Friday, July 1, 2016

Finding Time

I'll admit it. I'm guilty.

I'm a chronic over-planner.

Each class period starts with our opening routines and check-in, review of previous learning, daily lesson activity, and a launch to close the class period. I rely on routines to help my students move efficiently in our learning space and maximize our time together as a learning team. Like me, many teachers learned in our methods courses and classroom management classes techniques for grouping students; we were trained to manage how students interact with one another. A great deal of the art of teaching is managing how class time is used, how students move about the room, and how they interact. The classroom is a very structured setting.

But here's the thing, this might not be the best way to think about our time in the classroom. In fact, this might be one way that we are structuring students out of authentic collaboration.

Attending the TED Summit has me reflecting on the skills I want students to leave my classroom with at the close of the school year. And here's what I now realize: my micro-managing group work is stifling students' opportunity to truly connect and collaborate. Students will never become creative innovators if teachers continue to map out when, how, and with whom students connect. Ideas come in open spaces.

What I am most thankful for is the in-between spaces that this Summit allowed for. It was in the ample time given between sessions, after meals, and throughout the workshops that encouraged all the organic and energizing collaborations and connections. Moments of serendipity and innovation blossomed because we had time to reflect, to connect, and share our stories.

This is what I  hope to bring back into my classroom. Teachers must build in space and time for authentic conversation. No homework questions to answer or worksheets to fill out during a discussion, just space for the informal and the authentic. This is where connection happens, where innovation happens.

There were so many moments of serendipity at the TED Summit. The other evening while attending the cowboy dinner on a ranch in Banff, one of my fellow TIE teachers (we've started calling ourselves the TIE fighters) let me know that another attendee, Melanie, was looking for me. I've discovered this is not unusual at a TED event. Attendees are invested in connecting. When we found one another a few minutes later, it turned out that we had a mutual friend. We took a selfie together for our friend and ordinarily that might have been the end of the interaction, but neither of us had any place we had to be. We weren't eager to rush off. There was time and space to connect. Melanie asked about the TIE program, and I shared a bit about my innovation project for the program - Mentoring Passion. As I explained, I watched her eyes widen. "You're kidding!" It turns out that Melanie is also a high school English teacher, one who is passionate about helping students find their passion. We were able to talk a bit more about our shared passion and have plans to connect upon our return from the Summit.


We all have so many stories like these from the Summit.  In between sessions, we'd run into people relaxing on the lawn and discover a commonality. While in a workshop, we'd hear a presenter share something that we knew a fellow TIE member might also like. We shared our connections in order to build further collaboration. While in a workshop, my fellow TIE educator, Susan Herder, connected with a woman who works as an advisor to actors, athletes, and other creatives. Her role is to connect her clients to philanthropic organizations that support the causes her clients are most passionate about. In the open time between workshops, we were able to grab a picnic table and chat about her role in connecting her talent with the experts and organizations that her clients are interested in helping. It was striking how her work and my TIE innovation project are similar in a number of aspects. We each shared our process for helping people both understand their passion and then connect with the right people in order to learn more. She was able to help me thing through how best to build a network of experts willing to mentor students in the area of their passion. Her advice to look not for individual experts but for foundations and professional organizations with a diverse membership has helped to change how I am thinking about my project. And this connection happened because throughout sessions, in those in-between moments, we were encouraged to connect and to listen to one another's stories. We didn't need to rush between scheduled events; no bell to signal us to get moving. TED left spaces and time for connection. This is what I will take back to my classroom.

We do not honor student stories and ideas when we pack our class time tight with activities. Opening up time and space for students to share and connect is the fertile ground where ideas come into bloom. We need to consider how we are using our class time and spaces to foster collaboration and innovation.

I understand that secondary teachers are particularly limited by the amount of time we have with students each day. My 55-minute class periods are marked at each end by bells. I don't have the luxury of giving large blocks of time for open discussion each day. But there are a number of small changes that I can make in how I use my class time and space to foster organic connections and open up space for innovation.

First, I must consider the physical space and set-up of my classroom. Is my room arranged in a way to foster collaboration? Can students easily move about the room and find the supplies they need? Are there comfortable spaces for students to have small group discussions? Are there spaces for my students to work together on group projects?

Second, I need to consider how I am having students connect. How are students working in groups? Are groups engaged in purposeful activities that will lead to innovation? Am I opening up time for students to explore ideas?

Our class time with students is valuable, and we should be using that time to facilitate the activities that students cannot complete independently at home. Our classrooms need to be places filled with collaborative conversations. Our students need to learn how to speak with one another in order to grow an idea. We all need to make time for time. Let's make our classrooms spaces where students have time to make their own connections, collaborations, and creations.

Thank you to all of the TED community for inspiring me in so many ways this past week!

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