Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Week 5 - Monday.... Introducing the key tension

I will try not to make this blog too long (for a change...)

I visited the class twice this week. The first time was on Monday, when I went in to deliver the “key tension”…  This is often the most interesting part of a Mantle of the Expert experience – a moment when something arises to test the whole ethos and identity of the company. If the key tension is right, it makes the children dig back into ALL the work that has gone before and think very hard. We must have achieved something like that because by the end of the session children were saying “this is hard”, “my head hurts”, “This is an important decision” and “We need to sleep on it.”

So what happened…?

I arrived in the class during lunch break to find several of the children in the classroom using the class ipads. I’d love to tell you they were carrying out independent work on the mantle project, but in fact they were all playing on Garageband, making music for their own entertainment. And fair enough too. When the bell went, children arrived and everyone went to get their badges without prompting. They are now accustomed to this shift into their ‘ARS’ identity.

Only 18 children in the class today. A lovely number. If only all class sizes were this small!

The company ‘meeting’ began, chaired by one of the children (T). First thing was an email from Mr Somers (ARS boss) confirming what should be in the final presentation to the client.
Andy was making use here of the fictional “other” to help guide and narrow the project – he wants to ensure the children can achieve the task in the available time.
Mr Somer’s email also mentioned a rival firm ‘Global Simulations’ who are interested in the job and might be tendering for it too….
During the week, Andy had shown the class some designs from this other group – as exemplars for what their own outcomes might look like.

Next on the agenda was ‘visit from Wiremu’ and there was some discussion about whether this should happen straight away, or whether we should wait a bit – the children were anxious to get on with their designs – only 9 days to go until the deadline – AND there was now competition…. They decided they would do the visit first.

So I transitioned into role. One boy, (J) had a bit of ‘fun’ with this, pointing out that he didn’t know Wiremu wore glasses, earrings or lipstick. I responded as I always do if a child ‘challenges’ the role – popped back out of role and complimented him on his understanding: “Yes you are quite right, Wiremu doesn’t wear these things, VivA does….  You are reminding us what happens when a teacher goes into role – thanks. Now shall we get on with it…”

Back in role – with no further challenges - Wiremu answered some questions from the team about the tank and the shark, and whether he know about this other bid (he didn’t). What he DID reveal was that he was considering quitting his job at the aquarium…

… because he had found some papers on his boss’ desk that showed where the money for the project was coming from and he didn’t like it. Here’s a video clip of me in role as Wiremu, revealing this information.

The rest of the session was spent exploring the implications of this information. Children were asked to stand on a continuum to show where they stood on this issue. The opinions were widely divided. Some were completely horrified and felt this undermined their ability to work on the project “It says in our mission statement that we support the environment – how can we do this if it is about killing sharks?” Others thought it didn’t make any difference, “If Wiremu hadn’t found this out, we would never have even known… and anyway, humans use fish for farming and food all the time.” And some thought of completely different aspects – “It might be illegal, if they try harvesting the sharks while they are still endangered” and “If it’s been sponsored by this company and they are making so much money out of it – they could have offered more to US”

After exploring their personal responses at some depth, I told the children I was now going to challenge them to explore an opinion that they might disagree with. Numbering them off into two groups, I asked them to become Wiremu’s conscience – group 1 would take the position that Wiremu should definitely quit his job – group 2 would take the position that he should definitely stay. Each group huddled up and thought of their best arguments. Then, they formed a “conscience alley” and spoke these arguments as I walked through. I didn’t fully go into role as Wiremu this time but rather carried the hat, as a symbol of Wiremu.

I find the more ‘abstract’ conventions can generate a sense of ritual and seriousness that draw the children in…

Here’s a short clip of part of the conscience alley:

Monday’s session concluded with Andy, the classroom teacher gathering the colleagues together for a discussion on what to do next. In many ways, this was the richest part of the whole Mantle so far. Children were highly reflective, engaged and spoke as serious-minded, responsible human beings with a real problem on their hands. It was great to see them referring back to the mission statement and mulling over issues of personal and collective responsibility – ethics and values in a really genuine way.

This is ‘front end of the curriculum’ stuff – and I don’t know a better way to teach it!

The session concluded with children deciding they would think about the issue and how to respond. The general consensus seemed to be that it was important to get the work done (for our professional reputation) but that it would also be important to let our bosses and the clients know about our mixed feelings on the sponsorship issue.

Both Andy and I felt quite moved and emotional after the session. One of those moments when you are very gladdened to be a teacher because you sense something important just happened….

I’ll stop now and report on the Tuesday session in a separate post.

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