The Easiest Thing We Learn from the Classroom May Be the Thing We Teach Worst

This is funny on so many levels.

Whatever your training was or has been in a classroom space, that’s the easiest skill to transfer to other spaces. If we are doing it decently, our classrooms offer spaces for the free exchange of ideas. If we’re doing it a little better, those ideas are new to many of the people in the room. If we’re operating in the top percentiles, those ideas are being pushed, pulled, and resisted in ways that leave everyone thinking, feeling heard, and knowing they were cared for.

Executing that last one is difficult. What’s easy is the transference of whatever habits of conversation are the mode for a learning space into other spaces as well.

You’ve maybe in meetings with folks who answer every suggestion with why it won’t work, why you’re wrong, and why the whole effort is doomed from the start. Rome is burning, they’ll tell you. This is Rome, the’ll claim. While there’s surely a mode of conversation these people experienced within their homes that could align with what you’re experiencing, we’ve seen enough of the power of school to know that it is a path that could have shifted long before they became professional buzzkills.

Teaching in FL, this was one of the key components of setting the best expectations of what we would collectively establish as our classroom culture. We’d talk to each other in ways that recognized the human foibles of the other people and took the stance that all ideas were worth our examination. (When working with 8th graders, I may have phrased it differently, but that was the underlying concept.)

At SLA, it was built into two of the school’s three rules – respect others & respect that this is a place of learning. If those are the guidelines and you begin to build practices around it, buzz kills in training can start to explore social career paths. Over the years, many students walked through the door suspect of the kinds of things we were asking them to do at SLA. They were suspect of working with other students, and for many, it was the first time they were asked to interact in interdependent ways with people from backgrounds different from their own.

And that was the work. That’s what it means to focus on citizenship. We’re in an election year, so it bears repeating. The little things we do like helping students think about how they talk to and about one another and how they discuss new and different ideas matter in ways that can corrode or build up a community or a republic more deeply than an economic policy that runs afoul.

How we talk to one another, now, as adults, was the easiest thing of our classroom experiences to pull forward into adulthood, and it can be one of the most difficult things to change once we’re here.

This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.

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