It finally happened…Our Activist Project unit has come to an end. And it was bittersweet.
Some said the time came too soon. Some said not fast enough (I guess you can’t please everyone). But ultimately, the projects are in, the scores have been entered, and I feel like I have some things to say.
My advice is to focus on what YOU care about. Don’t let anyone pressure you to pick something more/less controversial, artistic, practical, etc. This is one of the only high school projects you will do that is truly creative and personal.
First, I want to level with you. I have felt like I don’t know what I’m doing all year. That’s right. I’m admitting it. I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants, hoping that students at least learn one thing from me this year…though I don’t really know what that one thing would be…trying to keep my head above water and figure out this job, along with how it now fits into my life.
The reason I say this is because, as awesome as this project sounded on paper, and as much as I may have sounded like I knew what I was talking about, I didn’t really know what I wanted these to look like. I didn’t know where to set my expectations. I didn’t provide a rubric because I didn’t know exactly what should be on it. I needed students to take my guidelines and run with them because I wasn’t exactly sure what the outcome should be.
We were assigned this project and I uncovered a fire I didn’t know was there. So, just give the project a chance. Go out on a limb and think about things you never have before.
Sure, I knew what I wanted them to learn. I wanted them to practice research, to think critically, to be creative, and to become (if they weren’t already) socially conscious. But as far as how the final product should look? Nope. Had no idea.
Which means I got some less than stellar projects. I’m not going to sugar coat that. Some of the things that were turned in were, despite the 6 week timeline, done last minute with little to no effort. I take partial blame. Sure, I would have received these types of projects no matter how boss my rubric was, or how specific my vision. But, I can accept that some of it may have been that I was figuring this process out just as much as my students were.
I think that by giving us students the choice to pick what we want to represent made this project a lot better.
I think teaching your first year is a lot like raising your first child. It’s a baptism by fire and you learn A LOT through trial and error.
On the flip side, I also received some truly amazing work. For the same reason that some of my students struggled, some of them soared. The lack of restriction and specificity allowed them to be creative and to really explore their project in ways that wouldn’t have happened if I had restricted them too much.
I had Ziah who, I kid you not, planned an entire curriculum because, through her own experience, she has been let down by the structure of public high school education and she saw a better way to do things.
I had Kiersten, who was so passionate about the hazards of labeling primary students that she wrote a paper which will be featured here on beyond the bell.
I had Krystyn, Zion, Nadia, and Taylor who had the courage to speak against sexual violence and who will be offering their presentation to our principal for approval in an effort to be able to speak to their peers about this important issue.
I had Ashlyn who moved me to tears with a video on the impacts of single mother households on their children. Through an interview, she was able to give her own mother a place to speak her wisdom after raising her daughter on her own.
I genuinely enjoyed the activist project. It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to very serious topics and I believe getting youth involved is a vital key in keeping many of these issues in the spotlight.
Guys. This isn’t even all of them.
I think there is a lesson to be learned here. Maybe two.
First, I learned, through what my students turned in, what I was hoping for and what I wasn’t. This is invaluable as I rebuild the project for next year’s students. I know I was not properly prepared for this project, and I learned that sometimes we just suck as educators. And that’s okay. Because through failure (though I hesitate to use that word) we learn. And if I and my students have learned something from the way I approach teaching, it’s that learning is a messy, complicated, process. A process where sometimes I succeed for them and sometimes I fail them.
Since we got to choose our own topics we discovered things we are passionate about.
But I also learned that students will rise to the occasion. When we take a step back and give them the space to “do them” the results can be spectacular. When we relinquish control and allow them to be passionate about something, they will (notice I said will, not may) surprise us. And I think operating within a space of less restriction is so beneficial in preparing them for life.
I hope you find the courage to provide your students this kind of space. Albeit, I hope you come at this more knowledgeable and more prepared than I did, but I truly hope you find the time and the space to let your students take charge of their learning. As you end this school year and prepare for the next, I hope you make this a priority. Because I truly believe you will be pleasantly surprised.