Clearing Space for Learning

“The empty space is the birthplace of possibilities that don’t yet exist—but might.” ~John Hunter

In the last two posts I spoke about my professional journey over the last ten years and why I have adopted the philosophy, “Follow the Learning”. However, if I’m completely honest, the seeds of this thought process were germinated long before I took the position as my school’s “tech teacher”.

As I spent the first twenty years of my professional life learning my craft, the best lessons I learned came from my students. Any time they were given an opportunity to own even a small piece of their own learning, they flourished far beyond what I observed when I “taught” them “lessons”.

Over my career, my thinking has shifted from focusing on how to “teach” to how to “design learning spaces”.  At the heart of this process has been developing the skill of asking compelling questions even if I don’t know the answer myself. More importantly, has been to learn the discipline to be quiet and give students ample time and space to grapple with solutions. This is an exceptionally difficult for teachers. We are professionally wired to be experts in our field and “know” everything before we teach it. If we pose questions for which we don’t have answers, it feels as if we are frauds or not doing our job. But this is where the magic happens.

John Hunter speaks so eloquently to this point in his book, World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements. “But we can’t just teach our children what we already know; we must also train them how to discover what is not yet known. So education’s second leg is creativity: the unexpected insights that come only as we try and fail and try again. These insights emerge from the empty space of possibility, out of which comes Archimedes’ Eureka! and James Watson’s double helix, a sonnet or a sonata, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of freedom and Nelson Mandela’s vision of justice. The empty space is the birthplace of possibilities that don’t yet exist—but might.”

Never was this truth more apparent to me than when I had the privilege of working with a handful of exceptional teachers as we designed a unit of study for our 3rd-grade students. Next post I will delve into what made that unit extraordinary and how it transformed my own pedagogical practice.

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