This week, in an effort that may or may not be connected to the recent change in date, I tried something new: Yoga.
My life is wonderfully hectic and the draw of slowing down and unplugging is always under the surface. When I attended my first class the other night, I didn’t expect any personal revelations or quick fixes, just a time to remove myself from normal habits. After nearly an hour of controlled breathing and slow stretching we laid on our backs and did something interesting. Starting with our faces, we worked on contracting different muscle groups as much as we could while still breathing. The tension in each group made it difficult.
I feel like schools have been doing this with high-stakes testing and top-down control for a long time. We’ve been contracting and tightening our schedules and expectations so much that we’re blue in the face.
The next part of the exercise is releasing the tension. The contrast helps you understand how to let go of the stress you carry in different muscle groups.
It’s time for our schools to exhale.
We need to release all of this test-anxiety driven tension about global scores, rankings, and deficits and focus on what our schools are intended to: encourage learning, curiosity, and creativity.
Even with the most well-meaning of efforts, our leaders in education continue to push our conversations away from learning and toward measuring. Don’t get me wrong, I love data; I love Excel spreadsheets, SPSS, and analyses that aid me in doing my job (encouraging learning in kids) in a smarter way. But since I’ve started teaching (and long before that as a student) I’ve felt our focus as a profession has been misplaced. The role of schools is not to sort out dumb from smart, Ivy League from JuCo, or gifted from the herd. The school is an institution where every child deserves to find value and connection.
If we want our children to be ready to solve the problems of our future, we need to think about how we meet them where they are today. The 24-hour news cycle has us fixated on fast and flimsy data that fits into a lower-third or a soundbyte. We’re not going to beat–as though it were a win/lose situation–countries that have massively different social and economic structures; we need to work within our democratic structure and enable all kids to learn. When we can do that, we won’t be “ahead” and we won’t have “won,” but those shouldn’t be our goals anyway.
I see it like the difference between a body-builder and a performance athlete. Sure those countries “ahead of us” have some serious stats to flex, but what are they using them for? Have you ever seen a body-builder score a touchdown or run a marathon? I didn’t think so. Successful performance athletes and successful schools know it’s not about the muscle, it’s about the whole person/child.
In my own quest for better health, I’ve been trying to control my breathing and make slow deliberate improvements. In my quest for a kind of personal learning that I share with my students and peers, I’m learning to lose the unneeded stresses of immediate feedback and fast but flimsy data and find my center line. Now that my shoulders have hunched back into that familar tension, it’s time to step back from the keyboard, and breathe: something my students and I both need to do more often.