Technology tools, new strategies, innovative ideas...I could go on and on. It seems like we are constantly adding to the plates of educators in an effort to find the "silver bullet" that will engage today's learners. Spoiler alert...there is no silver bullet. As so many already know, it doesn't exist. However, there are tools, strategies, and ideas that can be used in the classroom to make learning more meaningful. The reality is that those tools, strategies, and ideas should be different for individual educators and potentially, individual learners.
We don't teach robots, we teach people. None of them are the same, meaning that they do not and will not learn the same regardless of how much easier that would make the educating them. And yet, we continue to add to the plates of teachers asking them to try this, try that while never giving them the permission to take the things off of the plate that aren't working.
So, I love the show Monk. I binge watch it often on Prime Video and just enjoy everything about it. If you've seen the show before, you know that Monk is a private detective with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a past that is revealed throughout each episode. If you've seen the show, you know that Monk does not like for his food to touch. When he orders food, he will return it if anything is remotely close to something else on the plate and becomes frustrated easily by a plate that is full.
Last time I was watching the show, I couldn't help but realize that Monk's plate is representative of the plate of teachers. As we continue to add to our plates, we are forgetting that it's okay if our food touches. Instead, we keep it all separate in an effort to check off all of the boxes. Social emotional learning happens when the counselor comes in, innovation (think Genius Hour, Makerspace) happens on Friday afternoons, and technology happens when it's convenient or available. Each one has a spot on the plate. Can you imagine not letting these things touch each other and trying to constantly add to that plate? Eventually, it would be impossible and the plate would be too difficult to carry.
What if instead of creating a plate like Monk's, we made plates that were more similar to the plate of someone at a Thanksgiving meal wanting to fit it all in? I think about my Thanksgiving meal plate and not only is the food touching, but I intentionally mix some things in order to get the "perfect bite".
Let me explain...what if we were able to weave social emotional learning into every learning experience that we design? What if we were intentional about sprinkling life ready skills (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Reflection) into everything that we do just like sprinkling salt and pepper onto our meals? What if we only used technology in an experience if it was going to result in the "perfect bite"? Do you see where I'm going with this?
What's on your plate? Are there things that have to be on your plate because it's mandated by the state or the district? If so, what could you mix in to make it more meaningful and enjoyable?
Are there things that you could take off of your plate? The first step in disrupting a system that doesn't work is to stop doing what doesn't work. Make it a priority to examine the plate often and consider what doesn't need to be taking up space. In doing so, you will make new space for new ideas that might result in a more meaningful learning experience for your students.
Let's be honest, sometimes we are asked to take things off of the plate that we feel should stay on the plate. We know how beneficial it is and how powerful it can be when done well. This makes me think of all of the times my mom would make recipes with the vegetables that I didn't like. She would mix it in so well that I never knew it was there. When you are asked to take things off of your plate, consider the beneficial or powerful parts of that tool, strategy or idea. Be creative and find ways to weave those parts into the aspects that you must include in the experiences that you design. Honor what you being asked to do while still being true to what you know works and impacts your learners.
Take some time to reflect on your plate. Be willing to let your food touch and don't feel as if you have to continue to carry a full plate without reflecting on what should be taken off. Share your thoughts in the comments below...I'd love to hear about your plate.