Southwest Airlines has a reputation for innovation in the way it hires and retains its employees. In particular, the airline – unlike most all others in its industry – is perceived to have found a way for its employees to have fun with their co-workers and with their passengers in valuable and inventive ways. The company does this by focusing on communication, humor, relationship-building and the “freedom to have fun”.
School teaching used to have a similar reputation – the “freedom to have fun” with students and with the subjects we teach. It didn’t mean license to veer from fundamental curriculum; it simply meant we were free to innovate in the way that curriculum was presented to students. Even in the years preceding No Child Left Behind legislation, however, the trend had begun shifting inextricably away from creativity and towards facileness that – not unpredictably – discourages innovation. That erosion of teaching “freedom” and creativity has led us to where we are now; joyless teaching for many who are beginning their teaching careers.
As coaches, we have to think about and make actionable strategies that enable the teachers we advise to find freedom to have fun – with curriculum and with students. We are not referring to frivolous or inconsequential activities; we are referring to strategies that enable teachers to reach students with effectiveness. This often means exploiting one’s personal talents through thoughtful and purposeful measures – actions and words designed to introduce, amplify and reinforce content. Let’s face it: teaching now has become a high-stakes endeavor. The consequences of teaching that is not engaging to students – and commensurately does not radically affect academic achievement – are cruelly serious for us as a nation economically. These consequences are also indefensible from a social justice perspective. A pivotal factor in changing the status quo for what it is: the separation of content – the “what” of all we’re teaching – from the effective communication of that content in meaningful ways.