Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Five-Word Philosophy

“Education is a question seeking an answer that provokes the next question.”
      Doug Goodkin

Am I allowed to quote myself? Came up with this phrase while biking in the rain to a school meeting on educational philosophy. Our job was to try to articulate that which we already do, make explicit the ideas that inform our daily practice.

To that end, we looked at educational philosophies of other schools and noted how they essentially all sounded alike, filled with all the correct stock phrases, many of them in an edu-speak that requires translation for the reader. Terms like “emergent curriculum, growth mindset, outcome-based education, constructivism, design thinking, STEAM” and all the other flavors of the month that no 5-year old kid or their parents can understand without explanation. Good ideas all, but the jargon does not make for a welcome invitation into the house of inspired education. Teaching has its technical side and special vocabulary, but at its heart, is as simple as ABC, as basic as bread. Could we make our statement stand out through simplifying the language, aiming more toward the poet than the business manager?

My phrase above seemed a promising start. And if questions indeed were driving the way we thought about teaching, why not model that in our writing? So here is my first draft based on a five-word summary of how we might think about what we do, one I borrowed (stole) from someone I once heard speak, who in turn took it from someone else. As follows:

WHAT? What is important to teach? What is essential for today’s child to know? How is it the same or different from yesterday’s or tomorrow’s child? What is worthy of the precious little time we have with kids in school? How do teachers decide that? What uses all of the child’s intelligences and fits their way of experiencing the world at each developmental stage? These are some of the questions that make our curriculum a perpetual work-in-progress, an ongoing conversation between teachers, students and parents based on the solid foundation of what has always worked and what needs a fresh look in today’s world.

SO WHAT? What do the things we teach mean to the students who learn it? What does it mean to us as teachers? What does it mean to the school community? Why is it meaningful? Why should we care about it and how do each of us care about it in different ways? How can students share their unique engagement with any given material? These questions keep us honest and help the students reflect on the value of each thing they learn and how it can be relevant to their life both now and in the future.

NOW WHAT? What will they do with the information? How will it help them lead happier and more fulfilled lives? How will it help the world be a bit more beautiful, more kind, more fair, more just? How can we help them move from thought to action? What else will they need to know to be able to act on what they know? What about courage? These are the kind of questions that transform education from a passive receiving of mere knowledge to an active engagement with the world that will resonate for the child’s whole life.

It’s a start. And that’s all it will ever be. Once we think we’ve corralled the whole living, breathing life of working with children in school, we’ve lost the wildness that refuses to be tamed. We’ve put lightning in a bottle and put it on the museum shelf. The questions that seek answers that provoke more questions. That’s a school philosophy I can stand behind—and I do!

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