Pushed and Pulled

push pull

push pull*

This post started as a reaction to some posts I saw on Twitter going back and forth about compliance with children in school. My initial reaction is that we all have to learn compliance at some point in our lives, and that as adults we are often expected to comply with rules or policies. But should compliance be expected in every corner of a classroom? Absolutely not. Teaching children compliance for the sake of compliance isn’t really productive. Compliance for safety rules- yes. That makes sense. Compliance for “because I said so” doesn’t really fly with me.

While this post sat in my drafts folder, another post was brewing about the push and pull I feel as a teacher and a parent of children in school.  I began feeling that the two draft posts were related.  I sat on both blog posts a little while longer to really give myself some time to process my own thoughts and reactions.

A week later… I’m not any further than I was when I started.

In my draft posts, I wanted to convey the push and pull I feel as a former technology professional developer, a classroom teacher, and a parent of a child in a public K-12 school district. To add to my inner turmoil: I teach in the same district where my youngest child attends school. The next few points are areas where I am really pushing myself to “walk my talk:”

  1. There are only two rules in our classroom: respect each other and respect our equipment/instruments. At the beginning of the school year (and various reminder points throughout the year), I discuss these rules with every single one of my Kindergarten through 5th grade (430+) students. I ask them if they agree with these rules and why. I ask them if we need any other rules. Most of what they suggest falls under “respect each other.” When they discuss as a class, they agree that we don’t need any other rules than those two. They are OUR rules, not MY rules. This is very important. If my students don’t have ownership in their classroom rules, then this becomes “compliance” for the sake of obeying the teacher. Even though I was taught as a child to always obey adults, I believe that kids who take ownership are more respectful of each other and their own rules when they are involved in the decisions. They also understand, through these rules, that they earn respect when they give respect, and that I respect them, too.  In “walking my talk,” I think this is one area where I am doing exactly what I would expect a teacher of my own child to do. Every time I make a decision about classroom rules, I put on my parent hat. As a parent, would I agree with or endorse these classroom rules? Why or why not?
  2. There are a few policies dictated in my daughter’s school with which I vehemently disagree. I have asked my daughter to comply with these rules, even when doing so disables her from using tools she’s found to help her with organization (she is naturally very DIS-organized). This is one area where I really feel pushed and pulled. I pride myself in being a boat-rocker. I don’t believe in sticking with the status quo to play it safe or go along with the “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality. I fear that the lessons I’m teaching my daughter – do what you have to do to stay out of trouble- will result in a backwards step for her in her own life lessons experiences. As a parent, I’m looking for avenues to discuss these issues with the school administrators, as well as with our district’s school board to plead her case, and for those of other students, too. In this situation, I would be wearing my parent hat… but also my educator hat. My biggest dilemma: will I make things worse for her if I rock the boat too hard? Second biggest dilemma: will I make things worse for myself as an employee, since it’s the same district? I doubt the latter, as I do not plan to storm the castle with pitchforks and torches. I’m a passionate person, but I feel like I also know how to approach matters respectfully and with care.
  3. My personal philosophy about teaching with technology is: if technology enhances or extends the learning experience of students, use it. If it complicates or detracts from the learning experience, don’t use it. I try very diligently to mix the learning experiences for my students in high tech, low tech, and no tech learning activities. This is another area where I feel a lot of push and pull. In many professional development opportunities for music educators, there is great pressure to teach in a purist fashion. No technology. Authentic instruments. This can be good. Kids need these experiences, and they need to know that technology isn’t always the best answer. HOWEVER, during these workshops and classes, I sometimes experience some backlash to technology… almost an arrogant stance against ever using technology. That technology somehow corrupts musical education or education in general. I speak up in these situations, especially when research is spouted about how kids don’t know how to perform some simple task without technology anymore.  Of course, I respond that students need many varied experiences, and then bring up points about obsolete skills… do we really need to teach them skills that either are obsolete now or that will be obsolete at some point in their future? As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t always bode very well for me in these workshops. [*side note: the ‘purist’ workshops are not provided by my district. I love that my district provides opportunities for its music teachers to learn together and provide professional development that we propose and often deliver ourselves.]
  4. As educators, I think we too often fight ourselves. I recently read a featured section in ISTE‘s Leading & Learning journal called Blogger’s Beat. The feature writer, Diana Fingal, called out Will Richardson, specifically,  and other non-classroom educators for pontificating about education reform ideals that are not realistic for classroom teachers. Fingal then quoted Lee Kolbert, a technology specialist who recently returned to the classroom, as someone who has struggled with the transition. My first reaction was that Fingal unfairly quoted Richardson and took him out of context somewhat.  Also, I felt that she used a single blog post written by Kolbert to make a point that Kolbert didn’t necessarily intend to support.  Maybe I reacted to what I read because I’m in a similar situation. I spent eight years in technology professional development, and I’m only just starting my second year back in the classroom. I agree with Will Richardson that education needs someone to light a fire under some educators and education policy makers to realize we can’t keep doing the same things we’ve been doing in education for the last 20, 30, 50, 100 years… and for those of you ready to argue that we have made changes, take a look at photos from classrooms in the 1890s compared to the same structure of classrooms today. Take away the computers, TVs, and other electronic equipment, and most classroom designs look EXACTLY THE SAME. On the other hand, I daily have to force myself to plan lessons differently than from what I learned to do in teacher preparation courses. How can I make my lessons more engaging? How is this lesson going to help my students LEARN? How can I help my students learn more independently, collaboratively with each other… and without me leading them every step of the way? It is difficult, it is a struggle, and sometimes it is a very frustrating experience. There are good days when I feel like I’m doing exactly what I preached to teachers in professional development workshops, but more importantly, I’m doing what’s best for my students. There are bad days when I feel like an utter failure. I don’t know where that middle ground is… or if that middle ground is even good enough.

Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself, but I always wear that parent hat. I always want to consider my students in the same manner I want my own children to be considered by their teachers.

I’m pushed and I’m pulled.

*[photo credit: cc licensed photo by Robert S. Donovan]

5 thoughts on “Pushed and Pulled

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steven W. Anderson, Kyle B. Pace, Michelle Baldwin, Pat Toben, Yoon Soo Lim and others. Yoon Soo Lim said: @michellek107 Just read your gr8 post: Pushed & Pulled http://tinyurl.com/2vv5snm. Reminded me of @jutecht's TEDx vid I watched this AM! […]

  2. Thought provoking post. I, too, am a teacher and a parent. I actually teach in my daughter’s school. I like your simple classroom rules. Our school only has one rule: You may do anything that does not cause a problem for you or anyone else in the world. I love it because it allows for lots of freedom and requires students to think about how their actions will affect themselves or others.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jill! Although I’m in the same district as my daughter, I’m glad I’m not in the same school. I would have a more difficult time with that, I think. More power to you!! 🙂

      Isn’t it amazing what kids come up with when they are given the opportunity to think about their actions and consequences? Sometimes, we don’t give them enough credit.

  3. Thanks for your excellent post Michelle. I wrote something in a similar vein on my blog a few weeks ago
    I teach in the same school my children attend. Believe me, having those difficult conversations with your child’s teacher is very hard when they are also colleagues!
    My eldest was a very non compliant child and I spent a miserable few years trying to explain to her the reasons why she received detentions for breaking rules I didn’t believe in. The middle one was savvy enough to comply when she needed to and find ways around when she didn’t. Now, many years later, my son is at school. As a much older and wiser parent I will fight for his right to use the technological tools of his generation. Hopefully the fact that I am in the same school will mean that I can model the way I want him ( and every other student in the school) to learn in the 21st century.

    • Thanks, Anne. Because i worked at a district-level position before returning to the classroom, I know most of the people in our district. It’s really a great place to work, but you’re absolutely correct… knowing my daughter’s teachers does often make things awkward when you want to have a ‘fierce conversation’ about what’s best for your child.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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