Imagining Better Conversations

A few days ago Will Richardson shared on his blog a conversation that he’d had with his daughter. I found his post to be very discouraging and, unfortunately, indicative of what often masquerades as education in many classrooms. I thought about this conversation for a long time and then decided to try to re-write it based on my ideas of what young people in 2009 should be doing in English class. The part in blue is the original conversation from Will’s blog. The remaining part is my idealized view of what should have happened:

Heard while driving home from Tess’s basketball game earlier.

“But Dad, I’m the only one in my class who doesn’t have a cell phone.”

“I know Sweetie, but that’s not a great reason for getting one.”

“But Dad, it’s like embarassing.”

“I’m sorry Tess, really. Mom and I will talk about it again, but for now…”

“Ugh.”

Silence for a few minutes.

“So, anything happen at school today?”

“No.”

“Nothing?”

“Ugh. We got a writing assignment.”

“A writing assignment? What kind?”

“We’re learning persuasive essays.”

“Persuasive essays? Well that’s kind of appropriate.”

“Like, what do you mean?”

“Well, don’t you have something you want to persuade me to do?”

She looks at me and smiles. “Cell phone!” Pause. “Ugh.”

“What?”

“I can’t do it on cell phones.”

“Why not?”

“Because our teacher said we should focus on things we’re really interested in.”

“Aren’t you interested in getting a cell phone?”

“No. Well, yes … but this is … different. I wanna write about sharks.”

“Makes sense. You know a lot about them. But how would you make your essay persuasive?”

“People are prejudiced against sharks. Everyone thinks sharks are bloodthirsty, violent creatures. It’s not true. Not all of them are … and they can work together, too. I wanna write about that.”

“And your teacher said yes?”

“She did, and … get this, she said I could interview this expert on sharks from the University of …  uhm, I forget. But she is a researcher and an expert on sharks.”

“Is … she coming to do a talk at school?”

“No, dad. I will be meeting with her online, and with some other researchers that work with her.”

“Online? Just you? What about other kids?”

“They have other topics, so they’re working with other people.”

“Online?”

“Yes, online.”

“So, you’re going to find out more about sharks from this researcher in … where is she again?”

“Somewhere in California, I think … yes, she has a blog and some of her research is also online. She posted movies from her previous research trips on YouTube … we’re chatting tomorrow during class.”

“That’s soon!”

“We have to meet this week. She’s leaving for a research expedition, for two months …”

“… so you won’t be able to get in touch with her after she leaves.”

“Well, she’ll be sending updates to her lab from her cell phone … I guess her assistant could email them to me.”

“… or you could get your own cell phone.”

“Exactly!”

Paulo Freire always claimed that we should use our imagination to reframe our reality – to see beyond that which we find oppressing. This re-working of Will’s conversation is my attempt to imagine a better classroom and to emphasize that what teachers need today – and more today than at any time in the past – is imagination.

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4 Responses to Imagining Better Conversations

  1. Charlie A. Roy January 17, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    An interesting post and a creative follow up. I’m reading Ken Robinson’s book “The Element” right now and he essentially describes creativity as applied imagination. Anyone can learn the technical elements of being web 2.0 literate but the real transformational learning takes place when these tools are integrated as you mention above. I’d like to know as a principal how can I encourage this type of work amongst my staff. I want them to take risks and try new things.

  2. Konrad Glogowski January 19, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Hi Charlie and thanks for stopping by.

    Robinson’s work is pertinent here. I agree that this transformation we’re experiencing now isn’t just about learning to use the tools – it’s primarily about looking at how it promotes a more acoustic perception and what this massive shift means to our educational institutions.

    I would also say that you are one of the very few principals I know who openly says “I want [my teachers] to take risks and try new things.” I think many of us today are trying to figure out how to encourage teachers to do that. I believe that part of the answer lies with people like you – principals and administrators. You’re asking a difficult question here, but it is a question that we must continue to ask. There are many things you could consider implementing (and I’d be happy to chat about that via email) but I would begin by showing the teachers at your school Will Richardson’s entry and asking: “So, what do you think is wrong here? How would you fix it?” I think we need to initiate and sustain conversations about school change and practitioner inquiry. It won’t happen if it’s mandated from the ministry. It will happen if it emerges from meaningful in-school conversations that encourage teachers to re-invent themselves.

    – Konrad

  3. Cheryl Morin January 19, 2009 at 9:44 pm #

    I enjoyed reading the new version of the conversation because I have since learned in my latest Master’s classes that
    reframing is an important skill to learn in order to create genuine understandings, and win-win situations especially when working with others-teens, children, parents, like all teachers do.

    Initiating and sustaining conversations is a bit more difficult with Middle Year’s and High School students especially if they expect adversarial type of encounters with adults. I find that by sharing an interest in technology or at least attempting to learn about it as an adult, I am sharing with my students that I am very interested in learning more about their technological way of life. I want them to teach me how to use and make it work for me and our classroom learning experiences. I want them to feel empowered by their knowledge and capabilities they have with technology in order to initiate positive change in our world.

    If I am not open or willing to listen to other ideas, or be cognizant of students’ needs, then any hope I have of a conversation is short or shut off. In the end, it is all about respect, accountability and responsibilities.

  4. Ken Allan January 24, 2009 at 6:53 am #

    Kia ora Konrad

    I agree that teachers need imagination more now than ever before. However, I also feel the same way about their students.

    There is a decrease in the use of visual ideas and images in student every day life. This starts from an early age when toys (10 to 20 years back and since then) now leave little to the imagination. TV hasn’t helped. Neither do the highly visual games that many students play.

    Simply asking students to imagine (as a thinking/learning tool) is not as successful as it was in the past. So there is a growing need for the use of visual images as learning tools to stimulate student imagination.

    Frankly, the teachers are in a bind with this. In order to get their teaching point across they are exercising their imagination in finding more innovative ways of performing the wonderful trick of educating students.

    In education terms, it’s the student who really needs to have the imagination stretched and developed – as a learning exercise, not just so the particular concept in the Science class or English lesson can be learnt.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

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