Yesterday was our first day back as an iDiploma team, and we welcomed our newest Gates cohort of ten incredibly curious learners. As a former classroom teacher, I always struggled with the first day of school and the unstated expectation to go over the syllabus, the grading policy and assign the first homework. What message does that send if that’s how we enter the new school year? To me, it sends the message that as the teacher I have the power: I assign, I grade and I deliver expectations that I intend for you to meet. What does that leave the student to do other than be compliant and figure out the best way to play the game of school? So six or seven years ago, I vowed not to do that. I began the year with experiences that empowered learners to DO something. I thought long about the culture I wanted to cultivate in my classroom, and I started infusing exercises and activities that were playful, and empowered learners rather than encourage compliant students.
Now that I work with the iDiploma group, and our mantra is “We’re not a class. We’re a Startup” it’s even more critical that we steer away from putting up the guardrails and setting boundaries. Innovator’s create. They collaborate. They test ideas. They fail. So that’s how we began. Inspired by Emily Pilliton’s work with Studio H, my teaching partner, T.J. Edwards cut up 25 8 foot two by fours into a set of 100 blocks…and he did that three times (He’s pretty awesome). We split the kids up into groups and spurred them with mini 6-8 minute challenges that got them working together, testing their ideas and building something. We debriefed their work and were able to pull out some of our key values and beliefs as we saw the kids embody these ideals – we heard some “yes ands;” we watched groups celebrate each other’s wins, and during the silent challenge of building a circle, we were able to talk about how important it is to not feel compelled to constantly fill the air with your words. Watching and observing is important, too. When towers collapsed, there was laughter and a desire to quickly rebuild, something we hope will happen throughout the year when faced with a challenge. The energy was high and the message was strong: we want you to build relationships and tangible things in this space. We want you to jump in, ask questions, share the air, and be testing rather than be tested.