What Are Friends For?

I’m lucky to have friends who inspire me. Creative, brilliant, entrepreneurial– and unafraid to put themselves into the world of education in order to make a difference. To make things better. Sometimes what sparks new thoughts or clarity in my own perspectives is the fact that I see things differently. Sometimes the truest gifts of a friendship are the ways in which we don’t align.

I had breakfast recently with one such brilliant friend and walked away realizing we see some things differently.

Like him, I’m deeply concerned that many new–and practicing– teachers think standards-based education, standardized testing, and data-driven initiatives are fine. They take these things in stride as normal, not understanding that these are, in fact, relatively new on the educational scene. Many of these teachers have not experienced learning in a school environment as something over which they have power. And, because we teach the way we learned, these teachers don’t create classrooms where students can experience the power of learning as, first and foremost, something they can do for themselves.

My friend thinks that even if we engage new teachers in conversations about different philosophies of, and approaches to, learning, even if we can dislodge some of the seemingly-carved-in-stone approaches, we’d then have to offer an alternative. He believes there is neither time nor methodology with which to do that within existing teacher education programs.

I walked away feeling challenged, as usual. In a time when education solutions come in pre-packaged, marketable formats, designed in accordance with data that demonstrates a need and marches teachers and students down a defined path, I am thinking about something entirely different. I am thinking about having teacher candidates experience their own learning in a new way, and then talking with them about how to set that up in their own classrooms.

I believe they, we, can do that. In fact, it’s the way I have taught my courses. New technologies that teacher candidates are nervous about open doors to the feeling of not-knowing; once people do not know, once they’re knocked off balance, they can start to see things anew.

And so, my friend and I see this differently. He is right. The new stuff of education– maker spaces, design thinking, digital writing, connected learning– often focus on how to do this new stuff after school, in out-of-school projects or programs. Packaged, marketable formats that may not have a chance of trickling in to the regular school day.

But I am right too. And this simple conversation has pushed me to think about how I might package my own thinking and offer it to others.

My friend has pushed me to look ahead, into some future unknown. In short, he has scared the pants off of me.

Isn’t that what friends are for?



spirit looming in mist-shrouded forest

CC0 via www.pixabay.com




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4 responses to “What Are Friends For?”

  1. Algot Runeman says:

    One approach for knocking someone off center is to drop them into a situation where they sink or swim.

    That, however, is unfair to do to any student of any age since it assumes that the “instructor” has pre-assessed the learner as a risk taker. The learner must already have demonstrated self-confidence. In school settings, that’s rare. We who “teach” have the charge to provide for the wider range of learners, from the bold all the way through the timid.

    It means that our instructional techniques need to provide not just skill building activities but a steady diet of confidence building activities. Providing progressive challenges of increasing difficulty along with decreasing structure is a successful technique, though it needs to be carefully orchestrated to seem “unscripted”.

    I think that’s the work of excellent teachers, those who can watch a group of learners at their early activities and have a cluster of available challenges to provide to individuals which allow the slowest and the fastest to compete against themselves while seeming to compete on an “even playing field”.

    Definitely not easy to do.

    Good luck with your explorations!

    • Karen says:

      It’s one thing to unsettle someone and follow up with new ideas and something else entirely to unsettle someone and offer nothing new to build on! I like the idea of teaching as a blend of skill and confidence building.

  2. Molly Hogan says:

    Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking post. So many lines resonated with me. “Sometimes the truest gifts of a friendship are the ways in which we don’t align.” and “…once people do not know, once they’re knocked off balance, they can start to see things anew.” I applaud your determination to push forward and make a difference and your understanding that seeing things differently can be fertile ground for growth. Such a refreshing stance!

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