California Notebook: 18 Questions

No pictures today. (If you want pictures, check out the first or second entries in the California Notebook series.) Instead, I’m going to write down some of the questions I brought back with me. These questions dawned on me while visiting schools, listening to speakers, talking with colleagues, and generally breaking all of my usual habits and routines while wandering around in the California sunshine.

  1. Is it possible that school, and its received wisdom and conventions, is getting in the way of the goals of school?
  2. What would happen if we had to “do school” with the same set of people but in a completely different building? Or no building?
  3. What would happen if we stopped thinking of our classes as events driven by a teacher’s agenda and a teacher’s counting and instead started thinking of them as experiences where everyone has to contribute something for the class to count?
  4. Would this meeting be better with burritos?
  5. What would happen if every person in our school had 10% more creative confidence than they do right now?
  6. What parts of school — building, time, the school’s network — are being underutilized / not spurring as much learning as they could?
  7. Is your parent education program being cued by current events and fears or does it emanate from the school’s mission? (Is it reactive or proactive?)
  8. What would happen if students did not have to attend every class but only those classes that would help them to advance a learning outcome? (What would happen if, instead of attending all classes, students could pursue the topics and outcome in more self directed ways?)
  9. When was your school’s last symposium to showcase student learning? What is the cadence of such symposia?
  10. What would happen if you ran a class through completely different materials? (So, for example, if students couldn’t use a laptop or notebook?)
  11. When you’re looking at a student’s work (say, to grade it), what would happen if you assumed that the student’s decisions and work product make complete sense to the student?
  12. What did students make in your class today?
  13. Does everyone in the school know where the playgrounds are? (This question is even more important if you do not have a physical playground.)
  14. In your lesson, what are you trying to provoke in students? (Pro version: during the most difficult part of your lesson, what are you trying to provoke in students?)
  15. If I pulled aside 15 students in your school and asked them, “what learning experiments are you running right now?” what would I hear?
  16. How would you rate the quality of struggle in your school? (Do students struggle because of the grade game (bad), because they are not getting enough sleep or are overbooked (bad), because teachers are unclear or unorganized (bad), or because they are being led, time and time again, to ponder the central mysteries inherent in disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking or the human condition (good)?
  17. When are we invited to go slow?
  18. How would your actions toward students change if you realized that they are often wondering what you think of them and that the answer often matters a great deal to them?

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