In Teacher Confessions, Raymond Lopez talked about how, after teaching history for 19 years, he was still conflicted about what his class was supposed to be about: was he supposed to be emphasizing skills? Content? Some of both?

Clearly, this comment really resonated with me. If someone like Raymond, whose opinion I respect and who is someone I have gotten to know through Twitter and email exchanges, isn’t sure what his class was supposed to be about after 19 years… Well, I mean that totally dignifies my struggles with what my class is supposed to be about.

And then.

And then.

And then Matt Dale said something that really resonated with me around the struggle that Ray shared and that I empathize with as well.

Matt said he wants every student to leave his class feeling loved.

And there you have the 'drops mic walks off stage' moment. Umm, DUH. Clearly this is what I want my class to be about: making sure my kids leave my room feeling loved.

This doesn't answer my (or Ray's) conundrum. But it does put the conundrum into some perspective.

Because really that's what it's all about. Does this mean that Ray and I don't need to keep battling those 'what is my class really about' demons? No. Those are worthy questions, questions that teachers need to come to individual decisions about.

But really, if every kid leaves my class feeling loved, I've done my job. THAT is what matters. Forget skills and content knowledge.


The rest of edcampOC? It was a whirlwind day. Fly down to Orange County and get met at the airport by my edcampHome co-conspirator David Theriault. Morning sessions on literacy and the Common Core and the aforementioned Teacher Confessions made for a thought-provoking morning.

As I was sitting around chatting with just a spectacular group do SoCal educators (really, this group as incredible), Crystal (and Grayson) Kirch showed up! I skipped session three and sat around and talked with Crystal and edcampOC organizer Kate Petty. An hour well spent. The day ended with David, Elizabeth Goold, and I facilitating the edcamp staple Things That Suck.

edcampOC did NOT suck. A late kudos to the organizing team for a great event as well as to David and Crystal for being my chauffeurs!

Awesome friends I got to reconnect with at #edcampOC