Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Imagineering Schools

The Walt Disney Company has a job title called Imagineer. In fact, there is an entire Imagineering department and you can actually get hired as an Imagineer. The job responsibilities include "Creating the never before seen". How awesome is that? People get to work all day toward dreaming up the perfect entertainment for a changing culture. They get to tweak and streamline what already exists and dream up new ideas out of thin air.

What if we had Imagineers for Education? What if we took a hard look at how we do things and how our structures are set up and changed them with the idea of providing the perfect education for kids in a changing culture? What if we put learning, real learning, ahead of convenience for the adults in the school, quantifiable data collection, and an homage to the way things have always been done. What if we really did put kids first?

I often ask other teachers, "If you were to dream up a brand new way for kids to learn, how much would it resemble the current school structure?" Nearly everyone has replied, "Not at all." In fact, most teachers would throw out the entire system and start from scratch. Yet we are stuck. We are entrenched in a system that seems too big, too immobile, too archaic. We think, " I am only one teacher. How much change can I really make?"

The trick is to start small. We all have nearly total control of our own classrooms. Why can't we start there? Why can't we do things dramatically differently and focus on the kiddos? The big secret in education is that we really can affect change even if it is only at the micro-local level of our own classrooms. Don't like the textbooks? Throw them out and find better resources. Don't like the reading materials you're using? Chuck 'em and find something else. Don't like the structure of time at school? Use the time you have differently. Don't like the isolation of being a classroom teacher? Blow the door off of that classroom, collaborate with others inside and outside of the school, and watch things change for the better. Tired of seeing drone-like automatons scratching out answers on a worksheet? Burn those worksheets and collaborate with the KIDS to come up with better things to do to reach those learning goals.

Many teachers who have been in the system for a while have lost their ability to dream. Not kids. They dream all the time. Sometimes they are having a glassy-eyed daydream while we are trying to explain what we are doing in class that day. How did we lose our ability to dream? Of course, we are overloaded with work, have too little time to plan anything and have meetings out the wazoo. But the most important thing any teacher can do is dream. Dream about the way kids should learn. Dream about the way teachers should teach. Dream about the ideal collaborative and learning space. Just dream. Soon enough, those dreams will start to turn into reality. At first it will start with a little different furniture in class and then a few cool learning activities. Then it may morph into including kids in the planning process. Who knows? It may even turn out that we have classes of kids teaching each other as we roam the room, facilitating and providing some expertise here and there. 

Dreaming is restorative. It fuels us, excites us, drives us to become better and better. Our kids desperately need us to be better and better each day. We have to trust that we can be the people who design better learning experiences for our kiddos. With our determination and creativity, we can become the Imagineers that our schools so desperately need. 

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