In Praise of the New Educators

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

Over the year – exactly now – that I’ve been blogging, I’ve written several posts about the New Energy (or Version 2.0, as they are called in LIFE: A Player’s Guide) children and young people now populating our planet in ever-increasing numbers.  I’ve decided it’s time to celebrate the adults who are finding new ways of working with them, since recognising that the old teacher/pupil model needs a radical rethink.

At the weekend, I was sent an email by my friend  Astrid Witt, who is a visionary teacher in a secondary school in Germany.  She also – somehow – finds time to host free, cutting-edge interviews (in perfect English!) for educators and parents on her site What The Experts Know.  I’ve listened to many amazing and inspiring world class speakers there, including Astrid herself.

With her permission, I’m reproducing a story she told in her email:

Yesterday I was teaching a maths class to ninth graders introducing a new concept and after rephrasing my first explanation a second time it became somewhat  clear that the majority of the class didn’t get it. The noise level went up and I clearly felt that it was not only their frustration level rising but I too was getting exasperated with them for not getting it. Stress was building up…on both sides!

What happened then was the result of a level of cooperation and  mutual trust I had dedicated myself to build with that class for the past 15 months… A boy raised his hand and asked me to step down from the blackboard and pass on the chalk to a student in the class who claimed to have understood me.

Now, before I started changing my paradigm of what education should accomplish, this would have ruffled my feathers big time. After all, the traditional part of my teacher training had taught me to be the authority that knew it all and knew it better and that demonstrating this authority was vital to keeping order in the class. Instead I simply felt grateful that I could pass on the baton and share the responsibility.

The student, lets call him John, grinned with delight from ear to ear, the class immediately hushed to silence. Within another 5 minutes he explained the concept from a much more “primitive” perspective … and was rewarded by many “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” from the rest of the class. Suddenly they understood … They felt happy, and as a result I felt happy .. much happier than if I had insisted on being the authority not to be questioned… and them not understanding what I had explained “so clearly” 🙂

As Astrid went on to point out, it takes a massive amount of courage and humility for educators – be they parents or teachers – to step away from being the powerful authority figure and to accept that there are other ways of working with their students.

Online Educa Berlin 2007 - Opening Plenary, No...

I was deeply inspired by her message, but by another of those synchronicities (yes, they’re still coming thick and fast!) another friend sent me this Ted Talk, the very same day.  Even if you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, It’s certainly worth hearing Sugata Mitra‘s stunning explanation of the traditional education system at the beginning of the talk.  Definitely food for thought…

I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting we should hand education over to computers.  There is a crucial role for adults in guiding and educating even the most evolved and conscious ‘Version 2.0’ children.  However I truly believe it is changing from the old ‘top down’ model towards a partnership in which everyone has a stake – something to teach and something to learn.

I’ve yet to find a suitable title for my role in working with the children at GLOW (Glastonbury Learning OtherWise – the educational resource for home educated young people I co-run).  Facilitator?  Mentor?  Catalyst?  We certainly don’t see ourselves as teachers.  GLOW’s ethos (and name) comes from Plutarch‘s declaration that:

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled; it is a fire to be kindled.”

We simply light the imagination of our awesome young people and sit back to enjoy the glow!

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to escape the education system and move into other ways of working with the young.  However I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who work to change and expand the system from within.  For that reason, I’ll finish with another reflection from Astrid Witt:

Instead of creating those moments of tense silence and subdued emotions (or stubborn defiance in children) that happen when someone (mis-)uses their power, you could be gifted with a deeper mutual understanding and discover a new level of communication that helps both sides! And it has a wonderful side effect of truly empowering those who need to learn to take responsibility for themselves.

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6 comments on “In Praise of the New Educators

  1. Love this blog, how inspiring that Astrid was open and humble enough to allow that to happen. I was watching a programme on Iceland, was really about their green energy programmes they have but also about a woman who suffered with ADD. She pioneered a college with computers to help child with similar problems and they were flourishing.

  2. Always interesting to see what you have to say. Maybe you “teachers” should be called senior learners!

    In this week’s TIME mag there is an article by Temple Grandin on autism. I haven’t read it yet, but sure it will be good. Can you access online(I tried) or would you like me to mail to you? It is called”What’s Right with the Autistic Mind” and appears to be an excerpt from a new book by her.

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