Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Children Are Watching

This morning I woke to snow and fog. By lunch time, the snow was largely gone and the temperature had risen into the high 40s! All of a sudden every bicycler in the tri-state area was cruising down the road below my house. My teenage daughter said it made her wish for spring! She went for a four mile hike with a friend and two Bernese Mountain Dogs at Ridley Creek State Park. I went for a more sedate walk in the neighborhood. While I was out I noticed a little boy, probably three or four years old, pushing his bubble mower around the yard. He was happily mowing the bit of snow that remained on the north side of his home. He reminded me of my own son, now 23, who loved his bubble mower. He thought nothing of working over an acre of our yard as he helped his father "cut" the lawn. The boy I watched today wasn't making bubbles but he was fascinated by the way he created patterns in the wet grass. As I watched he stopped mowing and started to head in, then he stopped, came back for his mower and put it into the garage, next to his parent's lawn mower ! I would like to think he has watched his parents cut the lawn and then put their machine away. He might have left his own toy outside, but he knew that wasn't the way to finish the job.

How often we forget that our children, our students are watching. At our house, we have a rule that cell phones are not allowed at the table for any meal or in the living room when we are visiting, relaxing or playing games. We don't even answer the house phone when it rings (this drives some of our extended family batty!) At Westtown School, our dining room is a place where mobile devices are not permitted. Instead, this is a space where the people present are the focus. Were the adults in the community to ignore this rule, pull out their phones to check appointments, texts, or emails our dining room would quickly become a place where nurturing relationships would be replaced by what Sherry Turkle calls seeking validation. We model for our students, electronic disconnection in favor of personal connection. Meals are about more than consuming calories!

In our classes our students are watching too. Are we comfortable with all of the technological changes constantly coming our way? More importantly, are we able to navigate these changes? In my most recent project, my students created films on the amendments to the US Constitution. Because we operate as a BYOD school, my students were using at least three different video editing programs. I only know the most basic features of the technical aspects of creating films. And yet just as I can help my daughter with Calculus -- a subject I have never taken. I always begin by asking her what she knows. She talks me through the problem and often arrives at a solution or a resource to help her find the solution--I am still able to help my students produce better films. For instance, one group showed me their film in draft form. I found it hard to hear two of their narrators over background music. I asked them to show me their editing program and then I asked them how to adjust sound levels. By walking me through what they knew, they were able to extrapolate to what they needed to do to create a more understandable film. I also consciously and publicly go out of my way to ask for help from colleagues in this and all of my students' projects. I want my students to see me asking for help, stepping out of the "expert" role into to "learner" role.

1 comment:

  1. This is truly education at its finest, what you describe above. As the mother of a 2 year old, it's amazing to have him watch me cook. He pulls up a chair, and climbs up and just watches. He reminds me of the hot pan, he reminds me of the lessons he's learned before. He wants to be a part of the process, he is really engaged because I am engaged-- I love to cook.
    As an educator who works inside and outside of the classroom, I find that I generally start with the ground of learning of each group-- who has done x before? What do you know about y? From my perspective, the application of knowledge, building from a ground of previous knowledge, keeps it real and meaningful, and ultimately connects to our deepest most transcendent subjects. I have a blog post about the power of experiential learning, which connects to your post. In it, I describe how doing the work of the farm with young people connects to deeper issues of justice, food access, and integrity.
    Thanks for pointing out this fundamental aspect of teaching, that puts us, as teachers, in the valuable place of teacher and learner, leader and led. the way out is the way through. thank you.