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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

Who's working harder?

Last week, I was at a meeting for the Professional Learning Team (PLT) which I am a part of at school. There were actually two PLTs at this meeting, last year's cohort, and a new cohort of teachers that are embarking on this journey to change education as well. My principal, with whom I'm thankful to be working, asked me (and some other colleagues) to share some of the awesome things I did in my classroom in an effort to make it more relevant (a term I picked up from Eric Hardie's book, The Relevant Classroom).

So I shared a story about how last semester, in my grade 10 biology unit, I gave my students a question to answer: How does life style affect the human systems? I gave them a little bit of direction and then they had four weeks to answer the question and come up with a product to demonstrate their answer (and learning). At first, they struggled, they didn't love it, and they just wanted the answers. But by the end of it, they figured things out and they learned A LOT about how lifestyle choices affect the human systems (respiratory, circulatory and digestive).

But then, my principal asked me this:

You're saying the students are working harder than you are?

And the simple answer is, yes. And really, they should be. But at the same time, it's a little unsettling thinking about it like that. It's not what I'm used to, having grown up in a traditional system and even starting out as a traditional teacher. But, I'm not bogged down coming up with daily lesson plans, I'm not bogged down marking assessments of learning. I'm busy walking around the classroom, answering questions, but more importantly, I'm asking questions. But I'm not asking questions that I already know the answers to! I'm finding out what they know, and I'm learning with them, alongside them.

I'm pushing students through the curriculum, not pulling them through it.

I've got the end in mind, but I'm letting the learner control where they go. Believe me, it can be really tough to let go of that control in the classroom, and it's not always easy to manage the messiness of the learning environment, but man, it sure is rewarding! Teachers have to go through some discomfort at the same time as the students do, and the fact that we're all going through it together creates for some pretty incredible outcomes!

I'm designing my classroom to help my students develop the OCDSB Exit Outcomes as well as the curriculum, but while they're learning, using and developing those skills and characteristics, so am I. I like that moving away from the traditional style of teaching is giving me opportunities to improve as a person, because my students are working harder than I am (so to speak), I get to be a better husband and father as well. Which I will argue makes me a better, and more present, teacher as well! It's really a beautiful thing!

Chances are good that I'll be writing more about this book in the near future...stay tuned!

Aside: As I'm typing this, I like to point out the fact that more often than not, I say "I have to go to school" instead of "I have to go to work." And that's a cool feeling! I tell people about what I'm doing at school, and not what I'm doing at work. There are days that it feels more like work, but mostly, it feels like school...and while I want to change what "school" means, I'd much rather go to school than go to work.

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