I'll take up Shelly's challenge and sum it up in one word:
Let that be the foundation and you'll see humility. Start with humility and you'll see authenticity. Let those be your guide and you'll have paradox. Real paradox. Start with paradox and you just might have something that's sustainable.
I search through my blog reader one summer afternoon and glance at the deafening sound of the echo chambers.
"Here are twenty-five badass apps that will revolutionize your classroom!"
"Let the kids make decisions for Christ sakes. We need to unschool. Liberate the factories."
"We need PLC's. Let us make wise, data-informed, research-based decisions. Only then will we have schools that truly improve."
"Charter schools are the only answer. The innercity is filled with mediocrity. We need to reform these places with the flexibility that charter schools offer."
Lots of bold answers but not too many questions.
I walk outside and feel the grass beneath my bare feet. I meander toward the the garden. The tomatoes are turning a bright, bold red. Tonight they'll transform into a marinara sauce.
I didn't earn it. I didn't create it. But it grew. Naturally.
The boys beckon me to a mudhole in the yard. They grow and explore and make sense of their world and it's messy, really messy. We clean up and read books and it's tidy. Then it's back outside where they climb a tree. Should I tell them they're going too high? I have no idea.
I vascillate between too much freedom and too much safety; too much direction and not enough support; allowing them to live in the imagination and helping them to see their physical world.
I don't know what I'm doing as a dad. It's shrouded in mystery. It's full of paradox. But I have a hunch that if there is a "right way" it's the path of love. Not insipid love. Not Hallmark love. Gritty love. Messy love. Muddy love.
A month later, I'm in the classroom. I don't know what I'm doing. I have plans. I have knowledge. I have six years of teaching experience. I have a resume that looks impressive. But the present reality is mired in paradox. It's messy. It's confusing. I meander between too strict and too lenient, too much freedom and too much safety. I'm not a pundit. I'm not an expert. But I have a hunch that if there is a "right way" for my students, it's the path of love. Real love. Messy love.
A twenty-first century education needs to be innovative while listening to the vintage voices of the past. It needs to include creativity while still providing a framework for some common skills. It needs to respect the balance of freedom and safety. It needs to understand the complicated and complex human condition. It needs to be a place that respects the local community while still engaging the larger world.
Those are huge challenges with complex ideas. I don't pretend to speak for anyone beyond myself and my own classroom. However, if I can approach my classroom with humility, motivated by love for my students, I think I'll be on the right path.
John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink. He recently finished two books, Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and Drawn Into Danger, a fictional memoir of a superhero. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer