Hello again, from the Ed Tech Integration corner of the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education! I hope your school year is going well, but I understand if you are still having a tough time. I am. My students are. Returning fully to in-person learning did not make life or school easier. But…I am enjoying the increased time with my students, even if we still mask. I missed the give and take of being in-person — something I could not quite recreate on Zoom. Collaborating and learning with my future teachers always brings me joy. Those are the moments I have clung to throughout this pandemic, regardless of our format.
For this semester’s article, I admit inspiration did not come readily. While I appreciate having more face-to-face time with my students, I forgot just how exhausting being with people can be. That sounds horrible — I don’t mean it that way. I simply mean I had forgotten how much energy an introvert like me needs to expend to be “on” for my students. Not fake. Fake doesn’t take as much energy. I loathe fake. And Zoom is a different kind of taxing.
So, while I have almost always enjoyed learning with students (no matter their age), I do not remember expending so much energy. I know I must have. Teaching 32 eighth graders is sometimes like running a circus. And I’m not sure if I’m the ringleader or one of the clowns!
I shared that in case any of you are feeling the same. You are not alone! And I’m sure many of your students are experiencing something similar.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share part of what I submitted this week for one of my grad school classes.
We started reading the book World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements by John Hunter (2013). It’s a fascinating look at one technique he uses, mainly, with fourth graders: achieving world peace by solving a series of 50 crises. He’s done this for at least two decades. I’m only four chapters in, but I recommend the book for anyone looking to incorporate more nonviolence/peace into their curriculum and/or looking for more project-based learning ideas.
Let me share a couple quotes that gave me pause and caused some serious self-reflection: “The empty space — the silence — allows time for confusion; it makes room for us to discover what we don’t yet know,” and, “Time is the empty space that allows knowledge — let alone wisdom — to grow” (p. 72).
These quotes explain why Hunter overloads his students with information at the beginning of the world peace project. He creates space for them to struggle, discuss, make mistakes, ponder, learn, grow. He also employs personal silence to decenter himself and give his students room to be independent and “develop their own resources of creativity and compassion” (p. 78).
The more I taught high school English Language Arts (in my previous career), the more I realized the importance of giving students time to struggle with ideas, Standard American English and MLA/APA “rules,” writing, analysis, etc. I used to quip to other teachers, “You have as much time as you want to create in your classroom.”
Even with the pressures of preparing students for an Advanced Placement test, I still tried to slow down our pace. I wanted struggle and confusion without frustration. I wanted students to feel comfortable with discomfort. I still tell my future teachers I want them to grapple, but not to the point of giving up.
However, I am realizing (as I read the book) I’ve fallen back into the time trap. I will give myself some grace for my first year at OU. There are sooooo many exciting possibilities in ed tech — of course I want to share at much as I possibly can!
But should I?
The pandemic helped me cut back some my second year. I’ve also done more changing, rearranging, combining and editing this year (my third year). But I realize I’ve been chained to an imaginary clock. I hear its incessant tick, tick, tick like Poe’s narrator heard that beating heart. And I do feel a sense of guilt when I don’t cover “enough.” I worry if students got their “money’s worth.” How misguided and warped is that?! I should not perpetuate unhealthy ideas about productivity in my classroom.
The pandemic has made everything more difficult, it seems. I am taking class time this week to help students catch up on work for my class or any other class. I am taking advice from Hunter for the rest of the semester and into the next: give my students more space, time and silence. I jump in too quickly. And while I’m sure I overwhelm them with info, I do not provide nearly enough room to explore and play and grow and learn and move and make mistakes.
Now to figure out how to do that. I’m not asking students to save the world, but I do play a role in preparing them for their own classrooms. I try to model valuing their lives, identities and health, but I need to model some of Hunter’s advice, too. I need to stop forcing them, and myself, to march to some imaginary ticking clock. I want them to have useable tools for their future classrooms, but that doesn’t mean I have to expose them to everything. I need to give them more time to consider the issues facing schools and ed tech, like equitable access and algorithmic bias. And I seriously need to give them the “gift” of more silence from me. I should provide guidance. I should learn with them. I should not act as if I have so many answers simply because I have years of experience. Because I don’t. I guarantee none of us, as educators and human beings, does.
Let me end this by reiterating some of the same advice I offered you last spring (it still applies):
1. Cut yourself some slack.
2. Give yourself room to be human, whatever that looks like and however messy you are.
3. It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to miss deadlines. It is okay to take a deep breath and try again tomorrow.
4. Numbers 1-3 apply to your students also.
Try using silence in your classrooms this month. Let your students sit in their confusion for a while. Let them make mistakes, help each other, make more mistakes and find success for themselves. And feel free to let me know how it goes!
If you have any questions about any of the resources I shared, feel free to email me at email@example.com.