Between action and cut- the scene is theirs. Students write the dialogue- perform the movement, and collaboration. Students play off one another. Speak their personal truth. The props are laid out- the setting permanent, but the theatrics spontaneous. It is not a teachers role to direct every performance. They need to frame the shot. Get the camera aligned. Find the right script- but the rest, the pure gold, the Oscar, Emmy and Tony worthy performances- they come not from a teachers management- but from student enterprise and decision making.
I have been teaching for almost twenty years. Crazy to think back all these years to my first year. I was trying so hard to write, direct and produce every scene. I was determined to get my students- the actors of the classroom drama- to stay on script. Following every suggestion. It was exhausting. And fruitless. Because as we know, and what I have learned- is between action and cut, bell to bell- students are the doers, the sages and performers. They entertain, impersonate and headline. We, the teachers have to be the stage hands, off camera, making sure the stars have what they need. That is our role.
We have to lift our students up into the space- the arena created for them. We spend our summers planning, designing and creating these theaters. We travel and collect. We decorate and stage. We are prop masters after all. And when we pride ourselves in our role. So, when we lean in and listen, silence our tendencies' to direct- we wind up with the most amazing films in the can. At the end of the year we can hunker down and reflect on a beautiful, heartfelt, human centered documentary. One all about the 'unscript'- a live action, spontaneous, student-driven masterpiece.
How can we do this as educators? First of all, we have to trust ourselves. Our ability to let things get noisy and interactive and stay on track. We have to trust our students. The moment we do not trust our students- is the moment we micro-manage and take away their spontaneity. It is the moment our classroom becomes about us, not them. This is something that takes years to master. You must believe in the organized chaos, the off task moments, where kids will be kids. You need to believe in the process of the doer. It takes us doing less and them doing more.
Activities that engage are not necessarily those lessons we love.
Lessons they love are almost always the ones where they lead, they talk and they interact.
We often love lessons that we feel are fun, but that are often very structured to help us feel safe and comfortable. We want them to learn and have fun. We want them to discover and investigate. Have the freedom to fail and play, giggle and get off task. But we are often hesitant to step back and let them happen.
When we allow for a few outbursts, we set the stage for more monologues, buddy films and thought provoking documentaries. But, more importantly, you also create an opportunity for students to be themselves and when we truly learn- when we let our inhibitions fade and jump into a project or creative process, it is because we are not acting, it is when we are ourselves down to the core.
As an educator I want to keep things less framed.
I like the odd angle and Zoom lens like everyone else- but I also love the distance shot, seeing the actors entering the scene, watching them join the action. This is pure gold.
I like it when the camera is rolling and students are ad-libbing and splashing paint on a blank background. The graffiti of growth is powerful.
Some days I get exhausted, not because I am lecturing or monitoring- but because I am watching and letting things unfold naturally. Even after twenty years in the classroom I struggle with letting go of my role sometimes. But it is so worth it. When I can stroll around and just listen. Ask questions and really interact and watch them be themselves, I really get to understand their personalities. Its a cinematographers dream. A beautiful landscape, evolving and shifting in a continual pattern of succession.
Lift them up into the scene.
Be an observer- you can get more information from a class period of organized chaos than a structured assessment.
The organized chaos is engagement staying fluid. Stretching and pulling the imagination. Yet giving time for it to pool on the bottom before the action reignites.
It leaves no room for quiet isolation- until the end of class when you ask them to reflect. A quick ticket out the door, helps solidify a noisy semblance into a personal summary. This is learning. This is how as educators we can set the stage, buy the props, and even make copies of a script (structure) but then allow our students to edit the teleplay. Its all about the highlighter and decision making.
When students lead they thrive.
When dialogue is allowed to take shape, they thrive.
I have learned that the side bar conversations- the personal chat they have- this is momentary and it allows them to have a breather, before they delve back into the content. When I hear it is more than that, I nudge with a class reminder. A ring of the bell on my desk. It is so important to let them lift themselves up into the space.
Whether it is a step stool, ladder or climbing rope- it is an assent. A climb they choose to endeavor and at the end of the scene- when the clapper sounds out its 'cut' clamor- they might just walk to their next class exhausted. They just might remember the information, a little bit better because they got to talk about it when they were being themselves.
This is key- space is empty and fillable.
It is vast and expandable.
It is personal and memorable.
When we create a space less confined, more individual and noisy- free and independent- the space fills with learning and growth.
This is the space I strive every day, to not fix in place, but to keep fluid. This is why I became an educator. This is why I am still an educator. There are days where the scene unfolds naturally and creates a meaningful documentary- effortlessly. Some days its a drama and difficult to get through. Other days it is comedic and funny- we grow from the laughter.
But no matter the day- the scene is theirs from action to cut.