In Class as a Teacher-Participant

I have the privilege this semester of having my prep period during one of my colleague Don Wettrick's Innovations classes.  I started sitting in at least once a week and participating in class.  It's a great atmosphere of eager students and a passionate teacher.  If nothing else, it allows me to soak up the positive energy I seek at work to keep myself professionally and mentally happy and healthy.  

Today, Mr. Wettrick had his students give walking white board sessions a try.  A walking white board session involves brainstorming ideas with a small group of people while moving throughout the building.  The students literally rolled white boards around the school jotting down any and all ideas that came to mind as they walked.  (Like I always tell my own students: stimulate the body, stimulate the mind.) I was invited by a student to join his group's walking white board session today, which I happily did.  For me, as a lover of learning, I continue to find so much joy in participating in a class as a student, and Mr. Wettrick's students certainly welcome me into their classroom as an active participant.  But the experience today forced me to pause and really consider some of the positive implications of this experience.

For one, Mr. Wettrick's classroom is already one of a level playing field with student to student collaboration and student to adult collaboration.  The way his students allow me to participate as often as I am able continues to be evidence of this each week.  There is something really amazing about working WITH students.  It reminded me today of the kind of classroom environment I want to have even when I am in the role of "teacher," as opposed to "participant" like I am in Mr. Wettrick's class.  In some ways it is the same reason I got rid of my teacher desk; I want to sit with students when I can.  I want to talk with them like fellow humans.  I want to brainstorm with them and share ideas.  There is a recognition of the humanness of both teacher and student when this happens and a minimization of the power dynamics that are at play.

Another thought that came to mind today is the number of times Mr. Wettrick's students have been able to help me on projects and tasks in the ultimate teacher-student role reversal.  Between getting help finding html tricks to giving student feedback on future instructional ideas, Mr. Wettrick's students have already in a month and a half taught me a lot.  I really have nothing but great things to say about my experience as a teacher-participant in this class.

My next thought this afternoon then centered around this experience as a professional development opportunity.  What if teachers could go into other teachers' classrooms and participate as students periodically?  How might this inform classroom instruction?  How might it foster a more positive teacher-student dynamic?  In thinking of my own social studies classes, I would love to have other teachers participate in class occasionally to challenge the status quo, offer new ideas and suggestions, and participate along with my students.  What a unique experience that could be.  If a follow-up conversation occurred later between the teachers, how might we then be able to use that teacher participant's experience to refine our instruction? Would the focus become less on teaching and more on learning?  There certainly is a place for feedback on pedagogy and instructional strategies, but teachers get that all the time from our evaluations.  How much feedback are we getting from someone participating as a learner?  Even as I write this and continue to hone my thoughts, I really care less about the feedback in some ways.  The power of my participation in Mr. Wettrick's class is getting to professionally relationship-build with the students as colleagues.  The game changes when we are all working toward a similar goal on a level playing field.

Thank you to Mr. Wettrick's block 6 Innovations class for allowing me to participate.  I love just being human together in a space were we can collaborate and innovate.