Lately, I have been doing more and more workshops starting with nothing on my agenda. I have a topic that I suggest we talk about and an idea of what we can work on, but what I have noticed is that we never stick to the agenda as a group, so why am I spending an inordinate amount of time putting something together that we are not doing. My focus does not start with the learning, but with the learners. Their questions and thoughts now lead the session, not only what I think they should learn. Although, I don’t over plan my sessions, I believe that my understanding of the topic allows me to go in different directions. That being said though, I will never know everything on any topic, whether I am deemed an expert or not, but because of this crazy invention called the “Internet”, and all of the people that are in the room, I know we can figure out whatever we need for that time.
As I thought about this process, I connected it to my first days of school as a teacher, when I first started my career in education. It was basically the exact opposite. I would spend days preparing my classroom and decorating it, and even though, I would say it is “our classroom”, the items on the walls were my choice. I would even have each child’s name written down as a welcome on a basketball, because I wanted them to feel welcome. The problem is, the basketball was about what I loved, not what they loved. If you hated playing sports, and you walked into a classroom that featured your name on a basketball, you might not feel very welcomed at all.
Then came the icebreaker activities. If you are an introvert, day one is going to be extremely tough for you, because we are going to make you get up, walk around, ask and answer questions that totally make you feel uncomfortable, because the student being uncomfortable doing something they hate, is not as important as me feeling safe that the entire day is planned out with things to do.
What if you wanted to learn the student’s names, you asked them to create their own art to display it on which represents something they love?
Instead of decorating the room with what you think should be on the walls, ask the students what they would like the room to look like, and plan how you could shape and decorate it, over time.
Instead of planning the entire day, why not create opportunities to talk to them and learn about them, and get a feel for what your year, or even the day could look like?
If I really think about how the year started for me as a teacher, it was more about the students to get to know me, than it was about me getting to know them. There actually should be a balance. Trust and respect are reciprocal feelings; they are not earned only from one direction.
This is not to say don’t plan anything, but to really think about the tone you are setting at the beginning of the year with what you are doing. Is this more about you, or the students? Looking back at my own practices, the answer was definitive. I am trying to get better.
The major shift here is from engagement to empowerment. I wanted to make sure the students had enjoyed their day, but now I see the importance in not only saying that it is their room, but making it their room. If we want to create the leaders of tomorrow, there is no better time to develop our students as leaders than today.