Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dream School?

Photo Used Under a Creative Commons License
I classify myself as a realist who leans toward the optimistic. As an example of how that works itself out in my thoughts on things, I am fairly certain that no large scale transformative change is going to take place in American education in the next decade. The current political and social climate won't allow it. However, I believe that multiple small impacts can make a difference in the current system and move education in a more relevant and modern direction for our students. I try to do my part to contribute to the small impacts, looking for ways to encourage teachers to bring technology enriched learning into their classrooms. A little dent here, another dent there, and over time we make some progress.

I am not a dreamer.

I do not have massive educational progress or reform scenarios worked out in my mind. Nor do I put a lot of stock in the dreams I have when I sleep at night. They are ways my mind processes and works out real happenings in my life, but they are not particularly impactful 99.9% of the time.

Perhaps now that you understand a bit about how I think, you'll understand why this blog post is surprising me even as I write it.

I had a very vivid dream last night about a different kind of school. So much so that when I woke up this morning I quickly recorded what I remembered lest I lose the experience back to the world of unconscious thought.

Dreams are so hard to explain to others. But I am going to try to share this dream with you.
At the start of the dream, I was a student, winding my way through an unfamiliar high school but with fellow students I seemed to know and who seemed to know me. It seems I had been absent from school for an extended period, and they were trying to fill me in on what I needed to do to catch up. Eventually, we wound up in a large auditorium, where one of the students started a movie. I caught on that it was a cinematic version of a novel we were studying in depth in our English class. We watched for a while, taking notes on the movie. And then it was time to move to the next class. The same student who had gotten everything started stopped the movie and checked in with me to see if I understood everything I needed to do to get caught up.
It was only on later reflection that I realized there was no one in this auditorium/movie setting that I would consider to be a teacher in the traditional sense. The student who started and stopped the movie and conferred with me was definitely "in charge". (And he looked and sounded like Matthew McConaughey, but I digress...)
Jump to the next class (you know how dreams jump scenes like that) and now I am in a more traditional looking classroom but I am the teacher. It was another English class, but this time I'm up at the board writing words that fit a certain spelling pattern, but writing some incorrectly to see if the students catch the mistakes. When I turn from writing on the board to begin discussing with the students, I see that on the other end of the board (which I could not see while I was writing) some of the students have added their own examples of the word pattern. And some are written as mistakes on purpose, much like mine had been. This participation on the part of the students was seamless and appropriate to the task. We discussed my examples equally with theirs, and I clarified some misunderstandings.
So in this scenario, I who had been a student in a previous class was now a teacher, and students in the class were learners and also co-teachers with me.
Suddenly, class was over (though I heard no bell) and students began leaving the room while others began to enter. I headed toward a back corner where my desk was, but not to prepare for a new class. I was just organizing myself and gathering my thoughts. Upon turning around from my desk (my back had been to the room), I saw the students transforming the room, rearranging furniture, etc. It literally had a different "front" than when I had been teaching just a few moments before. As the new group of students settled in, I saw three of the young people who had been students in the class I had just "taught" seemed to be in charge of teaching this class. Students taking the class did not seem much younger than the ones teaching it.
Again, students as teachers. Are you starting to see a pattern? I wasn't, yet. The understanding would come later when I woke up.
I turned my attention back to organizing my corner of the room, pretty much ignoring the teaching and learning going on around me. That is until the learning intruded. Two students approached me and requested help. One of the students was having trouble explaining Punnett squares to her classmate who wasn't grasping the concept of what they represented, and she asked if I would help her find a way to help him understand them better. Of course, I obliged.
Did you catch that previous scenario? I wasn't asked to help the boy understand directly. I was asked to help the girl help the boy understand. It's a subtle, but important difference.
In case you wonder who was "in charge" of this school, my next stop in the dream was the front office to fill out paperwork due to my previous absence. The office was staffed with adults. No students in sight. Or at least no young people in the traditional "student" age range.

So, there you have it. A vivid dream of a school where teaching and learning were everyone's responsibility. And did I mention the atmosphere was extremely peaceful? It was full of students who came from multiple cultures and who all seemed focused on the tasks at hand.

A dream of a different kind of school from a self-proclaimed non-dreamer. Why share it here? So I don't lose it. It filled me with a sense of wonder (as in "I wonder if ...? I wonder how...?") that I don't want to forget.

Maybe the most important reason for me to share it here is so I will be inspired to dream more...

All original work in this post by Sandy Kendell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please see specifics on my re-use policy in the right-hand column of my blog before re-posting/re-using any of my blog content.