Back in the saddle again…and thinking about activators

I’m back in the saddle again. This morning, after a long hiatus (too long!), I returned to spin class at the YMCA for some group cycling. While I love this activity, some metaphorical contemplations came to mind while I was riding.

  • I was reminded of Rick and Becky DuFour’s definition of professional learning communities, and I was particularly struck thinking about the importance of the interdependence of the team. Often, I have heard Rick compare typical school to a marathon – people all striving toward a common goal, working hard, but not really interdependent…one person’s success does not really depend on other, multiple persons’ successes. Encouragement happens, of course, and there is an energy and advantage to the group, but a group does not really function interdependently. This morning in spin class I was energized and supported by the group dynamic, but our efforts were not truly interdependent. My legs only powered my pedals and gears. I wonder when school work might become more interdependent – truly interdependent. I think we have so much to learn in the schoolhouse from team athletics and performing arts – truly interdependent endeavors with amazing synergies when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Interestingly, the spin room was organized like a typical, quintessential classroom – rows and columns of students facing the front and one instructor facing the group. Why in the world is the spin class organized like this? What possible advantage could this formation have for this group, indoor cycling? What if we organized in a circle? What if the teacher integrated with us and shouted her directions? What if we grouped like a peloton on the open road? Wow, traditional classroom setup really has an influence that places form over function. Perhaps our form should depend on our function?
  • The teacher and the students were co-engaged. The teacher was participating with us – herself spinning on a stationary bike. How often do we classroom teachers genuinely participate with our students? Does the nature of a typical classroom prevent us from doing so? If the teacher already knows all of the content to be delivered, are we too focused on filling the relatively empty vessels? Do we see ourselves as the pitchers to the students’ glasses? What if the activities and learning endeavors were more “authentic” (for lack of a better, more accepted word in education to cover such domain)? Would we then participate more with our young learners? Would we feel more like co-learners? Co-riders? Co-solvers of problems? Co-creators?
  • My assessment in the spin class was well-aligned with the nature of the activity. I am glad that I didn’t have a written test at the conclusion of the class to confirm my understanding of spin and cardiovascular activity. Are our assessments in school well-aligned to the tasks and demands of our learning? Are our assessments too narrowly clumped on one portion of the learning spectrum? Again, seems we could learn so much from team sports and performing arts in this area. Performance-based assessment exists as such a more genuine method of ascertaining the level of progress and stage of process.

Well, this may seem an awkward transition and unrelated paragraph, but I am re-reading and studying Michael Michalko’s Creative Thinkering, which is about the critical importance of relating seemingly unrelated things to advance creativity, so I feel justified in making this jump – I am wondering about the relationships among the above thinking and a recent, excellent blog post by Shira Leibowitz, “From Facilitator to Activator.” For several years, I have been advocating for teachers being more akin to facilitators. But I am changing course, with Shira, and moving to a higher level of advocacy – for us educators to be activators of synergistic learning and doing among teams and ensembles. We have a lot of good, important work to do. We need to do more than pedal like mad on our own stationary bikes. We need to yoke and harness those gears and chains into a collective whole of activator-ness. We could go so much further…we could go so much faster…we could expend so much less wasted energy.

We should pedal together on the open road.