You plan to go out with a friend and you agree to meet up in specific location. The plan assumes that each of you will travel some distance to reach the common meeting point. In teaching we may operate on a similar assumption. I, the teacher, will travel a ways to meet my students where they are in their understanding. And in turn my students will use their skills, effort and drive to strive in the direction of that designated learning goal. So much for the plan.
Anyone who has ever tried to instruct, teach or impart anything to anyone, will know that the reality is always much murkier and messier than “the plan.” Learning anything is rarely cut and dried. And the notion of teaching as a process through which knowledge is given or passed on to someone misses the point of the interaction. When I try to build a bridge between the knowledge and experience that I have and what I believe my students are supposed to learn, then I will have to travel. Building that bridge may well become an extremely arduous process. While I am planning, engineering, and constructing, what are my students up to? Some of them are watching me work up a sweat, as I run back and forth gathering materials and begin putting in the foundation. Many of them, however, are talking to each other or staring into their gadgets or generally just hanging out. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest in my bridge.
And there’s the catch. It’s my bridge. I have to build it, right? To get to where they are… What kind of traveling are my students doing in this scenario? How are they moving to meet me? Well, they’re not. They are spectators at my teaching show. They have not been asked to help build the bridge. They’re just going to wait until the bridge is done and see what happens.
Let’s do this differently: When I try to build a bridge between the knowledge and experience that I have and the understanding that my students have shown me they are seeking, then they and I will need to travel, and gather resources, and put in some effort to meet up at the designated learning goal. The planning, engineering and constructing will look different than when I chose to do it all on my own. The process will likely take longer and guess what? My students and I will learn not only how to build bridges, we will have learned much more about each other – our individual strengths, weaknesses, and inclinations in addition to discovering what we are capable of as a group.
Shifting my role from teacher, in the traditional sense, to lead learner requires some important steps on my part:
- I need to have awareness about where I am in my development as a person and as a professional. How comfortable am I with sharing leadership? How do I cope with ambiguity and uncertainty? Who do my students need me to be in order to be able to embrace this kind of approach to learning?
- patience and more patience.
- openness to uncertainty, ambiguity, confusion
- Staying connected to the vision which led me to venture down this road
- Heaps of faith in myself and my students in what we are undertaking together
- ample opportunities to celebrate as a group and as individuals
- time to step back and really take in the scope and magnitude of accomplishment. That is, not just looking at the finished products, rather, reflecting on the many steps it took to get there and all the mini victories those steps represent.
- Closure: How do we want to remember what we did here? Where are we headed next?
While it appears that I have replaced one “plan” with another. The real shift has less to do with the format and much more to do with what has happened in me. In order to shift from control and command “teaching” to the shared responsibility and distributed leadership stance of a lead learner, I, as a person, need to be aware of my strengths and vulnerabilities and be able to acknowledge them openly. That is real travel. It is the journey of a lifetime and it never ends. The gift we can offer our students is to respect where they are on their unique journeys even as we acknowledge the twists and turns of our own expeditions. As the lead learners, we are then in a position to accompany and support them as they get acquainted with new terrain and increase stamina. That’s when we can confidently say to our students, “I’ll meet you there” and mean it.