I am so enthused by my preservice teachers this week. They are such a great bunch of colleagues in training.
Today we found out just how effective authentic collaboration can be in primary school H&SS* planning.
Each preservice teacher was given a resource from the Eureka rebellion, a key event in the development of Australian democracy and race relations, and I asked them to incorporate it into an activity or sequence of activities for Year 5 or 6*. I gave them 30 minutes to work individually, in pairs or groups, depending on their preference. I suggested they think strategically about their use of time and take an interdisciplinary approach. In other words, use the Eureka story to enhance other disciplines.
I gave them one example. A Behind the News special where children role played the people and times of the Australian Gold Rushes. I gave them nothing else to go on except the words: “You know what you are doing. You have been on professional experience. You are creative practitioners and I am sure you will think of something great.” I encouraged them to leave the classroom and go and get a coffee, stand in the queue and discuss their ideas. Walk around to get the juices going. Sit in the corner with their laptop.
They are adults. This is adult education. I need to trust they will do the task. I need to instill a culture of trust before they enter a system designed to destroy that trust.
Build some confidence. Confidence breeds greatness.
Most selected to do a role play with their Eureka rebellion source. At first they were a bit upset that they all had the same idea.
Some weird underlying culture in our education system convinces people to believe that doing something different is more likely to get them a better mark. I’m not sure why this is, I don’t know the research, but I have observed it regularly at all levels of education. I actually think some of the best work is done when something normal is looked at differently.
This was a crucial tipping point in how I handled the lesson.
Having conferenced during the 30 minutes, I knew that each role play was slightly different. I needed to unite them behind a cause.
I asked an already confident group to volunteer their ideas, congratulated them, then asked the others to extend the activity. As we went around the room, I watched a group of soon-to-be-teachers collaborate to build a rich group of lesson ideas that incorporated inquiry, perspective analysis, empathy, critical and comprehension literacy, source analysis, research skills, art, drama, technology, media, physics and engineering.
They bounced off each other, expanding and weaving their ideas together. They situated each phase in a sequence that would potentially draw students into a rich understanding of an important Australian event and themselves.
They had Eureka and EUREKA! moments.
I continued to encourage the ideas and reflection, asking them to work through the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of their collaboration.
The SWOT gave me the opportunity to remind my future colleagues that they need to engage in mindfulness practices, to look after themselves, to seek groups of teachers that can support each other in the development and implementation of big, bold ideas.
We talked about learning to read and reading to learn. We talked about the importance of reading out loud. We talked about spinning a darn good yarn.
I wanted to empower them. Too often teachers feel like they are not good enough, there is too much stress and there is too much to cover. The time taxes are becoming impossible to pay.
The people who know how to change the system are the diggers: the people who are in the mines, on the coal face (or gold face as it were).
I believe that as a profession and as parents we need to start empowering teachers. If teachers are browbeaten they will find it difficult to see a way to change a system we all know is in desperate need of change.
We need to stop the negative talk. We need to stop the us and them. We need to stop with the “my child’s bloody teacher”s.
If there really is an issue, take appropriate action, but otherwise, gossip and bitching makes it worse for everyone. Teachers know what it’s like. Have some empathy, do something, don’t get sucked into the talk.
We need to unite and build a stockade of support for each other.
*The new Humanities and Social Sciences (H&SS) curriculum doesn’t stipulate where to locate Eureka. Is it in a significant event of the 19th century (Year 5) or is it an event that led to Federation (Year 6)?