Compliance or Empowerment? You Be the Judge…

If you are interested in having a student-led classroom and/or trying to figure out what in the world that is, look no further than Paul Solarz’s Learn Like a Pirate.  Paul will be having another book study over the summer, so be sure to order your book and join the #LearnLAP crew for some amazing conversations and PLN building.

I read Learn Like a Pirate for the first time over Spring Break 2015 after hearing so much about it on Twitter.  Even though our vacation was shortened due to make up for earlier snow days, I sped through the pages and was ready to implement changes our first day back.  The morning went well but when we returned to the room after lunch, our substitute administrator was waiting to observe the lesson.  Although she was a retired principal, it was her first day at our school.  Transitions were shaky because we were trying out “Give Me Fives” for the first time ever.  Later, I decided to listen to the post-observation feedback without explaining the shift to a student-led classroom.  Making the switch felt crazy enough and trying to put those feelings into words felt even crazier…not exactly the best pitch for the book but not a conversation I was ready to have at that time either.

After re-reading and joining the study group over Summer 2015, I was able to introduce #LearnLAP concepts earlier in the following school year.  While we were successful, there were many moments where it felt crazy again, but this time around I realized a better word choice was messy, noisy, and even uncomfortable.  When high value is placed on neat and quiet, messy and noisy create discomfort.  We still have this ‘old school’ idea deeply embedded within us that neat and quiet equals learning.  These are our memories of school that we continually fawn over:  ‘Ah! The good old days when students sat in their chairs at their desks and did what they were told.’  How many times do we lament, ‘If they’d just stop talking, I could actually teach the 1000 standards I need to cover this school year’?  The problem is that the person doing all of the work is the one who is learning.  If that’s me and not my students, well…that’s a problem.  Thanks to George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset, I’m gaining an even deeper understanding of the Empowerment piece of the acronym P.I.R.A.T.E:  Giving kids multiple opportunities and experiences to lead in their classroom is a huge shift from the ‘factory model’ of education where the teacher was the sole dispenser of knowledge. The change is even more monumental because creating a student-led environment moves the pendulum away from compliance toward learning.  Take a look at the Tweet embedded in this post:  At first glance, it screams compliance and who doesn’t love a straight, quiet line transitioning from point A to point B within the building and on the school grounds?  Plus, the number one the reason we have rules, procedures, routines is safety.

The Tweet alludes to it but the picture doesn’t actually show that the student-leader along with the class made this moment happen since she quickly moved into the line when she found out I was capturing the moment.  This could be any class at any school in any past school year.  So why take the time to even take a picture, Tweet it out during lunch when I should have been eating, and then take hours to reflect and eventually share this post?  Because when that moment and/or moments happen(s) for your students, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!

I’m in my second full school year of implementing parts of #LearnLAP and can tell you that more times than not, the feeling isn’t all that different than that first day after Spring Break in 2015:  Think of a classroom of 4th graders learning how to play “Mary had a Little Lamb” on the recorder:  It’s noisy and it’s messy but then one moment happens and everyone is in tune, on key, and together when you need it the most:  You needed to touch base with another teacher along the route and then your administrator had a quick question and now the class is temporarily out of your field of vision.  You turn the corner and find your kiddos doing exactly what they’re supposed to while following the student-leader’s directions:  For that moment in time, the room of ‘off-key’ recorders transforms into the North Carolina Symphony!

That’s when you know without a doubt that the student-led classroom is about kids taking ownership of their learning and their classroom community.  Does it look like this picture every moment of every day?  Absolutely not!  In fact, we didn’t make some very good decisions as a class the following Monday when we were with a substitute teacher for Social Studies instruction.  Did we throw #LearnLAP out the window and return to a teacher-led classroom on Tuesday?  No.  Did we meet as a group and discuss our choices and how to improve?  Yes.  After all, how can we be #FutureWorldLeaders if we are never given an opportunity to lead and then learn?  Does the “lead and make good choices” gene kick in at some magical age or is it nurtured through practice and experience?  Adult leaders make mistakes every single day so why should the bar be perfection for 9- and 10-year-old leaders?

If you’re still reading and considering a student-led classroom, I hope you’ll add Learn Like a Pirate to your reading list and join us for the book study starting on June 26 at 7 pm Central.  My purpose in sharing this reflection is not to discourage you before you get started, but to be real.  As Art Williams says, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”  If you like this topic, consider following the blog to receive notifications of future posts in your inbox.  Look forward to more on Silent Day, The Marble Theory, and the Band-Aid Lesson…all ideas from the book!  Signing up will keep me accountable 🙂  Whether you’re a pro like Paul or a newbie like me, please share your experiences with us in the comment section below or on Twitter…don’t forget to add #LearnLAP and tag me so that we can learn together!

2 thoughts on “Compliance or Empowerment? You Be the Judge…

  1. Great post Elizabeth! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with #LearnLAP – it’s great to hear how others have implemented student-directed learning in their classrooms! Let me tell you, although I’ve been doing variations of this for 18 years, I start every year over in the fall and experience setbacks and bad days! But by the spring, I’m blown away by my students’ leadership, self-direction, focus, and decision-making abilities! I know that there are hundreds of “correct ways” to teach and that the way I do it is just one of those ways, but I’m honestly SO thankful that I have parents and administrators who embrace student leadership and decision-making because I feel like the skills my kiddos walk away with are going to be so valuable for them every day of their life! I look forward to reading your posts on the topics above! We have our Silent Day on Friday – wish us luck! 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for reading and for the encouragement! Your support is much appreciated! The skills our kiddos walk away with are absolutely worth it. Definitely wishing you and your class luck for Silent Day! We’ll be sure to stay tuned via Twitter. Ours is scheduled for Tuesday, June 6th and this year my team teacher will be joining the crew for the experience as 50 students take ownership of their learning and even switch classrooms after lunch.

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