I have no idea why I’m starting my first ever blog four days before the start of a new school year. God knows I have other things I should be doing. Long range planning, lessons, nifty name tags. I must be a masochist. Actually, I’m a parent.
Being a dad to Yumi (6) and Jackson (2) is pretty awesome. One of the most spectacular things about it is that it makes me a better teacher. Every single day I learn things about pedagogy and psychology that astound me and lead straight to better classroom practice. Rather than being a strain on my time and energy, I really think of it more as a professional steroid of sorts. A Pedagogy Enhancing Drug. For instance, the other day I was at the playground with my 2yo. As Jackson is wont to do, he was climbing and sliding down everything in sight. This one thing cracked me up.
As he was trying to go up some bar climbers that were probably a bit too tall for a 2yo, he stopped three quarters of the way up and yelled, “Help Daddy!” What did I do to solve this crisis, knowing that the same skills he used to climb most of the way up would likely take him the rest of the way? I didn’t push him up or hold him. I simply placed my hand gently on his bum with all the pressure of a dandelion seed. With no trouble or complaint, he scooted to the top immediately.
I remember laughing when he did this. It was so funny to me because it told me everything I needed to know about one thing kids need from adults and teachers, especially in the 21st Century: the illusion of assistance.
Then there is my 6yo. Determined, silly, and occasionally haughty, she was so mad when her friend Emily could swing on the monkey bars like, well, a monkey, while her own swinging style was more like a paranoid R2D2. Little did we know that it was going to be Yumi’s summer raison d’etre to become monkey-like.
If she knew how to swear properly (actually, to be honest, she does) there would have been a lot of juicy expletives those first few days. Every single day we were at the playground, it was all about the monkey bars. Day after day, falling, sore hands, frowns. If we went to one without monkey bars, she’d make a disgusted face like Queen Elizabeth at a Bingo night.
Needless to say, she now kicks ass on the monkey bars.
So let’s recap: 1. Saw a friend do it, thought it was cool, desperately wanted to as well; 2. It was hard, kept trying, made heaps of mistakes; 3. Got it.
Barrie Bennett once said that he knows there’s good learning going on in a classroom if the kids look busy and the teacher is walking around. This may be a bit simplistic, but I like it because it fits in with my playground metaphor. When my kids are at the playground, they mess around, talk, brag, cry, get dirty, hurt themselves, ask for help, refuse help, direct themselves, create and tell stories, repeat things over and again, and always seek new challenges. I sometimes get involved to get them started, or stand close to ‘Watch This’, but I’m never in the drivers seat; always the passenger. And most of all, the playground experience is exponentially enhanced by the presence of my kids’ friends.
That’s essentially what I want to achieve in my class this year. I want it to be really fun, really challenging, and really safe. I want my ‘playground’ to be so cleverly designed and constantly evolving that only other playground architects can notice the subtleties of it. Oh, and I want the students to learn far more from one another than they do from me.