Creating “space” for thought

Our campus has a Vision committee which I’ve mentioned before, made up of parents, students, administrators and teachers.   Yesterday at our meeting, we were discussing the books Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner  and Horace’s Compromise by Theodore Sizer, and in discussing the two books together some interesting alchemy came up.

One of our parents delineated the five minds outlined by Gardner:  the Respectful Mind, Ethical Mind, Disciplined Mind, Synthesizing Mind, and Creative Mind.

As we started discussing the difficulty with synthesis and creativity if the curriculum is too “content” driven, one of the parents pointed out that how can we expect anyone (including both our teachers and our students) to be creative or synthesize or worry about a discipline when they don’t have the mental room to breathe in many of our rigorous-focused environments.    One of the teachers on our committee also talked about as a newer teacher, lack of that time to breathe meant she was more in survival mode her first few years of teaching than anything.

All of which brought up some thoughts for me–

1.  How are we supporting new teachers so that they have time to breathe?  We expect a lot of them–often new teachers come in with multiple assignments, as floaters from room to room, as part time coaches on the side, etc.   Even when providing mentoring, what else could we do to support them better?

2.  How are we supporting students so that they have time to breathe, and so they aren’t always rushing from thing to thing, from homework assignment to activity?  Could we have a homework/activity free week once in awhile?   Could we focus less on “content driven” curriculum where we try to “cover” things, and spend a little more time on one particular thing, delving more deeply into it?   As Theodore Sizer comments, ‘can we expect students to learn more while being taught less?’

3.  Are we passing our stress onto our students regarding testing?   Can we instead focus on passing them confidence, which helps create room for them to breathe?
4.  How do our school schedules reinforce this lack of “space” for thought?  And what can we do about that?
I wonder what we are saying to our students as future adults about how to live their lives when we foster environments that are driven by constant stress, overwork, overcommitment, and lack of creative time?

As one of the parents on our committee asked, “What do we value?  When you walk around our campus, what do we see?”

Look around your campus or classroom today.  What do you see?

6 thoughts on “Creating “space” for thought

  1. We have had similar discussions on our campus. Next year, we are moving to a new schedule, one that rotates and allows for breaks between classes for both students and teachers (much like a college schedule). It will be interesting to see what we all do with this “breathing time” and whether it is abused. I hope not. There is great potential.

  2. That word “schedule” just makes me shudder. I’m not sure how you would get over the transition from scheduled time to more free-flowing time, but I think it’s the only way forward. My learning doesn’t stop after 45 arbitrary minutes have gone by, why should the students’?

    I think schools suffer from placing, on themselves, the pressure to be all things to all people. We can’t leave something out, because then one constituent group would be upset, so we’ve got to include everything. And when you include everything, you don’t leave much time for space or breathing room.

  3. So true, Kim. And some teachers are more concerned with covering their content, so they are obviously concerned with fewer class periods (approximately 20 fewer over the course of the year). I, though, see time for working collaboratively or getting extra help, time for learning new technologies, time for thinking about the content. I hope we don’t fill the “time” with all those other things people want.

  4. Great questions raised.

    It does often seem that we’re programming our students to rush-rush-rush to the task without really exploring or enjoying anything along the way, which I feel hinders their learning to love learning.

    When I look around my school this week, I see burned-out, ready-to-get-out students…and some teachers, as well. (We’re in the midst of state testing.) There really isn’t any breathing room anywhere until that sigh of relief come June 3rd.

  5. Great comments.

    Kim, I agree–sometimes I think we should “cover” less and focus on depth not breadth. What does it mean to know something fully? and what does it add to our experience?

    Susan, It’ll be really interesting to see how this works on your campus. And I’m sure there will be the temptation to fill the time with other things–it’ll take courage and vision to resist that.

    And Jo–I agree that stress shows up everywhere in our schools this time of year. But it doesn’t seem really like the stress of real learning does it?

  6. Definitely not the stress of learning, it’s more like the stress of trying not to forget what’s been crammed!

    @scmorgan: How will supervision work during those times between classes?

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