Call the cops

Call the cops

I’m guilty, and intend to re-offend. I will not be pleading innocent or apologizing either. So call the cops because I confess to caring about the well being of my students. And I think there are other recidivists like me out there. Yet, how would we know since so many educators spend their time siloed in self-sentenced solitary confinement?

Maybe, the problem is attributable to my particular approach to pedagogy? I write my tongue in cheek admission because I believe that student well being needs to be the foundation upon which all student success is built. Ensuring that my students know that they matter comes first and foremost. If not, it would be like building an upside down pyramid. It will not stand the test of time. (insert imaginary picture of an upside down pyramid here) In other words, it’s about relationships.

Is that a siren in the distance?

My instruction is student centred, connected, and committed to their success far beyond the marks on a report card. I want them to learn how to be awesome at life. That means taking time to invest in learning what makes my students tick as learners first. Not to mention, by the creation of safe, failure tolerant spaces for them to share what they hate about school. Before you let the police in, think about this.

My students are also asked to share what they love about school, and what they would like to have happen more often. I am trying to democratize the classroom here by listening to and valuing their voices. Let’s call this time Septovember. When it comes to their futures I’m guilty of involving students in the conversations that affect this part of their lives too.

Many of our Septovember discussions circle around activism, advocacy, and learning to think about one another. In the past year, I decided to throw all of the cards on the table. I announced that we were going to have a challenge task in our language block. I started the lesson off by saying, “The adults in your life have failed you. I have failed you. My parents have failed you. And a whole lot of people before us have failed you too.” Once they picked their jaws up off of their desks, I asked, “What are you going to do about it?”

We established a few parameters, discussed possible learning goals, and students set out to identify and solve  one of the many problems they are inheriting from us (e.g., environment, political strife, human rights issues, equity). Almost immediately my students were engaged and motivated and there it was: inquiry, empowerment, and authentic learning.

I hear handcuffs rattling.

Naturally, whenever life learning like this happens, it puts me behind any traditional instructional schedules, but thankfully it also allows instruction to happen much more effectively over the remaining months of our year. That’s right officer, it’s spelled G-O-U-R-L-E-Y

My students are going to learn that I care about them long before ever being expected to care about what I know or have to teach. If that means shaping the curriculum around them first rather than bending them around the curriculum, so be it. I know I’m not the only one. Have I mentioned that it’s about relationships first?

I have an accomplice.

In his 2017 TEDxKitchenerEd Talk, Andrew Campbell shares a very informed opinion about why he meets his students at the door every morning. And it’s not to check whether they’ve completed their homework. Campbell eloquently meshes his TEDx Talk with complete emphasis on connecting with his students. In it, he shares how his students changed his outlook after a tragic event involving a student in their class. He shares;

“the most important thing I can do as a teacher are the relationships I form with my students and the relationships I help them form with others. When the students come to me in the morning, I don’t know what they’re coming from or what they’re carrying. And when they leave at the end of the day, I don’t know what they’re walking into.”

There is no doubt that all students who pass through Andrew’s classroom door are welcome and valued regardless of the fact he is not a fan of well planned lessons. Imagine the power and potential in the simple act of meeting students at the door with a smile and a kind word? That is a “noble purpose.”

I knew there was another recidivist out there. Are you one too?

They better call for back-up.


Updated: November 24, 2017 — 12:31 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

P/J lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, and divergent modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 110 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at

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