I went hiking with a friend today and we brought the puppies (all the same age) and their granddad. Granddad worked hard keeping track of the puppies, making sure they didn’t go too far ahead, run too deep into the brush, and that they came back when we called, modeling what behavior they ought to be exhibiting out there in the world. My little red girl hadn’t ever been off leash before, except in the dog park, so this was a huge thing for her to be trusted to stay nearby and not run off into the wilderness. I was a little apprehensive about taking her leash off, but figured I had to trust her sometime.
As we hiked, she kept looking back to make sure I was still there, that I hadn’t walked off with out her, and she stayed with the others, romping in the tall grasses, running ahead and back to us, exploring the scrub oak for sweet grass, and investigating horse poop and other scat. She came when called, and was polite when we met other people on the trail.
There was something about watching the dogs run and play today that made me tear up a little. Those few hours of freedom, still under the watchful eye of both of us and their granddad, who would probably be quicker with the redirection than either of us, build up the bond of trust between us.
I remembered that feeling from the classroom. The first time I planned a unit and the kids had ideas of their own and I made them a deal–you go ahead and we’ll see how it goes; if it goes south, we’ll try my way. And it went great–they ran with their ideas, asked for help when they got stuck, and reflected intentionally on what went well, what needed improvement, and what they wanted to try next time. I gradually let go as the years went on, and we created projects together, a few playing devil’s advocate for their peers or noting that so-and-so had done X and the results were less than stellar but Y worked well. There was collaboration and discussion and the kids grew, learning by doing, with not everything dictated by me. I had non-negotiables, of course, but most of the work they did was self-directed, peer-reviewed, and intentionally reflected upon. It was in those moments that I enjoyed teaching the most.
Like my little red dog today, the kids and I grew in our trust of one another over time.
Right now, teachers are scared about the upcoming year. For their health, their coworkers health, for the health of their kids, their families, and their OWN families. They want explicit direction about what’s coming next and how this year will look, but at the same time they are afraid of losing those learning-by-doing moments with their kids because nothing is going to look normal–losing those moments that build trust in a community of learners. They are afraid of expectations of others outside telling them that things must look like this or that–especially when those others aren’t educators…everyone has their idea of what school should look like, don’t they? They don’t want to lose the freedom to be the artists using science to do this work…
I talked to a friend tonight and we agreed that “Things” should be my job description for simplicity. My role encompasses lots of things: projects, work, interactions, support, and everyone believes it should encompass the things they feel are most important or that it should look a certain way. The beauty of this role though, is that it evolves and changes all the time, with responsibilities being added, changed, updated, and delegated to others as they’re ready to grow into them. I was afraid the first year–I’d been let off leash and wasn’t sure where my support was–who do I ask for permission? for what do I have to ask permission and what can I just do? As I watched my little red dog today, it was nice to see her grow a little in her own confidence–she does know the right things to do, who to trust, who to follow. I remember when my director told me I didn’t have to ask permission for everything…checking in was fine for almost everything. She trusted me.
I hope that administrators can remember that this year can be a true year of innovation if we trust our teachers off leash for a while to do that work, using their expertise, their creativity and artistry, and their love of our kids to help them grow this year, in the face of whatever may happen, checking in as needed for direction and to make sure we’re still there and haven’t run off into the wilderness.