Sorry for the delay for any faithful readers, but today’s post is the last in my Summer Teacher Innovation Series. I am so grateful for the wonderful educators I have worked with and know contributing their voices to my blog. They made this series very special, and I’m honored to call many of them friends.
I wrote today’s post. Originally, I had lined up two other teachers as potential contributors to close the series out, but the start of school simply would not allow it. (I fully plan to get them in on my next guest series, though.) This post provides my own ‘teacher innovation.’ If you have followed the blog over the last few years, you know I have a passion for identity exploration and care ethics in the classroom. While I love that I dedicated my dissertation to these concepts, my current role at my school limits my traditional avenue of using the classroom as a space to encourage the growth of both. So, I have spent the last two weeks embedding these important concepts into my time as my school’s Work-Based Learning coordinator. Before you become too skeptical, keep in mind literacy and multimodal texts are everywhere in our lives, not simply confined to a classroom. In any case, I hope you find what’s inside the post insightful. Thanks as always for reading.
The start of this year has been difficult. I am wearing several different hats this year, and the challenge has consumed me for the month of August. Just ask any of my colleagues; they’ll tell you I won’t shut up about it. Because I have taken on more leadership roles for my school, my time in the traditional classroom has all but ended for at least this year. Instead my classroom of record is not really a classroom at all. I am our school’s Work-Based Learning (WBL) coordinator (as well as academy coach and a department lead), which means my students spend almost all their time off campus working at their various jobs and internships. The reality is I simply do not see these kids often, so if I want to impact their lives and experiences this year, I will have to be more innovative than ever.
Admittedly, I initially approached this course a bit lazily. The district has great resources already created and the state expects certain protocols to be followed, so when I did my training in late June, I was happy to just understand the basics and come to terms with the amount of paperwork I would manage. I simply did not put too much thought into ‘planning’ my WBL class–a class that typically is used by students to leave campus early and earn a paycheck. To be honest, the class can easily be designed to go on autopilot. There is something very appealing about allowing a class to go into that mode and to a degree wipe your hands free of the day-to-day planning and prep that goes into a face-to-face classroom. As appealing as it is, I simply cannot abide.
I decided as our week of pre-planning came to a close that I wanted to find a way to keep identity and care ethics at the forefront of how I would approach the course. With 40 students approved for the program, I wanted try and personalize each students experience and provide them genuine opportunities for discourse and interactions despite not being with one another often. To help set a tone for the group that we would spend time exploring their identities and work to support one another, Each day of the first week we participated in discussions focused on how they identified the skills they felt they needed to succeed in the workplace with an emphasis on inquiring how the skills became so important to the modern workplace culture. My hope was it would invite students to openly bring their perspectives and experiences to the discourse and to a great degree they did. Certainly, several students did not openly join the conversation, but those same students were locked into the conversation. Their body language appeared to say they were listening to their peers and processing. A few who spoke voiced their concerns with media and the overwhelming amount information they wade through everyday and how that media invades all aspects of their lives. Their concern was how that translates to a career in some cases. Others discussed how they felt they had been asked to be an adult before they are capable or equipped. Still more discussed they had the skills and were ready to make a mark on the world. Needless to say it was a dynamic conversation.
We continued similar conversations for the next few days. We did so through different formats with me using different strategies (i.e. perspective walks, four corners, chalk talk, think-pair-share, etc.). By the time the week had ended, I want to believe students walked away seeing one another as similar and wonderfully different. My only data to go off of is the discussions remained rich and open with even the quieter student chiming in by Friday. The challenge going forward is how to encourage this discussion both online and the few times we get together. Right now, I am considering starting a short vlog series and have them respond using Flipgrid, the very cool video comment program my friend Deborah Aughey wrote about earlier in the series.
To help build a care ethic, at least with me as their instructor, I am spending as much one-on-one time with each student as I can in order to 1.) get to know them, 2.) counsel where I can, and 3.) be part of their network. Here’s a quick explanation of #3–I believe students need a network of adults who are both caring and available. In the case of these students, I need to them to know that I care about their internships, their goals, and their future success. This will be an on-going adventure that will unfold throughout the year, but in the first two weeks, the one-on-ones have been positive. This is probably braggadocious, but I really enjoyed helping several student land great internships and counseling them through their interviews and approaching following-up with employers. The experience was very gratifying.
So here’s the reality. What I just wrote above, to me, is not innovative. I don’t feel I broke new ground with my approach, but I do feel I have been working to change the current state of the program I inherited. So that, that might be innovative–that the course would not simply be an escape-from-school-free pass, but an exploration of life after high school, including the trajectories of their identities and to know that they are cared for and that I am part of their network.
At the end of the day, I think I want to prove to myself that despite being out of a more traditional teaching setting, I continue to encourage students to explore their identities and develop caring relationships with them.