My Journey to Disruption
Pause for a minute. Visualize your childhood classroom; What was it like? Did you sit in rows? Robotically complete worksheets? Answer questions at the end of the chapter? Back then, knowledge was static and isolated, it belonged to those who retained it and who were tasked with passing it on. That is the way it was…now think for a moment is it different today? Our students have never known a world without computers or the internet. They are the ‘Google generation.’ They have the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, experts at the click of a mouse and a myriad of classrooms a mere video call away.
From the moment I decided to become a teacher, I instinctively knew I could NOT teach in a traditional way, with students in rows being compliant learners, but I didn’t know where or how to begin making changes. There was no Twitter – or real time professional development to help me rethink instruction in my classroom. Then, once locked in a classroom for six periods a day, it was harder to learn directly from other teachers who were also questioning the status quo. I knew I wanted to do things differently. So, my journey began by looking for educational heroes – those who helped me began to innovate instruction and stop believing in the power of a textbook or the data points of a multiple choice test.
When I first began my teaching career, disruption had an entirely different meaning. It was associated with poor behavior in the classroom and was usually accomplished by a class-clown who was showing off his or her comedic skills during class – or talking too much to a friend instead of listening to the teacher . In fourth grade, my own teacher nicknamed me “Motor Mouth” because I was apparently one of those types of disrupters…wonder what she would think of me now. Now I speak and hopefully disrupt for a living.
Now I am a different kind of disrupter…one who asks why? One who sees the real pitfalls of standardized testing and someone who wants to do something about it! Not for myself, but for the students whose passion we never realize by teaching them answers. I want to shake-up education so much that what floats back down is something that looks completely different. Something fun, full of questions, full of failure and an environment that values application over practice. I want kids playing the real game, not showing up for twelve years of practice.
As I began thinking about how I would change instruction in my classroom, I always seemed to go back to my favorite movie. During high school, I was obsessed with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Who doesn’t love following the mishaps of a kids trying to get out of school for a day – and live life?
I often reflected on that movie, because of its humorous depiction of an instructor “teaching answers,” and as the students sit shockingly bored, he calls out “anyone, anyone” and then continues teaching answers.
Although fictitious, the movie really captures the angst of the traditional school room. A teacher who must teach certain information to students who could care less about it, because of his delivery. I refused to follow in his footsteps – the exact footsteps of my teachers- so I kept him at the back of my mind each time I planned a lesson.
The footsteps I DID want to follow in were those of the teacher in Dead Poet’s Society. The amazing portrait of an unorthodox teacher captured my soul. Listening to him tell his students to “make your lives extraordinary” gave me chills. I cheered when he had his students rip out pages from their books, and took mental notes as I watched him inspire a love of learning with his rogue teaching style. The quintessential moment we all remember is when his students see him enter the class to pick up his things, and begin standing on their desks desk calling out “”O Captain! My Captain!.”” to show solidarity with their teacher – who had tried something different and challenged them to ask questions, form their own opinions and develop a love of the written word. That is disruption – and I was hooked.
Looking for role models and leaders
In my quest for more role models, I came across a real-life teacher from the North Carolina, named Ron Clark. A true revolutionary, he wanted to make a difference so he moved to Harlem and there he found himself a fish out of water. He had to find a way to reach his urban and diverse learners. To do this, he rolled up his sleeves, dug in.. and did things differently. He wrote rap songs, painted his room lively colors and took a look around at his students and said to himself…how can I do this differently (how can I disrupt)?
The secret is…he didn’t just ask..he answered his own very important and innovative question and started turning teaching and learning on it’s head. This is one of the qualities of a disrupter that I have come to learn about. Something he still does today at The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. He doesn’t know it, but he is my hero – and my role model and the basis for all the disruption that would be part of my next seventeen years in the classroom – some even getting me in trouble.
What I quickly came to understand, was that these role models were disrupters, and I wanted to be one too! I was so inspired by these disrupters that as soon as the back-to-school commercials started hitting the airwaves, I would head to my VCR and watch a few inspirational movies to gear up for the upcoming year. That was my Professional Development in a time when PD meant horrible teacher meeting about how we could keep the status quo alive and well, and punish students for acting out. At the time, there were a few movies that completely quenched my inspirational needs. They all revolved around teachers who did something dramatically different to reach their students and to inspire a love of learning in them. (Here is a list of the movies I loved: Dangerous Minds, The Ron Clark Story, Freedom Writers Diary and The Dead Poet’s Society).
That is where my disruptive story started, but true disruption came when I started paying attention to the business world…which I will talk about in the next blog post.