Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to work through the design process and contemplate the relationship between making and writing with a brilliant group of teachers in Atlanta, Georgia. As we were discussing empathy, one of them made a stunning point: He said, “Empathy inspires us to really figure out what really matters to US as teachers and why we’re teaching to begin with.”
My friend Ellen often reminds me that empathy isn’t all about our students. It’s about knowing and nurturing ourselves, too.
Have you ever encountered a teacher who hasn’t practiced self-empathy?
In fact, I was one of those teachers, for a very long time.
First, I sacrificed every ounce of my own vision to mandates and state standards and test scores. Then, I started complaining about it.
There was no way to inspire creativity in the face of standardized testing, I lamented.
If I gave kids choice, I’ll lose control of quality, I worried.
And then: These kids aren’t creative! They don’t know how to generate their own ideas! Their writing is so formulaic!
How fortunate for everyone that I soon met a bunch of wicked smart and very patient people who challenged all of those assumptions.
How might you inspire creativity in the face of standardized testing? They asked.
How might you control quality while championing choice?
How might you coach creativity? Idea generation? Inventive writing?
They never let me off the hook. Instead, they kindly challenged me to put up or shut up:
I’m reminded of this again as I begin this series of posts. I know that if I’m really going to advocate for emergent curriculum in the age of the Common Core, I have to be willing to work creatively within a set of constraints. I have to know how to inspire teachers do this as well.
I know that some might suggest that standards undermine efforts to create a truly emergent curriculum. Others might suggest that embracing emergent curriculum means evading standards which promote and guide progress but also ensure better equity.
Where do you live with all of this? What do you think?
- What are standards, anyway?
- Who defines them?
- Which ones matter most?
- How might we pursue emergent curriculum design while attending to standards?
- How might we invite students, teachers, and schools to pursue a genuinely shared vision?
- How might we help them define standards that align to this vision and to the other standards valued within the system?
- How might we help them assess progress, strength spot (thank you again, Ellen), and problem solve?
- What will happen if they don’t?
Many thanks to Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder, for writing a book that pushed my thinking about emergent curriculum design, even though this wasn’t their (wait for it) intention. Ahem. This book gave me permission to dwell in possibility and remember the power of constraints. Critical creativity moves beyond the classroom, too.