CMK Reflections: Fiefdoms and Revolutions
One of the best tricks for teachers to pull in any school is to build a class/program that, from the perspective of the institution, is completely useless. Build a bubble between all the places where students are forced to go. Provide them with opportunity and responsibility but no requirements. A space to celebrate their enthusiasm, encourage their accomplishments, but shield them from all external pressures.
Nice work, if you can get it.
Working within independent schools offers more opportunities to build these oasis, but it’s not automatic or perfect. I commiserated with another teacher at CMK about the joy and frustration of having a class that doesn’t count. It’s hard to see amazing student work be dismissed because “they just have fun in your class.” As if that wasn’t the point. As if that somehow invalidated their learning!
Once a teacher has slipped into their school’s Neverwhere or UnLunDun, it’s incredibly tempting to set up camp and stay off the grid for as long as possible. Not sure if there’s a pocket like this at your school? Look for the teacher who quietly spends out of pocket, and says stuff like “I would teach this for free.” The work is incredible, personal, and rewarding. Niche programs attract students who are excited, which naturally leads to students who thrive. Those relationships are powerful, and help weave a cult of personality around the teacher and the program. For independent schools with at-will employment contracts, anything that creates an impression that YOU are unique or irreplaceable has incredible value.
Last week, CMK reminded me of the real costs of teaching and learning beneath the radar.
When a course or topic becomes an exception, uniquely tied to a particular teacher, the whole school loses. What should have been the small start is forgotten behind closed classroom doors. The energy that could have fueled a broader revolution is sequestered away and dies in a fiefdom.