Meddling from the back seat

I wrote the majority this from the back seat of our family car, returning home after our annual trip north to visit friends at Crescent Head.
I’m in the backseat because both my sons have wanted to sit in the driving seat on the way home – Dom is a “P” plater, and Matt is a learner. Their licenses have speed restrictions on them, so, sure the trip is slower than if my wife or I were driving but they both wanted the experience in a new situation. Which both made me proud and made me think a lot about helping them on their learning journeys.

As we were traveling, and being freed from driving, I had the opportunity to tweet along in a #pechat about Inquiry Learning in PE, and I was interested to see what people had to say about the conditions of learning that best facilitated inquiry based approaches. Watching people talking about allowing the students to sit in the drivers seat, and then maybe throwing questions about their investigations to the teacher sitting in the back seat seemed to be a very poignant observation. And what I was actually living at that moment.
When we got home I got to thinking about the ways teachers run their classes. I found a really cool article by Erica McWilliam called “Teaching for creativity: from sage to guide to meddler”. I love the idea of meddling in, rather than just leading, the kids learning. One passage from her work resonated with me:
“The Meddler-in-the Middle does not rush to save students from the struggle that higher order thinking involves, by giving them either the answer or the template for finding it. They allow their students to experience the risks and confusion of authentic learning by allowing their students to stay in the grey of unresolvedness, supporting any and all attempts on the part of their students to experiment with possibilities in ways that put their ignorance to work. Moreover, they do not presume that the highest achievers in the class are the best learners. Indeed, they anticipate that many of the students who are on the margins of the school culture may have more to offer in terms of creative effort.”
Meddling needs thought. Teachers are good at giving advice, maybe too much at times. I know if I run a commentary when Matt is driving, it works sometimes. Other times me just being quiet and letting him sort it out works just as well, if not better (for him). My takeaway from that is maybe listening to learners, and taking your cue from them, not always the other way will promote the sort of reflection and learning we want in learners. Advanced warning of hazards or roadblocks always helps, but doesn’t need to be the only thing we as educators have to speak about.
So this year I’m going to plan on how I can take more of a strategic backseat in my teaching, and meddle with the traditional learning process.What that looks like will no doubt be contextual and evolutionary. I’m keen, though, for my students to develop their own road skills.

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