Sunday, 21 December 2014

What a change can do

 Change is imminent

In 1983, The Police performed at Shae Stadium in front of a shoulder to shoulder crowd of 70,000 exhilarated fans, topping the Beatles and any other band that had ever played there.  In fact, near the end of the concert, Sting mused: "We'd like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium". Sting saw this concert as an Everest moment and soon began his solo career.  And the demise of one of the greatest power trios in music history had begun.

My educational Everest was sitting in my classroom alongside my principal as my grade 7 students shared with me how they had changed the world.  It was project-based learning at its core. I share about what my students accomplished here and here

Then came the change: High School. A ball had begun rolling that led me to leave the comforts of my classroom home for 7 years and move to teaching Science and Math in a digital environment at the nearby high school.

My attempt at Elephant Toothpaste
Enter the rookie. Though I had been teaching for over 20 years, I felt like I had no foundation for my new role. It wasn't simply the new routines, new grade level, new curriculum, and new colleagues. It was my lack of understanding as to what good high school teaching was. I felt I had to change to meet the new routines, grade level, curriculum and colleagues. But I had no clue how to change, what to become. What did this new Mr. Robinson look like? I had no idea. 

And the pressures came ... and I did succumb.  I have found myself worrying over the sheer mountain of content.  I have found myself racing through concepts. I have found myself focused on summative assessment.  And I have found myself covering curriculum, not making it come alive. Here is all that I could blame:

Standardized testing

In BC we have government exams in high school.  In grade 10 they are worth 20% of the mark.  Although it keeps teachers accountable to cover all topics, it also puts pressure on teachers to move briskly through the curriculum. Who would want to be the teacher being cursed by their student during the final: "but Robinson never taught us any of this!"
Student motivation

I was completely surprised by my students' attitude toward assignments.  I had an idea that motivation would be much higher in high school. Whether it was the fact that "failure" was a real possibility, or that careers were looming, or just the added maturity, I thought motivation would be something the majority of high school students would have come to terms with. Nope.  So far with my vast 3 months experience, I have noticed that my students intrinsic motivation is even less. Students who would have struggled to complete assignments in middle, continued to struggle in high school. 

Massive amount of content

Roots, radicals, trig, exponents ... Nutrient cycles, Bohr and Lewis models, ionic and covalent bonds ... DNA, codons, ribosomes ... all that is a drop in the bucket of the content and concepts I have shared in the last 3 months.  It is shocking the sheer amount that we're asking high school teachers to communicate and high school students to master.

But if there is any blame, I take it upon myself.  No one asked me to change.

I felt I had to become something I wasn't to meet the demands of testing, motivation, and content.  Instead of molding the demands, I allowed the demands to mold me.  In retrospect, I didn't have to let it happen.  I allowed it.  But I got to see the shining light of high school on the last day before Christmas vacation.

I have made many Christmas hampers over the years in my schools.  But at high school, the students not only bring the food and presents to school but can drive to drop off the boxes.  I accompanied two of my students (and it wasn't them accompanying me! I followed them to the location) who volunteered to deliver the Christmas hampers.  What a blessing it was to see students, one of which I had taught in middle school, give of their time, drive to the location, greet the hamper family, and carry in the boxes.  After the hugs, when we had all parted ways, I reflected on the great possibilities teaching at high school had to offer.

During this Christmas break I get a chance to reflect and refocus my efforts on what is important.

With 11 solo albums, all unique and yet graced with Gordon Sumner's eclectically tasteful style, Sting's choice to go solo was sound.  Who knows what Police would have looked like beyond Synchronicity, their last album as a band.  But either way, the only thing that stays the same is change.  And sometimes it is amazing what a change can do.