I have a meditation instructor who was once asked by his mother "What do you do when you practice meditation?" He answered, "We look at the nature of mind." She responded, after a thoughtful pause, "Is that safe?"
Her insight is to the point - when humans go outside their comfort zone they have the ability to grow, but they also risk loosing what they already have. The irony is that the degree we grow is often limited by how closely we attach ourselves to our current state of understanding. If we know everything, and cannot open ourselves up to the possibility of knowing something else, then we are unable to grow out of that perspective. When we have enough strength to know that what we do know may be incorrect or could be modified, only then can grow occur.
As we develop as educators, we must be open to change. However, in doing so, we open ourselves up to a degree of risk; risk of being wrong, risk of loosening our student’s interests and possible achievements, and the risk of looking foolish. These are significant risks and often we find educators unable to change as a result of these (and other) fears. I am so pleased to see that Antioch designs their curriculum to include the domain of developing as a professional educator. On-going assessment and intention to grow over time is that habit of all great teachers. All of us know that any success we have had was based, in part, in our willingness to let go of one mindset and accept another set of assumptions, conditions and conclusions. And we also know that it takes some strength of character to achieve any significant change.
Reading books is one such risk I am willing to take. Some of the most important changes that have occurred in my life have been the result of a book I have read. I rejoice (and fear) that I have stumbled onto another book that will produce a great deal of change this week when I started reading Lemov's book, Teach Like a Champion. This book is a collection of practical actions that many great teachers do in their classroom. They are simple behaviors that can lead to profound changes in our student’s success.
As I prepare for my two-week takeover, I found myself thinking about one of the actions that Lemov describes, which he claims many effective teachers do. He says that creating a classroom that provides access to all students and facilitates the circulation ability for the teacher producing a room where the teacher has more control of, and access to, the students they are teaching. This seems like logical action, however, I am amazed by the amount of fear I have over rearranging the room I will be teaching in. Can I actually take an idea I read in a book and change my entire room? What if I am wrong? Would Antioch approve this? Would the students rebel and refused to do any work? Would they scream in protest?
Would it be safe? Illogical thoughts dance in my mind and threaten to take over!
In the end, it is not the answer here that is important. What is paramount is the discussion (with myself and others) and the process that we, as educators, engage in when we are attempting to facilitate the best outcomes for our students. I have the strength to know that I don't have all that answers AND I have the strength to know that I have some of them. As I reflect over my growth as a professional educator [lets assume I will get paid at some point!] I see the progression of knowing nothing about education to knowing slightly more that nothing. (This is not to undermine the amount of work, effort and achievement that I have enjoyed in the past; I simply wish to appropriately acknowledge the amount truly gained.)
My goal is to be an insanely great teacher. Ten years from now I hope that I will have taken a powerful step in that direction. I know that if that does happen - and I can recall my apprehension with rearranging the room during my student takeover - I will laugh at how little I knew then and how far I have come. I also hope to simultaneously understand how insignificant the actual behavior or choice was, and powerfully important the process of examination and willingness to changes IS, as I developed as an educator. Until then, I know that any growth I do have will be the results of engaging in risky behavior like looking at the nature of mind, reading books and being open to the coaching of my peers and students.