“No life is a waste,” the Blue Man said. “The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we’re alone.”
― Mitch Albom
I was thinking yesterday about declarations. Specifically, those of independence. The urge was strong to write here about the need for a Teachers’ Declaration of Independence. It would be a bold document staking our claim and our beliefs in the sanctity and sovereignty of our classrooms and schools.
“These are places of learning,” it would shout in some in a powerful font, “and they will not incur invasions by outside influences or sayers of nay.” It would be a beauty to behold, and also, it would not be true.
We do not need a Teachers’ Declaration of Independence. We are not independent operators. Watching the sometimes evolving, sometime devolving situation in Philadelphia’s public schools, seeing the requirements placed on teachers exiting the university system, and watching as schools attempt to provide the best productivity possible under current and proposed FCC e-rate regulations all point to the idea that what happens in our schools and our classrooms is independent of nothing.
The above factors and myriad more are constantly raining down on all schools and teachers no matter their constitutions or pedagogies. We are interdependent on so many systems that to state otherwise would be a foolhardy foolhardy fallacy.
Instead, perhaps today is the perfect opportunity to wonder about what happens after the bounce of independence, when we look around and realize that we are enmeshed in the lives and workings of those around us.
When I work with schools and districts, this is a sentiment I try to engender first. “I will say some things, give some examples that you will like, and would love to try in your setting. Your gut, though, will have a ‘yeah but’ moment. You will think, ‘Yeah, that’s great, but here’s why it won’t work where I am…'”
The key to these moments is realizing we are interdependent operators and to shift the thinking to, “Yeah, that sounds great, and here’s how I would approach it given the nuances of where I work.”
This is interdependent thinking, and it opens the doors to what we see and understand as possible. It also moves toward building a way of thinking about students and co-workers that realizes the interdependent systems at play in their lives.
In my English classroom, students would come in for what I thought was going to be a great lesson, the looks on their faces and the words in their mouths would sometimes tell me that their thoughts were elsewhere. A physics project was bearing down on them and they were stressed and worried about meeting deadlines and understanding material.
By seeing things interdependently, I adjusted my plans. Would 20 minutes to discuss and work through physics be helpful to their abilities to focus on what we were doing in our classroom? Invariably, yes.
It was an approach that alleviated stress, helped pave the way for success elsewhere and set up our relationship as one that was responsive to needs and caring about how they were operating in the system we called school.
This is to say nothing about how what students left when they walked through the school’s doors was interdependently linked to whatever we asked, challenged, or hoped of them in our 8 hours together.
A declaration of independence is a beautiful thing. It allows for the understanding of individuals as individuals. A declaration of interdependence helps to frame one individual as connected to the individuals around him and to larger networks of individuals a state, a country, a world away. Surely, there’s room in the world for such thinking.