Category Archives: trust

Do you trust students?

I have been trying to be authentic to my beliefs about learning. Hence the students are working on projects of their own design around the Vietnam War and the Cold War. My one class has five groups of 2-5 students each building a Tumblr feed, making a game, writing a children’s book, creating a rap video, and filming a documentary.

The other half of the class (about 20 students) is working together to make a Choose Your own Adventure style videos on YouTube. This is a very mixed group with students who have previously performed well and struggled in my class. Let me just say that they have blown me away. First of all a couple of them took charge and organized the group’s research assigning everyone a topic which they then decided to make into a timeline.

Next on the whiteboard they started mapping out the paths of the “choices” in the video.

Later they divided into roles as writers, directors, actors, artists, props, editors, and computer designers for special effects. We are putting an addition on our school for next year and the construction workers put up a temporary wall as they literally tore off the outside wall over holiday break. What opportunity did students see with this wall?

A place to draw scenes for their videos.

Even after being so impressed with their efforts I saw some of them shooting some scenes outside. I watched them for a few minutes. They were not in costume. They were not organized. The video camera was sitting to the side on a stand. They weren’t even using it!

They were obviously not using their time wisely. I went outside to redirect and Jake told me that he was using his phone since it had an app that added some special effects. I said ok and went back inside.

I guess I forgot about that part of the conversation because I started class the next day by complimenting them on their organization, their creativity, and their efforts. Then with the memory of them running around in a field yesterday, I gently reminded them to focus on the quality of their video. I told them their “process” of learning was great, but that all people would see would be their end product: the videos.

They quickly assured me that they were taking steps to address this including some costumes and props. A few minutes later they were begging me to come watch their movie trailer.

Once again they showed great things in what they were doing. I have blogged alot about giving students a chance to own their learning and they will do great things. The truth is that this project has been very hard for me for fear that the students will “fail” and not learn anything. It has not been easy to give up control.

My teacher eyes see kids running around in a field and I momentarily lose my trust in their efforts. Then they show me what they are doing and prove that they deserve it.

Letting go as a teacher is so hard…

When Leadership Loses Control

When I think about leadership in my mind I compare the various administrators I have had over the years. In my current job as part of a PBL school I think my administrator has some great qualities that could be valuable to everyone. The most important one is that she empowers, first teachers and then students. Last spring as a team we started a new school. For most decisions we discussed and came to consensus as a staff. In this world of top down mandates this was such a refreshing change. I know that I had a real voice as I advocated for things such as school-wide standardized grading system and open filtering policy.

by Boudewijn Berends

When it comes to technology she is capable but not necessarily “networked.” Once again she does not try to limit what teachers and students do with technology to what she is comfortable with. She trusts us as professional experts with open internet to use online tools for learning. She always advocates and supports students and learning rather than worrying about controlling.

My curriculum is wide open as long as I addressed the state standards. There is no judgmental oversight and I am encouraged to be innovative and creative. I sometimes come up with crazy ideas and she supports and encourages me to try new things. There is no fear of being judged as a failure for trying something different. I know that this kind of openness and freedom is not the norm in education in the U.S. today. But I can tell you that I have never felt more professional and enjoyed teaching as I have this past year.

At first appearance these may seem like small things but I think this country needs more of this kind of leadership: trust of teachers and their professional judgement. I think administrators need to be more “hands off” in dealing with their teachers and more “hands on” in resisting outside forces demanding standardized testing and cookie cutter curriculum.

The payoff for this is huge. As my administrator relinquishes power and control to me, I do the same thing in my classroom by giving power and choices to my students. Just like me they enjoy school more than ever! Students are treated as responsible and given the opportunities to be creative in their learning.

Politicians and ed reformers need to spend less time trying to get everyone to be the same (control) and trust more in local teachers and students to creatively explore passionate learning.