Tradition’s Place in Today’s Classroom

turkeyOur older daughter will be home for Thanksgiving in a few days. She’s been living across state for school since she was sixteen, but this is the first year that she has not come home all term. We’ve made a couple of trips for quick day visits since moving her into her first apartment, but there’s a big difference. Coming home brings with it lots of expectations. I wonder how she will adjust to her room being done over. I wonder how she will react to how lax her parents are with her little sister, who is now a teenager and has a different set of rules than she did at that age. And I wonder how many traditions we are going to try to fit in during her very short stay.

Finding a holiday more tradition-centric than American Thanksgiving is pretty tough. Having lived overseas and celebrated the holiday in small communities of Americans, I found that we all pretty much had the same expectations for the day. Our childhood Christmases and Easters may have had variation, but Thanksgivings were pretty uniform. My husband and I tried to break away from this with our first-born was preschool age. We made it an adventure to spin the globe and find a region that we would research its food and prepare a meal for the holiday. The experimentation only lasted a couple of years before we were essentially forced back into traditional Thanksgiving. This year, I think we won’t be so drastic as to aim for a global menu, but I hope we can ease back a bit from the full-blown Thanksgiving.

Ellen, a sustainable agriculture and environmental sustainability major and philosophy minor, is vegan. Becoming vegan was a process and started her high school freshman year. She took AP Environmental Studies and learned about Meatless Mondays, which she introduced to the family. We’ve adapted our menus over the years to accommodate her changing needs yet maintain the standards that tradition demands. But this year, I’m thinking we should rethink the entire main course. The reality is that tomorrow our church is having a complete Thanksgiving feast. So our little family will have already had one turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Does another really meet our needs?

I share all of this as I think it relates to what happens in our classrooms and schools. As educators, our first inclination is to teach as we were taught. I know more and more of us are embracing the role of learner and are trying to shed that pedagogy, but we are surrounded by a culture that doesn’t yet get the shift. Even though we communicate with parents in 21st century fashion with Tweets and Remind texts, the messages we send are essentially the same our parents received. From department meetings to district board meetings…think of all the levels of conversation that take place around today’s student that are framed in traditional mindsets.

Tradition has its place in today’s schools, but it’s not in the form of instruction and feedback. What was good enough for me is not good enough for my children, and it certainly won’t be nearly enough for their children. Decades worth of research tells us that learning is iterative, it is social and it puts the learner in the center of inquiry. Explain to me how a classroom with rows of desks supports that? I don’t mean to simplify the problem, but I want to make this conversation one that is accessible–one that we can all start relating to. Otherwise, I feel we will continue to butt up against tradition being the driving force for decision-making when it comes to school calendars, teacher evaluation, textbook selection, technology integration, bell schedules, classroom management, and the list goes on. I believe we can hold on to some rich traditions within the context of change. School pride, community connections and school spirit are essential in my mind. What traditions do you think have a place in today’s classroom?