And I knew I'd never teach the same way again.
(Thank goodness for forward-thinking teachers like Mrs. G. She didn't once flinch, frown, or freak out, but instead encouraged my request to simply try differently.)
A few months before this, I'd read an online post by Chris Friend about the importance of letting students take the lead in their learning:
A class discussion where the teacher pre-determines the outcome is just a lecture in disguise, dressed up to feel student-centered while still being instructor-directed. When a class involves discussion, we owe it to our students to not know what’s going to happen, lest we start dictating what we want them to think.
I project Nylen's Tweet to the students. They read it, then look to me to explain it to them. I smile at them. They look to Mrs. G. to explain away the crazy lady smiling at them. Mrs. G. smiles at them. They smile back nervously, scanning the room for hidden cameras. This has to be a joke, right?
I finally break the awkward science by asking, "Is this true? Do you need Mrs. G. and me? What if we don't tell you what to do? What if we just let you find the answers for yourself?" They look, admittedly, a little afraid. And why shouldn't they? Everything to this point in their academic career has been mostly teacher-directed.
"How many of you play Minecraft?" I continue. Half the hands shoot up.
"Cool," I remark. "So, which one of your teachers taught you how to play it?"
And that's the moment it clicks for everybody.
Now they're smiling at me.
The work begins. The project is outlined, tutorial videos and useful links are posted to Edmodo for reference, but no lectures are given. "Ask 3 Before Me, " we say. "Troubleshoot. Use the help section in iMovie. Google your questions. Try, mess up, try again." They're a little frustrated, for sure, but here's the thing: I tell them that I really don't know iMovie all that well. (A lie, but Mrs. G. and I want them to go cold turkey on their teacher dependence.)
"Wait...WHAT?" a student indignantly cries. "Then why are you teaching us this?"
"But I'm not teaching it to you," I tease. "Remember?"
At the beginning of class, I find myself falling into to the comfortable and involuntarily role of lecturing. (Habits are hard to break.) Ashley interrupts, "Hey, Ms. D. . .can we get started please? We can figure it out."
I literally laugh out loud. And keep a list of what I overhear students asking each other and commenting upon during the next hour.
I've never managed less and accomplished more as a teacher. It's weird, in a way, not dashing all over the lab putting out individual fires.
And here's what happens, as a result of my letting go: Some students naturally take on coaching roles with each other; some become experts at specific things (transitions, adding sound effects); some even become critics of each others' book trailers, giving very constructive advice (you know, the kind a teacher might offer).
I don't feel like they don't need me, because of course they still do, and of course I still help.
But. . .
They've learned to rely on themselves and on each other. As a parent and as an instructional coach, that's always my end goal. And yet, it never was when I was a full-time teacher. My students and I had developed a co-dependent relationship where they looked to me for all the answers and I happily supplied them.
When we finish the project (and before we start planning our film festival!) I project Nylen's tweet again. "Do you agree?" I ask. "Did this experiment work? Did Mrs. G. and I give you answers or did you find them for yourselves? And are you a better learner because of it?"
Logan raises his hand, and in that brief moment I experience a fleeting panic, hoping he won't prove me wrong. I notice I'm holding my breath.
"So when do we get to 'support' you learning how to play Minecraft?" he asks with a self-satisfied laugh.
I breathe and laugh, too. "Whenever you're ready. As long as you don't teach me."