Choice & Relevance for the Win

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This past Sunday was Mother’s Day.  I got to spend an entire almost two hours in the car driving to one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago to pick up brunch and bring it back home.   It was absolutely glorious.   Besides the anticipatory drooling over the amazing spread coming my way, for the first time in almost two months, I was alone, in my car, and I could choose to do whatever I wanted.  

The first half-hour I spent playing music and singing (rather loudly) all of my favorite songs.  As I got closer to the city the music buzz started to wear off, and I began thinking it would be nice to use this time to catch up on some podcasts I hadn’t had time to listen to much since we had been home.  Noticing that the Cult of Pedagogy’s latest podcast was on feedback, a topic that we have been discussing heavily lately, I decided that was definitely the right choice and off I went on a learning journey, actually finishing that episode as well as another one on creating meaningful screencast videos. (1.5 time is amazing for that kind of thing)  

By the time I got home I was absolutely famished (driving in the car for almost an hour smelling your favorite food is totally intoxicating & aggravating at the same time), but filled with pure joy from the inspiration I got from those two episodes.  I couldn’t wait to talk to my instructional team on Monday to share with them the episodes and new ideas they had sparked.  There was a renewed sense of urgency and excitement for my job that I haven’t felt since we’ve been going nonstop for the past 6 weeks.  

This entire experience brought me back to my doctoral research on motivation as well as years of experience working with a variety of different learners.  When given choice and relevance to current work or future goals, the learning becomes meaningful, internalized, and action-oriented.  When it is forced and/or disconnected, learning is superficial and often short-lived.  

Too often in education, this important aspect of learning is neglected or forgotten in favor of a “common understanding.”  The assumption being that if the information is presented to everyone in the exact same way, that their learning path, as well as mastery, will also be the same.  Of course, this perspective completely ignores the fact that human beings come with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, all of which impact the way that knowledge is received, internalized, and acted upon. 

A better, more meaningful approach is to focus on the common vision and/or goals first.  Layer in choice and autonomy in learning next with relevant learning experiences.  Regardless of what the learners choose, the goal of a common understanding will naturally result because the goal is clear and has been developed together.  The learners will be ten times more committed to the work because their background, interests, and experiences have been honored throughout the process.  

Remote learning has created conditions ripe for experimentation as well as innovative learning experiences for both students and staff.  Teachers are regularly seeking out new ways to reach their students while they are learning from home.  Not from a directive to do so, but from the inner drive to help their students to feel connected and succeed.  As administrators, our job is not to tell our educators what to do, but to build with them a clear shared vision of the work so that they are free to tinker, experiment and create.  We need to keep learning alongside them so that as we venture on this new experience together we continue to bring relevance to everything we do.  In doing so, we create the ultimate conditions for learning where everyone can experience that blissful feeling that comes from connecting autonomy with purpose. 

 

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