*Alfie Kohn is an educational thought leader advocating for less homework, less testing, and more "student-centered" educational practice. He is one of my heroes.
One of the things I tried this Spring was to let go of the "harness demo" and have my groups figure out how to get them on - they were in charge of getting it done (and done correctly, meeting safety standards). Now, I did give them some information for safety reasons: The waist belt must be above the waist and, There should not be any twists in the webbing of the harness. It became a nice addition to the group's "team" building experience. It also helped, I'm sure, that there was at least one person in every group that had climbed before (having worn a harness). My groups ranged from 5th graders to adults. Yes, there did need to be fixes from time-to-time (that I pointed out), but they were in charge of getting it right.
On another note, here is a recent story from a fellow facilitator that highlights a factor of "control" (or management) with a group - time. Working with a new group (for a half-day program) my friend wanted to go around the room for (what she requested) "quick" introductions. The first few people shared their name, their role at the company and a little bit about themselves (one minute tops for each) - all was going "as planned." Then, the trend changed. The stories from each participant got longer. The planned (on paper) 10-minute intro activity turned into over 20 minutes of sharing.
So, how do we adjust "control" and still get in everything we've planned? Do we impose a time limit on things so we can get to other things on the list? Are our programs about quantity or quality? Can there be both? How much planning with participants can take place before a program? Do we (and they) have time to do this? Again, more questions than answers right now, for me.
"...those of us who are trying to serve as change agents in education had better not count on teachers’ [facilitators] waking up one morning prepared to adopt radically different practices. In fact, we would do well to have some examples ready for how they can get from here to there step by step."
"It is possible to edge slowly away from traditionalism with respect to just about any specific practice."
"To learn something about the students was to transcend (or at least create the conditions for transcending) traditional pedagogy [team builders are pretty good at this part]. To invite the students to talk with, and then introduce, one another was to transcend an ideology of individualism — learning as an activity for a roomful of separate selves. To ask (rather than dictate) what the interview questions should be was to transcend the default model of top-down teacher control. In each case, what was challenged had simply been taken for granted."
"At each stage, one can move ahead only after confronting the unsettling truth that what looked like a destination turned out to be just a rest stop. There’s farther to go on this journey."
“My job,” a teacher in Ohio once commented, “is to be as democratic as I can stand.” Had she invited me to append a friendly amendment to her declaration, it might have been, “… and my other job is to push myself to be able to stand more democracy next year than I could this year.”
"Perhaps our motto should be: Change by degrees — but don’t underdo it."
Keep me posted!
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.