I met one of my favorite bands this weekend. By met, I mean I got to sit on the floor of a studio tucked away in the heart of Birmingham and listen to 5 acoustic versions of their newest songs. I tried hard not to cry, cough or sneeze as they performed for fear of ruining it for someone else…or worse have the attention shine on me in that small quiet room where I was not the main event, nor did I want to be. I had to readjust my attention to the band more than once because I found myself worrying about the guy in front of me who didn’t have enough space and my friends who were sitting so close they might as well have been a part of the band. Luckily, I was able to divert my attention back to the performers long enough to really enjoy the show because I knew the opportunity was unique, rare to happen again, and if I cried or coughed at least I wasn’t the guy in front of me who couldn’t get seated comfortably.
Flash forward to today.
As I sat in a forum with some of my dearest and most trusted colleagues reflecting upon the previous school year and planning for the next I couldn’t help but remember my own classroom and how similar the learning experience of my students might be to how I felt during that small intimate concert I’d just attended. They too sit in a small room that barely fits everyone. But while I was only packed in that tiny studio for 25 minutes for 1 day they are in these small rooms for 7 hours a day, roughly 186 days a year. Similar still, each individual has his/her own personal issues, emotions, wants and needs that are affecting their functioning in the classroom, as well as, the very dynamics of the room itself. Likewise still, the majority of them have been raised in an education system that has told them time and again that sit and get is the way to go. Keep your mouth shut, watch the teacher’s every move, listen with intent, fill in the bubbles, and you too can one day have a mind numbing middle class job and be paying off your student loans for the rest of your life to raise children that will fall into the same routine. Now, ain’t that America?
No, it is not.
It’s also not my school or my classroom. See, every person in that forum today was there because they know we can do better; to be clear they all know and are trying with every part of themselves to do a lot better. Not just as a school system…but as an educational system. The very dynamics of that private concert and the status quo classroom are the beginnings of everything that is wrong with how we operate. They set the stage for conformity, imbalance, and a world where people wait for someone to beat the drum rather than marching to the beat of their own, or throwing the drum out the window and playing the guitar simply because that is what feels right to them.
While the private concert session was beautiful and I am extremely grateful for the experience, I can’t imagine doing that 185 more times for 6 and 1/2 more hours each time. I could have listened to the musicians forever but I cannot image how much more I would have been moved if the people around me had been singing along. Or humming. Or swaying their shoulders to the rhythmic tones. Or doing whatever would have made the guy stuck in the middle a little less aware that he was not one size fits all. He didn’t want to stand out, or affect the rest of the crowd so his experience was stifled because he most likely wasn’t taught or given the space to do so just like so many of our students that fall through the cracks of a standardized system.
But the story isn’t over.
See, everything we discussed in our forum was centered around creating and supporting the best possible learning environment for our students next school year and not a single person we read or who spoke argued that a teacher-centered, desks in a row, give me standardized tests or give me death method was the way to go. Instead, we discussed the partnership approach, how to created a culture where everyone feels safe to learn and lead. We studied the critical components of trust, individualized support, and active listening. We discussed the hows and whys of a safe holding space for every individual to grow, learn, and become their best self. We were allowed to cry, get up when we needed, express ourselves in different ways, and sing along when we knew the words our colleague was singing were our own truth too and they were too good to only be said by one.
So, while I got to shake the hands of one of my favorite bands, look them in the eye and say thank you after the session; being able to sing every single word of “when my time comes” at the top of my lungs with my friends in a room filled with thousands of people I’d never know meant way more. I only hope my students will be able to say the same of my classroom versus one that expects them to sit, get, clock in, clock out and repeat. The story of my school and the education system as a whole in America is far from over. From one music loving educator I urge you to keep on keeping on. We are more than few. We are more than mighty. And our time is most certainly coming.