This article won 2nd prize in the Intrepid Ed News Summer Writing Contest. The writing prompt was: “I think my profession needs…” Congratulations to Benjamin Freud!
I think my profession needs to move away from the role of singer-songwriter and more toward orchestra conductor. Singer-songwriters control every aspect of the performance, from the creative process that takes place in composing pieces to the setlist, which instruments to bring onstage, the rhythm, lyrics, and even the chatter with the audience in between songs. What they don’t control is how the audience will react. Orchestra conductors don’t play instruments (at least not while they’re conducting); they point to different instrument sections, individual artists, and manage the overall emotional feel of the piece played through pace, intensity, and timing. Instruments come together at the right time to create a musical experience.
Now the picture I am painting is not the one where the teacher is the conductor and each student is a unique instrument that will blossom in its own way. That’s great too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not what I mean.
In my analogy, the teacher is the conductor, each instrument is a member of the community, each instrument section is a type of person, place, or thing, and each learning experience is the music.
In my analogy, each instrument is a stakeholder in the children’s learning and the music is the learning experience. The teacher conducts the learning orchestra.
What if schools were places of learning that went beyond the classroom and connected with the community at large, drew on the expertise of practitioners who worked alongside pedagogues and students on projects that allowed all members to acquire and apply knowledge, develop skills, and most importantly, worked on addressing a problem in the community?
Teachers would then be called learning conductors, calling upon experts with different knowledge and skillsets as and when needed, sometimes individually, in pairs, sections, or all together. Conductors would quicken or slow down the pace, raise the intensity and the volume as needed to help create music that moves, music that transforms, music that has an impact on others.
Music is the learning experience. The instruments are all the people who help create music as a totality. Different specialists and practitioners come together to make music: generalist and discipline teachers, professionals, artists, experts, peers… the conductor making sure all play together in unison to create symphonic sounds of everyone and everything creating a learning experience.
Example: A group of early middle school students wants to raise funds for the local animal shelter by organizing a walkathon. This project is interdisciplinary in scope and deepens knowledge and application of skills of negative numbers, ratios, statistics, graphs, design, persuasive writing, PE, biology, zoology, community care, social studies… it is only limited by the imagination. What if practitioners who worked outside the school lent support? Photographers would teach technique, vets would invite students to learn about how to help stray cats and dogs, events planners would provide frameworks to facilitate logistics, local bakers would come to help bake goods to sell at the events, marketers would guide the process to get the word out, accountants would give basic but effective lessons on how to keep track of funds and ensure profitability… the support of the community is only limited by the imagination…
…and the availability of practitioners. In order to generate participation from the community, independent schools could make it a requirement for parents to donate their time or provide tuition discounts for those who did (public schools could do the same with tax incentives). While financial incentives are the low-hanging motivators, it would be even more powerful for community involvement to be part of the school’s DNA.
This would create centripetal forces that bring the community inside the school and centrifugal forces that have students contribute to the community.
I think my profession needs to embrace the changes that await beyond the liminal year we’re in. We will have to re-write the narrative of school if we want to re-write the future of the planet, a story that will not end well for us in its current form. We will have to conceptualize school beyond the physical classroom, where an adult invents and implements the teaching. School can become any space where learning takes place, beyond physical boundaries, where a conductor orchestrates the learning experience bringing in all facets of the community, consisting of both professional educators and practitioners to create music, to create learning, to bring it all together as a complete experience.