Happy Accidents

You know how sometimes you think you have all your pedagogical ducks in a row all nice and neat, with all your prep done and organized and all your materials at hand and then, mid-lesson, you realize that you missed something.  Something BIG?

No? That never happens to you?  Really? Of course it does. Don’t be all faker-faker-cookie-baker.

So yesterday I got to be a part of  my 14th summer of Level 1 Institutes, watching the group in the Keene Level 1 present a big thing that we do in the middle of the institute. (I can’t say more than that because SPOILERS) Suffice to say, it was AWESOME.  And it was the product of a happy accident.

The last time I used this challenge I made some big modifications (as we always do) because the school I was working with, Creative City Charter, was using Critical Skills to support and magnify their Place Based and Arts Integration pedagogy (which, btw, is amazing).  The group we’re working with here in Keene this summer? Not so much the Creative City faculty.  (Not that they’re not awesome cause they are- they’re just a different group)

So as I watched the group unpack their challenge on Tuesday afternoon, I had a moment of realization that, at first, sent me into a bit of a panic when I realized that I HAD FORGOTTEN TO REVISE THE CHALLENGE.  While working with my amazing facilitators (Allison and Danika) to be sure they had everything they needed, I hadn’t thought to point out the MASSIVE changes I’d made to this particular challenge. All the stuff about Place Based Learning and Arts Integration (which we hadn’t talked about or touched on once in the institute because they’re not part of Critical Skills)? It was still in there. Whoops.

We whispered frantically, “Do we pull the challenge, send them on a break, revise it, tell them to change it on their copies? WHAT DO WE DO?!!!”

You know that scene in Star Wars where Ben Kenobi gets offed by Darth Vader and, as Luke stands there in stunned silence, he hears Ben’s voice in his head saying “Run Luke!” so he gets back on the ship and lives to fight another day? Well, I sort of had a moment like that.  I heard the collective voices of 30 years of Master Teachers in my head saying, “Just watch and wait.  They may surprise you.  Let it ride.” So I got my Zen on and did just that.  We agreed that we’d let the group negotiate that part of the challenge out if they asked. But you know what?

They never asked.  After just 2 days of doing this Critical Skills thing, they figured out how to leverage the expertise in the group because some of them knew all about Place Based Learning and others were killing it with Arts Integration already.  They didn’t question why these unfamiliar things were in the challenge because the whole week had been filled with unfamiliar things and they knew they could do this because they’d done everything leading up to this so why not?

Eventually we acknowledged what had happened, and it turned out to be this amazing teachable moment were we got to be transparent about what can happen when we keep calm and let things progress on their own when the unexpected happens. Allison and Danika were prepared with a plan B if things had really gone sideways, but they didn’t rush in to fix things.  They let the group figure it out and, in the end, they blew open a whole new understanding of Critical Skills for me and, I think, for each other.  They had a chance to see the ways that Critical Skills can support and magnify all kinds of student-centered philosophies and pedagogies. They even folded in things like Responsive Classroom and Technology Integration because they were things that they were using in their own classrooms already and they could already see that they all supported and magnified each other in really amazing ways.

It was an amazing happy accident. I’m so grateful for all those voices in my head (particularly those I recognized as Peter, Bill, Al, and Maura who seemed to speak the loudest) who reminded me to just wait.  Just. Wait. Watch. Pay Attention. Have Faith in the Group.  TRUST THE PROCESS.

(Want to see a rocking video about the day? Check out this one that Danika made!)


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