Classroom Landscapes

I love adventure stories. I can't wait to read the Lord of the Rings series with my kids someday. I'm excited to look at Tolkein's maps and talk about whether Frodo, Sam, and the Fellowship should have taken a different route.

As a teacher, I ask myself the same questions every day. Did I make the best decision in the path that I'm choosing? Should I be the one leading the group? Should I backtrack and try a different direction? It's part of teaching. It's part of life.

We need to help our students navigate a non-linear activity (learning) within a system that demands linear thinking (standards, testing). Roadblocks and challenges aside, how do we set the path? How often do we have to make corrections? How far back to we jump? I think there are some major areas in our classroom landscape that will help us move forward.

20130213_1332571. Home - Home is comfortable. In the LOTR series, home is the Shire. It represents quiet, comfort, and safety. Our students enter our classes each year with a home mindset. They're comfortable in what they know. As the teacher, we have to coax them out of their own comfort zone and into something unknown. From here, students are relying on our wisdom and leadership for the path.

20130213_1333142. Sage Forest - It's easy to jump on stage and being spewing everything we know. We don't have to answer to anyone, and our pupils dutifully follow along. We have total control and our word is taken as truth. Unfortunately, this limits the exposure our students get to the larger world, save for the window that we provide. It is isolated, and while our kids can learn, it often isn't meaningful. Think Yoda on Dagobah. Luke could do a lot of fancy tricks when he was alone, but Darth Vader handed it* to him when he tried to put his learning into practice.

20130213_1333233. Plain Crossway - This region isn't uneventful, but it isn't terribly exciting, either. The travellers and the the leader can discuss the appropriate path, but ultimately, it doesn't matter which direction you go. This can be a good thing, but oftentimes leaves the traveller feeling unsatisfied. In other words, the teacher isn't acting as a sage, but isn't really providing enrichment or growth on the basics. Instead, they're focusing on making it alive to the other side rather than building a new trail together.

20130213_1333394. Digital Highlands - Navigating the peaks and valleys of the digital learning space takes a person who is confident, wise, and willing to take risks when they can't see around the next corner. Digital learning is an important piece of the learning space, but it cannot be the only learning space for our students. We have to allow for forays, but we can't get sucked into the bottom of the digital sphere, never to emerge again.

  1. The Great Beyond - The goal...the unknown...the unknowable. Hopefully, as we move from region to region in school, our students learn valuable skills that will help them move beyond school and into "real life." Ultimately, we cannot stop our students from getting to this point, but we can equip them to better deal with it when we get there.


One space isn't more meaningful than another. The meaning in each space comes in how they're combined with the other; the journey isn't defined by one stop along the way, it's the trip as a whole that brings meaning. I know we all love Twitter and apps, but let's try to remember that we have to vary our focus and settings to have a good story to tell.

*I know the pun is terrible, but I couldn't resist.

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