A Framework Wrapped in an Action Plan

I’m writing this, my first post of the new school year, after reading a recent ‘tongue and cheek’ TeachThought article about the Perfect Back to School Post. Placing finger to keyboard (who says pen to paper anymore?), I realize that I am not following the TeachThought ‘rules’: 

  • I’m not taking a stand on some trending issue – some challenge teachers face or want to read about: standards, technology, collaboration;
  • I don’t really have any pedagogical tips from which stakeholders can benefit;
  • I’m not offering up a new digital tool and contextualizing it with the very latest edu-jargon; 
  • I’m not including a slideshare, video or infographic for something that might go viral;
  • I haven’t crafted a misleading title that doesn’t begin to deliver the content it promises.

So what, for those of you still reading, am I offering? Well, hopefully, a humanistic framework, a reminder really, of what matters most as we set forward in our school year and initiate our educational action plans.

In reflecting upon the year ahead of us, it’s hard not to overlook the amount of change, at all levels, with which we will be dealing.  However, change is universal and not unique to us as educators.  One of the first things I read this summer brought this point home to me.  Rem Koolhaas has been, after Frank Gehry, the most influential architect of our age.  In the article, Architecture in the Age of Gehry, Koolhaas said something that still resonates with me today:

The areas of consensus shift unbelievably fast. The bubbles of certainty are constantly exploding.  Any architectural project we do takes at least four or five years, so increasingly there is a discrepancy between the acceleration of culture and the continuing slowness of architecture.

With an appreciative sense of professional irony, we could substitute the word architecture for education.  Our bubbles of certainty will always be exploding because teaching, our project, is not a process of moving incrementally toward a pre-established or provided solution: it is, if nothing else, open-ended and exploratory.  However, amidst the daily pull between acceleration and slowness, in an environment where we are continually facing new and unpredictable challenges, what is our ‘constant’?  In learning from and with some of the brightest and most caring educators here in #vsb39, I have come to appreciate that educational change is a process of learning best understood as knowledge creation within the context of human relationships. 

Michael Chabon, in his essay, Sky and Telescope, helps me make this point.  Chabon writes of stargazing with his son.  Looking into a telescope, he talks to his son about the sensation of feeling like he is four hundred million miles away, orbiting a star:

         It kind of freaks me out to think about that, Dad,” my older son said after I had him look through the telescope at one of those endlessly deep and star-packed regions of space that look empty to the naked eye.  “I mean, we’re so small.”

                  “True,” I said.

                  “We’re, like, nothing.”

                  “Well, yeah.  Except to each other.”

         And then I pointed the telescope at Jupiter and its brood of moons and had him take a look, and he did a little thrilling himself.  It’s just so shocking somehow to see them there, plain as stars, when you can look at the same spot with no telescope and see a solitary speck of gold. “Think of Galileo,” I told my son. “You and I know those moons are going to be there, but Galileo had no idea when he first saw them that they were going to be there. He just had the weird inspiration to point a newfangled set of lenses at the king of planets and check it out.  Think how surprised he must have been!”

                  “Okay, that’s awesome,” my son agreed, backing away from the eyepiece. “What happens if we point it at the moon?”

         Maybe he or one of my children will turn out to have the gift of stars.  He or she will be able to look up at the sky and see not myths and legends and a history of failure but information, gases and voids, cold, infernal, luminous and pure.  Or maybe my children will just look up and remember the weight of my hand on their shoulders as they stood beside me on a warm summer night, the rasp of my beard against their cheek, my voice soft at their ear, telling them, Look.

The one constant in Chabon’s life is the lived relationships with his children.  As it is for him, so I have seen it is with all educators as we constantly manufacture opportunities to build understanding within the context of our relationships with students and with each other. Initiatives, directions and curriculum will always change.  However, in continually speaking to the hearts of all, addressing not only what they learn but what they feel, we stay committed to the promise that our students will always remember how we took the time to reassuringly ask them to “look”, how we helped them understand that “we’re, like,  everything to each other.”

It’s a framework, a way of being, wrapped into the respective action plans we carry forward as educators … everyday.

Here’s wishing everyone a successful and rewarding school year.