At Week’s End

I am tired on this Friday evening. I have been fighting a chest cold for ten days but today I seemed better. I took the afternoon off and soaked up the sun on our sun porch. I read a bit and just rested, knowing that the weekend provided lots of time for checking in with my online students and doing some website work.

I don’t have any official sick leave from an employer. No one is going to ask for a doctor’s note. I looked at my to do list for the week and felt good about what I had accomplished so I put the lid down on the laptop and took a break. The world lived without me for a few hours.

I earned these hours of rest and freedom while the rest of the world watched the clock because my work doesn’t include seat time. It’s about getting work done rather than being some place for a certain amount of time. And, in many cases, I am the one deciding the work that needs done. For instance, I teach online courses and we are heading into the fifth week of the course. I like to take some time to provide feedback on their work. I use the audio recording feature in Evernote to record and email feedback to my students. I comment on what they have accomplished and look ahead to areas where they may need to dig in a bit more. All of them could be tweeting more, I think, but they are connecting nicely within their course.

I think, in many ways, I represent the future of work. A subcontractor with a variety of clients and jobs to claim my attention. I determine long range goals, focus on daily priorities, and am able to carve out pockets of time for my own work. I may work on Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings so I can sit in the sunshine on Friday afternoon. I don’t spend any time getting ready for work or commuting so my mornings offer opportunities to read and write that others may miss as they get to their jobs.

Seat time…it really has nothing to do with learning or working. It is an easy way to hold people accountable: count the number of hours you spent in a particular place supposedly completing particular activities. Projects stretch to fill the hours since there is no real incentive to finish early, just another job designed to fill the day. One school I am working with is using mastery learning to help differentiate instruction. Students work at their own pace, completing activities and projects and then demonstrating learning through formal assessment. I can’t help but wonder what will happen if a student gets done early, say in mid-May. They’ve learned everything they need to learn for 7th grade. Now what? Can they move on? Is the 8th grade teacher ready for them? Or is now when they get to do something fun, during the “extra” time they don’t need?

Earlier this week, Sam Chaltain asked what we should be getting rid of as we reimagine school.  He doesn’t mention seat time but he does wonder about age-based cohorts and I think the two go hand in hand along with the Carnegie Unit, which came into question in a report issued at the end of January. We are starting to focus on what students learned rather than how long they spent learning. And we’re starting to consider that standardized tests are not the only way to determine if students learned, particularly when we are interested in skills and dispositions rather than content knowledge. I believe we are at a moment of transition in education. The status quo is being questioned even by those in the mainstream and interesting conversations are taking place in school divisions across the country. Possibilities seem to be blooming and it is up to us to find our place in the conversation. So, what do you think needs to go in order to realize a vision of a contemporary classroom? Here’s Sam’s question:

What would it need to look like if a system of schools was truly aligned around a different set of organizing questions — where the goal is not to standardize, but to individualize; where the objective is not uniformity, but uniqueness; and where the feelings “school” arouses in the majority of us are not endless shades of grey, but wild and inspiring spectrums of color?


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