Over the recent "ski week" holiday I was reading a blog post by Hall Jackson about interactive white boards. Now this post is nothing to do with IWBs, though perhaps I may come back to this topic at some later stage. No, the real thing that caught my eye in this post was how Jackson likened teaching to being a tourist. As an international educator and traveller for over 20 years I've had the same sort of thoughts, but never really formalised them as such in the way he did.
The first type of tourist is the package tour type (think 18-30, think Club Med, think SAGA) where everything is organised: where you stay, what you eat, tours, information etc. Basically you just show up and everything is done for you. I've seen teachers (and students) who love this approach - they open the textbook at the beginning of the year, and at the end they are through with it. When I first started teaching in international schools we actually had big plastic packs that had come from the States - these plastic boxes contained text books, work sheets, tests, films etc in them and to be honest you didn't really even need to be a teacher - everything was planned for you, down to the sort of jokes you had to tell and when you had to smile! Coming from the UK where we wrote a lot of our own curriculum (in the days before there was a national curriculum!) this was quite a revelation to me. Sure it felt "secure" to have this pack, but somehow it didn't feel quite right. I missed the creativity of designing my own courses. I dipped in and out of these boxes for a couple of months, but to be honest, most of the time they just gathered dust at the back of the room. I've never been a one-size-fits-all kind of teacher.
There there's what Jackson called the JOJO type of tourists. The ones that travel on a bus going on a certain route, but who can get off and on where they like, stay where they like, eat what they like and so on. These people stay as long as they like in the places that interest them and then jump back on the next bus again. There is a set route, but you have to navigate and choose your own way along it. In international schools I have seen many teachers like this. Sure they know where they want the students to be by the end of the year, but along the way there they allow the students to set the pace. Some things will call for deeper inquiry than others. Some students will be more interested in some aspects than others. These teachers are flexible, patient and creative. They probably don't often teach lessons the same way twice. Now to be one of these sorts of teachers you have to be in a school that doesn't insist on every single class in the grade being on the same page at the same time. Probably this school is not heavily reliant on standardised testing. Teachers have to feel comfortable with the fact that they and their students have different strengths. Inquiry should look different in each classroom, though the learner outcomes will be the same as during planning meetings all teachers will have agreed on the central understanding they want students to have.
Finally there's the Lonely Planet type of tourist - they set off into the unknown and plan their own trip as they go. Sometimes things don't go quite according to plan, but on the other hand there are many interesting and quirky diversions that they wouldn't necessarily have come across any other way and it sure is a great learning experience. As a traveller I've realised I'm a Lonely Planet type of person - in fact once when my children were young we actually did go into a travel agency on our way home from school as I was booking a ferry ticket. To amuse my children, the travel agent gave them some brochures to look through while he was booking our ticket. The children's eyes grew wide as they looked at pictures of luxurious resorts and theme parks, then my son turned to the travel agent and said "We would NEVER go to a place like this for our holidays". Now as a teacher I'm thinking that I'm a bit of a Lonely Planet teacher myself too. I love it when the students go off and independently pursue their own interests, actually I actively encourage it. I always have a good idea of the end goal, but often am a bit vague about the way we are going to get there. I like trying out new things with the students and I feel we all learn a lot, even if things don't go exactly to plan. I'm quite happy to let students know that I don't have all the answers. I'm quite happy to inquire alongside them into things I don't know much about.
So this week I am starting kite design with my Grade 7 technology class. Right now I know nothing about kites at all, and though I have seen lots of people flying them in various countries of the world, I have actually never seen anyone flying one in Switzerland, which is not a very windy country. Right now I'm a little nervous about the fact that although I know nothing at all about how to get a kite airborne, by the end of this half term we will actually be out flying the kites that our students have designed and made themselves. Right now I don't even have a "Lonely Planet" guidebook, or a "Kite Making for Dummies" handbook. I think it's time to go and do a little bit of research on the internet ......