Equity & Access high school

An Experiment in Building Democracy with Our Students

Summary:

Peter Haun of the Oakland Writing Project describes the impact of the experimental-yet-powerful teacher to teacher, teacher to student, student to student, Digital Democratic Dialogue Project on both his students.

Digital Democratic Dialogue? 3D? What is that?

An opportunity to support civically conscious students as they prepare for whatever the world throws at them.

A chance to bring students from diverse locations and educational contexts into the tough conversations.

A chance for both students and teachers to figure out how hard it is in a globally connected world to have meaningful, respectful, productive conversations.

In all honesty, it was an experiment.  We created the 3D project from the ground up and all throughout the year. So many conversations took place. Teacher to teacher. Teacher to student. Student to student.  What can we learn by examining all the conversations?  That’s what we were hoping to learn.  I think.

This was what we had hoped to accomplish, but there were several unintended outcomes.  I don’t think I saw it coming, but the emphasis to stick through challenging situations and conversation when things become uncomfortable became a powerful need in this work, particularly for me as an educator.

Being surrounded by unbelievably talented teachers who were doing amazing work with their students started to make me question whether I should be involved with this work.  The more I listened, the more I thought that my students did not belong either.  We came from different contexts.  We have different skills.  We are not like the others.  But, that is when I realized that is exactly why we need to be there.  We live in a world of division, a world where people concentrate on differences rather than similarities.  That is what was happening in my head.  We had every right to be in the study and probably really brought a whole other perspective to what we were trying to do.

I think there is a perception in the educational world and in the minds of many teachers that we should be able to plan and teach and assess and everything else that we do by ourselves, regardless of how hard it is to accomplish.  I think sometimes students think that way too.  A teacher creates an assignment and they think they can either accomplish it or not, all by themselves.  I would even argue that that might even be the mindset of our bigger culture, this me versus the world mentality.  We are a society of people who isolate themselves when we “work.”

I needed to open myself up.  I needed to look at my practices and evaluate what I was doing and how it could be altered to work within the systems we were creating for our students to communicate with other students across time zones and space.  I needed to take risks and try some new things.  I needed to realize that it might not be perfect, but that whatever happened, the work would be powerful for everyone involved, for both me, as a teacher  and the students, and all of us as citizens in this complex, and increasingly divided, society

Risks are risky in education.  There is so much emphasis on assessments and scores and evaluations that sometimes the fun and genuine learning experiences are put to the side.  There is just not enough time to do everything that you want or need in any given school year.  I needed to weigh what could and could not be slid into the current curriculum, all while learning new platforms for the students to use.  With this came a certain amount of anxiety.  Can I pull it off?  Can my kids pull it off?

Our collective brains were needed to pull this off for everyone involved.  Maybe that same idea is needed to pull off humanity, living collectively in the world that exists.  We need each other to pull off life.  Maybe that is what I am learning.