Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One day without mandated outcomes

I was recently involved in a session about creativity in the classroom.  The presenter brought forth the fallacies with common and traditional assessment.  After lots of discussion, case studies, videos, and examples of alternate assessment and instruction the session ended.

First off, I have to say that the staff that participated was amazing!  The open minds, deep conversations and already exemplary teaching styles were quite evident.  However, nothing made me more amazed than the comment the principal said at the end of the session.  After the applause to the presenter, the thank yous and handshakes the principal stood up, looked at his staff and said:

“Imagine if you were driving down the highway in a brand new 2011 Mustang.  The cops have all been called away from the road, the deer have been contained, and all other drivers are giving you the full road to explore and try out this new car”

“Ummm…ok” said a teacher in the crowd

The principal paused then started again

“Now let’s take this to a classroom.  One day next week, let’s pretend there are no final exams, no unit tests, no marks to update, no mandated curriculum, and no one from Alberta Education to tell you what to teach.  Take one day and let your students explore their own learning.  Using the taught strategies in this session, open the “learning” doors for students and just let them discover something that as meaning to them”.

If hugging was socially acceptable I would have given this administrator the biggest one ever.  Driving home, I thought of “What would schools look like if all administrators gave this chance to their teachers?  What if every day was this special day?  What if the needs of the students overpowered the needs to teach the curriculum?

I hope all his staff follow through with his directive and truly allow for authentic and autonomous learning to occur, if only for one day.

Awesome job Mr. Principal, I have found another individual who I would feel honored to call my boss!


  1. " Using the taught strategies in this session, open the “learning” doors for students and just let them discover something that as meaning to them”."

    How did they teach the strategies in the session?

    Bob Hansen

    PS: I am not against a play day, it sounds like a good idea. Judging from my son's calendar, his school has a few during the year.

  2. The strategies were taught by posing questions to the group, allowing for "think pair share" activities to occur. After, the groups then reported to the large audience and discussed different instructional and assessment strategies.

  3. I think he is referring to something deeper than a 'play day'. What he was talking about has more to do with students taking charge of their own learning and having some passion for their learning.

  4. Greg, I think you misunderstood what I meant. To students that are passionate about math, math is play. Dave didn't post any details but I assume that the students are playing with math. In the days before hyper-testing and this obsession with every single student being forced through mathematics, there was a lot more play. In the later grades I mean. It was more like music class, you know, where most of the kids are there because they just like the subject. I have often wondered what it would be like if, instead of math, educationalists had become obsessed with music and forced every student through 12 years of it. I suppose under such a strain we would come up with some new definitions of what "music" is.

  5. Dave: I would propose one day a month, as a beginning.

    Robert: How true! I keep dreaming of school getting out of math beyond arithmetic and to have it as an discovery option.

    But here is another related issue: We keep using class time for the basics and expect students to get deeper at home, through homework and independent studies, which they do not care for, or don't know how to make fruitful. What if we switch the order? Let's ask the students to get through the basics on their own and then explore the deeper stuff in class, with the help of our guidance and within a team structure. What would happen?

    I will let you know soon, since I have started trying that (STARTED being the operative word). And yes, the students ARE looking at the basics on their own before coming to class...