Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Balloon Rides and Train Rides

I have been thinking about how important it is to stay true to our beliefs about learning and teaching. I think our beliefs clearly define who we are as teachers and learners. They give direction to every decision we make in the classroom. Most importantly, they guide our interactions with the children.

There was a time when I would have measured the success of a teacher by how closely his/her teaching practices, instructional processes and classroom environment were most like my own. But I have learned some things along the way.

First, I learned that there are many ways to teach effectively, wisely and well.

Second, there are many ways to set up a classroom for authentic learning and thoughtful conversations.

Third, how we teach and what we teach aren't nearly as important as our relationships with the children in our classrooms and our schools.

Fourth, our relationships with colleagues should never be defined by the differences in our styles but by the similarities in our beliefs about children and the experiences we share.

Through the years, I have made good decisions in my classrooms and made more poor decisions than I would be comfortable admitting. During my days in the classroom, I balanced my own autonomy with being part of a community of learners. There were tough decisions about when to travel alone (what I would call my hot air balloon rides) and express my learning and teaching styles in ways that were tightly aligned with my beliefs and that expressed my unique way of thinking. There were also times when I made tough decisions to travel with others (what I would call my all-aboard-the-train rides) and join in celebrations of learning and community. Not one of these decisions were wrong. None of them harmed children. All of them represented the way we live and learn together.

No longer does anyone stand alone in education. Our work is too complex and demanding to be doing it alone. No one has all the answers. What seems like a good idea to us may not be the most motivating idea for someone else. Someone else's ideas may not be the choice we would make. But the common thread should be a balance of walking alone and coming together to find what works best for children. Sometimes it means being part of something bigger than our own thinking.

I believe strongly in collective wisdom and collective energy. What does it mean to give ideas, accept ideas, and build a common knowledge and a common motivation to do what is right for kids? How do we get there? Each day, I have to believe that we can reach that goal of collective wisdom and collective energy that binds us together for the success of our students.