I came across this TED talk by Ramsey Musallam and it was so refreshing because it spoke to me of what a classroom should look like but it also spoke to me about what the teaching profession should look like as well. I look at things through the lens of educational leadership and so think about how these talks translate to a larger scale of application. I love the rules that Ramsey sets for his classroom:
- Curiosity Comes First
- Embrace the Mess
- Practice Reflection
I love these because they really encapsulate the spirit of the teaching profession and I think can be used as an anthem of sorts for people new and old to the profession. I like them for the classroom but they resonate for me when I can apply it to professional development for an entire school, area or board.
1. Curiosity Comes First
This is so key to my experience in the classroom. I hated doing the same thing more than once, not because I thought the lessons or ideas were bad or limited but because I got bored teaching something more than once. I had to feed my curiosity and so looked for new things to encounter and new lessons to explore. I see this as key for any administrator to support and cultivate in their staff. I think that the best PD comes when the curiosity of the participants is not only included, but in fact is the driving force behind it. If what the teachers are curious about is what drives the PD then it has a much greater chance of success. I would imagine a model where the staff is polled (or perhaps their Annual Learning Plans are actually reviewed and authenticated!!), and then PD is sculpted around that. The administration has to take seriously the voices of their staff and then look to support their curiosity and allow for room for growth. I think a lot of PD can kill curiosity as it if often presented as a formula that people can follow without thinking and that is simply not acceptable. I have a theory that the traditional school system was designed to quite purposefully snuff out the flame of curiosity because it was meant to create a culture that would assimilate and thus serve the greater good. This has to change and principals cannot expect their teachers to provide this for their students, until they do the same for their staffs.
2. Embrace the Mess
This is a tough one and I think the point at which most innovation dies. There are lots of good ideas that get circulated in education but they wither on the vine because people get nervous. People see the initial stumbling blocks and end up reverting to the traditional because it seems safer. This comes from a good place, because we are “playing” with the lives and futures of kids but we need to move past this and understand that the process of learning is far more important than the outcome. Think about this clip from The Dark Knight Rises.
To get out of the prison, Bruce Wayne thinks that he needs to overcome his fear of death, but the wise old prisoner tells him that he has to embrace it so in climbing without the rope, he will have the incentive to make the jump. I think a similar analogy can be made to educational leadership and PD. We have to embrace the mess and cut the rope to tradition to make real innovation possible. We have to say that innovation is not an experiment or a pilot, but the norm. This type of re-inventing has to be the standard for all educational communities and that starts with its leaders. Easier said than done, but so necessary.
3. Practice Reflection
Easily the best line of Ramsey’s talk is when he says, “what we do is important and deserves our care, but it also deserves our reflection”. He beautifully issues the challenge to all educators when he asks, “can we be the surgeons of our classrooms” and I feel this sums up the PROFESSION of education brilliantly. In a unionized environment, administrators can become skiddish about challenging their teachers to reflect but I think we all need to push through this. We deserve the time and the freedom to reflect on the things we do and this again falls to the administration and the central board staff particularly. We have to resist the temptation to turn our schools into well-oiled machines of efficiency and give teachers the time to engage in genuine and authentic reflection. I will add a caveat here though to say that this reflection had to be AUTHENTIC which for me means that is has to result in something. A true professional cannot look honestly at their practice and simply say, “Everything is fine, I will just keep the course” Authentic reflection MUST include some level of action and evolution.
I think that if a leader can create an environment for these three rules to flourish, then they have created a healthy learning environment and can then figure out the best ways to put ideas and innovations into action.