Friday, February 22, 2019


The other day a friend complimented me, calling me fearless. "You're not afraid to let them figure it out." That feels good. I like the idea of being a fearless teacher. I like that it shows. And I find it's an apt description of where I am professionally: I genuinely have no fear when it comes to the sort of progressive, play-based, child-led program we offer at the Woodland Park Cooperative School. If I ever had doubts, nagging fears that I wasn't doing enough as their teacher, they fell away long ago. I've been thinking about this for a couple days and while I have plenty of fears in other areas of my life, my professional relationship with the children I teach isn't one of them. So it's true that I'm fearless.

I been teaching this way, in this place, for a long time now. I've seen with my own eyes, over decades, how self-directed learning works and I'm fully convinced. The community of families that choose our school know what they're getting into. I have nothing to hide, I get to spend my days being myself as the children get to be themselves. It's a pretty good set up to be fearless. This isn't to say that there isn't room for growth and improvement, there always is, which is one of the primary reasons I write on this blog almost every day, but fear doesn't enter into it.

This isn't true for many preschool educators, however. Most schools, even those that purport to be play-based still expect their teachers to go about their days imposing themselves upon the children's play, steering, controlling, "scaffolding," and leading. They still expect their teachers to write and following lesson plans. They still want the teachers to "Have the children . . . " do this and that, to work on adult-directed projects, toward adult-imposed learning objectives, while producing adult-expected results. I meet these teachers everywhere I go, people who have listened to me talk or read what I write and tell me, "I agree with you and I do what I can," but they're afraid that if they rock the boat too much they'll be in trouble, maybe even fired. I talk to school directors who wish they could fully embrace play-based education, but they're afraid that families will leave their school in droves in search of more "academic" programs.

I may be fearless, but what these educators do is, to me, more impressive. They live with this fear on their shoulders every day, as they do what they can to push the boundaries, allowing their charges a little more time and space to play. They risk being called to the carpet. They risk being accused of not doing enough, of being lazy, of being too radical. It shouldn't be this way, of course, but most children spend their time in these sorts of schools and I deeply respect teachers who know what is right, who know there is a better way, and who find ways to do the right thing even if it means doing it within the cracks and crevices. They don't have the luxury of being fearless.

Fearlessness is a good thing, a worthy goal, but being afraid and doing the right thing anyway, that is a much more admirable thing. Thank you, teachers, for your courage. I hope that one day, you too, will find your way to fearlessness.

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