Go Ahead–Get Yourself in Trouble!

 “Get yourself in trouble. If you get yourself in trouble, you don’t have the answers. And if you don’t have the answers, your solution will more likely be personal because no one else’s solutions will seem appropriate. You’ll have to come up with your own.” ~ Chuck Close

To teach is to be “in trouble.”

Your context, your “trouble,” will always be a little different than someone else’s. Your solutions will inevitably be personalized. That’s why it’s hard to take exactly what someone else does and make it work for you.

Perhaps that’s why I have a complicated relationship with “experts.” I have always been amazed that someone dares to stand and say—without caveats—“This is how to teach.” Does method come before context? Most experts would quickly respond that context is crucial, but most are also pretty darn certain that your context will fit their method (it just might require considerable manipulation, that’s all).  

And of course, most methods do have validity. It’s just that when I’m using “The Method,” I take what works for my students and toss the rest. So—is it still “The Method?”

This leads me to a disturbing admission. When asked, “Do you run an Inquiry Classroom?” I’m never quite sure what to say. What I’m thinking is, what do you mean by “inquiry”? Do my students research interesting questions? (Then yes.) Do I have an overarching “theme of the year”? (No.) Does every unit start with a question? (Sometimes.) Is my classroom abuzz with joyful curiosity? (That’s my goal—do good intentions count?).

Is there one “right” way to do inquiry? And why are labels so important? If I say “Yes, of course—with embedded technology, formative assessment and transformative reflection using the latest research in neurogenesis!”—what then? Is everyone suitably impressed? (I should hope so, because I’m pretty sure that’s going to be my line from now on!)

I’m reminded of musicians who are asked what genre of music they play. Bill Evans, the great jazz pianist once said, “First of all, I never strive for identity. That’s something that just has happened automatically as a result, I think, of just putting things together, tearing things apart and putting it together my own way.” Is this not what we do as teachers?  Use the best of everything, tinkering with any and all methods, to find the best fit for our students?

We are the great improvisers, and this will always be the case. Our plan guides us, but each day, we take what comes our way and try to use it to move learning forward. And with any luck, we will always be amateurs. As Marshall McLuhan says, “The amateur can afford to lose. The expert is the man who stays put.”

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