As a high school teacher I often feel I work inside an extremely restricted environment. Problems include: fixed timetables and block rotations, crowded physical classroom space, academic course loads, one hour and fifteen minute classes, heavy curriculum content, and subject area specializations. Our entire system appears to be designed to prevent creativity and thwart attempts to make learning more engaging and relevant for my students. At the same time, I also believe we don’t capitalize on many opportunities we could take advantage of. We are not as “contained” as we think. A useful exercise to use with teachers and staffs can get people thinking along the lines of achievable methods to increase educational opportunities for their students. It begins with the premise of focusing on what is available and not what we can’t have. It fundamentally deals with resourcefulness as opposed to resources.
Teachers begin by brainstorming everything that they personally bring to their classrooms. Like students, we all have different strengths. I, for example have a background in home economics and I often use these skills to enhance my English classrooms. This background allows me to organize events such as the Medieval Banquet in my Literature 12 class. I also have a class 4 drivers license and have experience transporting teams around as a basketball coach. This allows me to consider field trips where I can drive my students places on our school bus. Obviously different teachers will have a different collection of tools they can use, the point is, are they making use of those unique abilities?
Teachers are then asked to list strengths their students could potentially bring to a class. A group of 30 high school students for example will include artists and musicians, video experts and specific backgrounds such as experiences in cadets or construction. Surveying students at the beginning of the semester will enlighten you to many potential resources you have to enhance your class. Students can present material in different ways or bring added expertise to enhance a lesson. Of course the trick is to build and establish an environment where students are comfortable sharing their strengths and talents and backgrounds, and are willing to contribute towards the learning of the group. This past semester for example, when we were studying Robert Burns in Literature 12, I knew that I had a student with actual experience playing in the local pipe band. He was willing to come in and do a short demonstration on “Scottish Day”. I often ask artistic students to graphically represent key content from courses such as historical events. Another example below are the “stocks” that are required for Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”. A student in my class who was also skilled at woodworking came up with those in about 20 minutes and brought them to class one morning. Just a small example, but they really added to the fun and experience of the play when we performed it. I have used those stocks many times since. Using the talents of 30 people as opposed to one (the teacher) greatly enhances the potential of experiences in a class.
|Student illustrations of historical events|
|Wooden stocks we use each semester for productions of "King Lear"|
|Brad gets the crowd going at the Medieval Banquet|
|Math in the foods room|
|Physics in the library|
|Social studies on the tennis courts outside|
|Working with seniors at the extended care home across the street|
It is true that as teachers we often feel that the walls are literally and metaphorically blocking our freedom. There are, however, still numerous resources that we could be taking advantage of, but aren’t. I do believe at its core, that our existing educational structure is fundamentally flawed, and I dedicate part of my time to various groups that are working towards a complete re-design of everything that we consider as “education”. But while that process is going on (a process that may not even see major changes by the end of my own career) there are things we can do within the current structure to provide more meaningful opportunities for our students than we have traditionally provided in a classroom setting.
|Students filming a project at a nearby park|