We are going to embark on a collaborative inquiry in our school and with a number of area elementary schools later on in the year, all around the concept of The Third Teacher. For those as yet unfamiliar, the concept of The Third Teacher is that there are basically three teachers in a student’s life. The first is the adult (parents, teachers, coaches etc.). The second teacher is a student’s peers. The Third Teacher is the physical environment in which they are learning. This is a concept put forth by a number of educators and designers that are looking at learning spaces and wondering if perhaps there is a better way to do things.
I would go so far as to say that there are any number of better ways to do things. In fact, one could make the argument that we in traditional schools do just about as bad a job as possible when it comes to considering the environment that we FORCE students to attempt to learn in. When I say we, I am particularly pointing the finger at us secondary folks. We are so bad at considering the physical environment you may think that we have not thought at all about it…In fact, you would be right about that!!
Truly, secondary teachers and administrators really don’t spend all that much time thinking about the physical environment that we force students to learn in. There are lots of reasons for this and throughout my career I would come up with things like the fact that very few teachers have the situation where they have their own space, or at least don’t have to share space. Also, since we specialize in only one subject, and most of the time that is not art, so we don’t think that it has anything to do with our curriculum and thus, nothing to do with my job. I think we need to reflect on this one a bit more.
What is our curriculum? This is really the crux of any argument when it comes to the concept of the Third Teacher. Our curriculum needs to be the learning of students; not SUBJECT MATTER!! We need to look to instil skills into students and the most important skill is the ability to know how to learn; the ability to know yourself as a learner and thus, be self sufficient in the pursuit of learning. We have to surrender to the fact that there are now a million more subject experts out there that our students are a tweet or post away from. They can access more knowledge in their free time, then we will ever be able to impart to them so we have to STOP TRYING TO IMPART IT! If we can help students to understand themselves as learners, (and this should include understanding what environment works best for them), then we have succeeded.
How do we embark on this shift of intention? I think that the Third Teacher is a good start because it challenges the most fundamental elements of what we do. It takes us to the core of our calling and forces us to consider a new perspective. The book, The Third Teacher is basically a collection of 79 “rules” to follow when considering your learning space. I will blog about lots of them through this and another blog meant to capture our learning experience, (Click here to check it out) but I think that #17 is the best starting point.
17. FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION: It seems obvious but is often forgotten: Teaching and learning should shape the building, not vice versa.
This is the entirety of The Third Teacher in one simple sentence and the basis of our collaborative inquiry at Pope. We need to work toward learning spaces that are “purpose built”. If you really think about it, most schools are in fact the WORST possible design for learning. A bunch of boxes that are basically the same shape and size and meant more for efficiency and order, than learning. Can anyone honestly say that given the choice, they would set up their child’s play room in rows of uncomfortable desks? We don’t set up our homes this way and I assume that we hope our children learn things at home. We don’t insist that our own children only learn certain subjects at certain times and with a group of people based solely on the year of their birth, but yet we set up all our schools exactly that way. The worst part about this is that people will actually think that most of the things I am writing are near heresy. Just try proposing to a board material management personnel that we completely get rid of one piece desk and chair combinations. I have and there is resistance because it seems to be crazy talk.
The crazy part is that not enough people are talking about it! That is really the point of our collaborative inquiry. We want to try some things and then share them with other educators to see what people think and more importantly, start people talking. I hope we try some stuff and just fail miserably because it will be a learning experience. I mostly hope though that we try lots of stuff that get people thinking about learning in general and start questioning the stuff that just gets accepted. Ironic that when you become so engrained in a place that people say you are “just part of the furniture”. We don’t think about our furniture, we just accept that it is what we have. We have to stop that acceptance and demand more!
The inquiry starts now but I hope it does not ever end!!!