Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Power of Autonomy

(Photo by John Hendrixson)

Releasing control can be hardest thing in the world. As a teacher, I want to plan, prep, prepare, and ensure that everything is perfectly in place to make certain my classes run smoothly and my students are successful.  Calm, productive, engaged, that is what we all want for our students, right?

In the past few years, I have embraced a different approach to teaching. It can still be calm, we are productive, and students are engaged in learning.  Although, most of the time, it is a little messy.  We make noise and we make a mess. We talk, think, chart ideas, argue, debate, draft, dispose, and create. My students are able to explore the process of learning and discovery, mostly without my help. I am available to provide guidance and direction, but mostly I just support them, encouraging them to feel confident enough to push their thinking and challenge one another to be better.

This happens with autonomy, allowing students to explore without tight restrictions. With autonomy and control over their learning process, students are empowered to learn like real people, in the real world, learning about real things that matter. This is where passion is born.

This past week, I learned how powerful this notion of autonomy is for adults, not just my students. We brought this approach to our professional development with our first FedEx Day. Teachers and staff could work on a project completely of their own choosing, the only two rules being it had to benefit students and they had to deliver something at the end of the day.

I have never seen our staff so excited during a professional development. They loved having autonomy, were empowered by making their own choices and managing their own time, and inspired by what others were doing. We collaborated and created.  Then we shared. What more could you hope for from a smart and dedicated teaching staff?

(FedEx Day comments from staff, board members, and parents)

Like my students, our staff exceeded my expectations. They took full advantage of this time to work on new projects, develop and build new things, and design opportunities for our students. No one told them what to create, which allowed teachers to focus on something they were invested in and passionate. Most worked on something that had been rattling around in their brain for a while and just never had time or space to make a reality.

In reflecting upon this experience, and the joys and struggles of providing autonomy to my students, I have realized that it takes a level of courage to say, "I trust that your ideas are better suited for you than my plan for you. I trust you to take charge. I trust you to be great." I think this is why people love to engage in self-directed learning. They are suddenly valued, their ideas and plans trusted, their products validated. 

So what did I learn? Our schools must provide teachers the time and space to collaborate and inspire one another. If you do not have a staff that is able to be explode when giving autonomy, you need to reevaluate your hiring process and the people you are trusting with our kids. I learned that when given the chance to inspire one another to be great, our staff will work their butts off to ensure everyone is successful, supported, and encouraged in their own creative process.

I learned there is a paradox at work here. When given autonomy, we build community.

What are you expecting from your students and staff? Are you giving them the space to be amazing? Or do you control and direct their creativity and productivity, only to find the results are lackluster? Even bigger, are you brave enough to relinquish your own expectations and allow the people around you to release their talents? How are you empowering the people around you, students and adults alike, to inspire one another without restrictions?

In a world that is unpredictable and ever-changing, we grasp to shreds of our lives that can be molded and controlled. It is human nature and it makes us feel safe. In a world that is unpredictable, though, we must walk the road together, being willing to push one another to grow and change. Let's take a moment to explore what is unscripted and beautiful about our ideas. Let's get messy. Let's have the courage to trust the greatness in each one us. Let's create something wonderful together!

No comments:

Post a Comment