In a recent marginal syllabus conversation focused on Linda Christensen’s piece “Critical Literacy and Our Students’ Lives” , I questioned whether teachers need simply more time to design for critical classrooms focused on students funds of knowledge, experiences, interests and, indeed, voices. I wondered whether many teachers also needed increased autonomy or the sense that their efforts to subverts the scripts and try out more progressive practices that would rewrite who students were (Christensen notes her balking at the term ‘disadvantaged’ as it was written about her students) would be welcome by their school communities. There seemed to be a consensus in this conversation that teachers, actually, have more space and creative license than they perceive. Perhaps, and this sounds like the ideal case. But, which teachers? And where?
In my experience working with primarily new teachers (many are in their first and second years of teaching, most have been teaching less than five years), the scripts are powerful . The ability to make design choices about pedagogy and curriculum is quite limited. What’s more is that teachers typically have little knowledge about how to go about designing for a more connected and critical space for students because, well, they are not witnessing a lot of critical instructional design taking place at their school. This is not to say that there are not promising practices taking place at the schools I see on a regular basis. However, I am increasingly having conversations with teachers who want to be ‘movers and shakers’ to a greater extent but cannot fathom what this would look or feel like given the micropolitics at their schools that they are just beginning to even understand.
If we want teachers- all teachers- to become adept at navigating the socio-political worlds of their schools to subvert the scripts that tend to, at best, box in students and, at worst, help perpetuate inequity, we must think purposefully about what these new teachers truly need to navigate and subvert. Examples of classrooms that are existing outside of the scripts are important; fresh ideas about how to tweak teaching practices are critical. Yet, in a recent reading (on one plane ride=thoroughly engaging read) of Kira Baker-Doyle’s Transformative Teachers: Teacher Leadership and Learning in a Connected World it occurred to me (and as she argued) that we need a larger framework through which to organize our teachers’ education and support systems. Adjacent to and influenced by the work of Connected Learning, Baker-Doyle argues that transformative teachers, are ones that not only organize their classroom through the principles of connected learning but also:
- Challenge experts and claim their own expertise
- Are recognized as professionals when they work to transform or develop new practices
- Can connect easily and quickly with each other, other stakeholders, and the public to collaborate and share their work. (p. 16)
In other words, transformative teachers subvert the traditional scripts of school (those that are physically given to them but also discourses and narratives that drive inequitable practices) and do so through Connecting, Making, and Hacking. Baker-Doyle organizes her book through these ideas, highlighting teachers and programs that use these principles to design for connected learning. As I read, these transformative principles helped me conceptualize what a teacher education space could look like to give back agency to teachers- even the newest ones.
Spring Transformative Teacher Inquiry Group
Next semester, I have plans to organize a monthly Transformative Teacher Inquiry Group to provide space for four teachers I currently work with to explore connecting, making, and hacking with the intent on moving towards more Connected Learning for their students. Three of these teachers are in my current Critical Pedagogy Masters class and one is my alternative licensure candidate. All four public schools teachers have been teaching less than five years. One is a special education teacher working with middle school students, two are elementary school teachers, and one is a high school teacher. The following are my rough designs on how to create an emergent learning space guided by the teachers’ problems of practice.
- Take a network inventory of the teachers connections (Twitter, blogs, organizations, colleagues, etc.). Who are they already connected to that provide spaces to collaborate, share their teaching practices, etc.?
- Develop shared goals as an inquiry group
- Provide space and connections to networks that can provide a larger support network and may help address problems of practices (i.e. #CLMOOC)
- Explore notions of digital equity
- Utilize a Domain of One’s Own as a teacher makerspace. Teachers will receive a domain with full creative over license over how they might use it to address their problem of practice.
- This is ideally a space to develop “voice” before, for example, talking with an administrator.
- Baker-Doyle delineates between “studio spaces” (private) and “gallery spaces” (public) that teachers must navigate when designing (p 186).
- In many ways this is the ethos underlying the whole project and subsumes both connecting and making. It includes, “understanding how complex systems of structures work and what powers them and learn[ing] to play with, tinker and innovate these systems in order to transform them from the bottom up into something useful and carefully crafted”(Baker-Doyle, 2017, p. 109).
- Help center teachers on the varying levels and aspects of power influencing their teaching lives
- Provide examples of teachers and organizations that have successfully remixed towards justice and equity
- Participate with others using “agentive tools” (i.e. marginal syllabus, hashtag communities) whereby teachers can build community with those that share similar ideals and, simply, to feel as if they are not alone.
Obviously this is still in it’s early stages of development but I’m excited to be able to solidly land on a framework that will help move to towards teachers being “designers of their own profession”. First meeting with teachers is next week!