The Value of Reinventing the Wheel

Yesterday I was having lunch with two colleagues in the middle of a summer grant day to work on our US history curriculum. A student came by after athletic practice and asked us what we were doing at school. When we told her we were planning the course, she looked concerned and said something to the effect of – “You don’t know what you’re doing yet with school a few weeks away?” We assured her we were just trying to make the course better and she seemed okay with that.

I was struck by a few things – how little our students know about how we operate, how uncomfortable I felt by her comment and how quickly I felt the need to reassure her that we did know what we were doing.

We are planning some new twists this year – students will be blogging, they will be connecting with other students around the country, maybe even abroad – but much of our work involved discussing essential questions, topics, resources and activities, remembering what we liked and did not about past years, and trying to figure how to do what we really want to do with what we perceive as very limited time. In other words, we went over a lot of familiar ground.

Did last year’s course work well? I think so. Will this year’s course be better? I hope so. Will some lessons work better than last year? Yes. Will some be less successful than last year? Again – yes. I used to think that the balance sheet of individual lessons mattered most, but now I realize that the whole needs to be greater than the sum of the parts.

What will make this year successful is the passion and investment of the teachers. It is those conversations about the curriculum reflecting our own learning that matter. We have to keep tweaking, not to make the curriculum better (although we do believe we are doing that) but to keep ourselves fully engaged as learners. On any given day, the difference made by using one resource or another is likely negligible. What matters is that the teacher is energized.

We don’t need to tell the students our revelations as the gospel, but rather to model the process by which we continue to learn and grow. Let’s pull back the curtain this year, sharing not just the product of our work but also the path taken.

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One thought on “The Value of Reinventing the Wheel

  1. I agree completely.It is probably impossible to provide an environment where students develop and grow when it is run by a teacher who has stopped doing those things. Developing and growing are dynamic processes that entail risk, but the rewards always outweigh the failures.

    My 8th grade history teacher read lectures from yellowed pages that seemed about to crumble from age (literally) whenever he turned a page in his notebook. His tests were randomly selected (whole) from archives he’d maintained for years. Those are about the only things I recall from that class; but they are indelibly imprinted in my mind; and I was in that class 51 years ago.

    The lesson I took from that memory was the one you’ve so articulately stated here. Thanks for reminding me of it.

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