Last week I finished my first Framingham masters course of the new school year. 6 classes down total, 3 to go until I have my masters degree. This most recent class focused on Collaborative Leadership, and was taught by a spunky, spiritual, loving professor who lives in Antigua and is, simply put, a force of nature. Her class was anything but conventional. We began and ended each meeting with a bow, breathing in the air and energy from the earth or the sky, bowing to each other and letting that energy flow to the center of the circle, then breathing in again “just taking what we needed for the night” as we stood up. We also meditated several times throughout the course, and each evening included time for both reflection and for play.
At first I really wasn’t sure what to make of the course. It certainly was not stressful, but the format being so different from other classes, I worried that I wouldn’t learn “enough” in it. As the class progressed, though, I came to realize I was learning, just not in the conventional sense. I didn’t leave the course ready for a test, with my head full of memorized facts and data about the best forms of leadership…but I could certainly write an essay about what it means to collaborate and what the most effective forms of leadership look like.
During the course, we worked on a project utilizing Appreciative Inquiry to interview people and then develop a “dream plan” to revolutionize leadership, supervision, or professional development at our school. Working in my group of 6 teachers was, in my opinion, hands-down the best group work experience I have ever had, and a perfect example of collaboration. The six of us had very different views about most everything, but shockingly, though there may have been moments of quiet frustration during our discussions, we always talked it out and came around to a decision that everyone was comfortable with. It was a slow, thorough process. Simply developing our four interview questions took several hours of talking to come to agreement. But we did it. No one backed down or let the others take over rather than disagree. That would have been the easy way to solve our problems, just letting one person direct the project and lead it in the direction he or she saw fit, but we didn’t do that. And as a result, in my opinion at least, we all came away with a clear vision of what it means to truly collaborate.
Many education professors will tell you that the best way to learn is by doing, and that we should teach our students using a Constructivist approach (students construct their own learning). It’s sound theory, and lots of professors tell you to do it in your classroom. Very, very few professors actually take the time and effort to practice what they preach. In fact, I think this course may have been the only course in my life that I think was truly Constructivist. My whole mindset changed throughout the course, to the point where, when on the 2nd to last day of class our professor finally got around to addressing Chapter 1 of our textbook by summarizing the key points for us, I found my inner self rebelling, thinking, “What are you doing?! You don’t tell us the ‘right’ answers about leadership or what Appreciative Inquiry is…we figure it out on our own! Stop giving us the quick version!”
So I guess it’s pretty obvious that, whether I realized it or not, I was learning quite a bit, not only about leadership, but about teaching and how to create that environment that I covet in my classroom.