skating in the same direction

Over the weekend I had the nostalgic pleasure of surprising my daughter with some of her friends and family at the roller skating rink in celebration of her 8th circle around the sun. Fun was had by all and I am pleased to report that all my knees survived intact.

I haven’t been roller skating since probably around age 12, back in the days when Hamilton’s Meteor theatre was still “Skateworld”, my body was younger and lighter, and the ground wasn’t quite so far to fall.

The vibe of a roller-skating rink is timeless, though. Sure, you can now choose between regular roller skates and these new-fangled in-line skates all the kids are riding, yet the darkened industrial building with it’s blaring music reverberating off the concrete floor took me straight back in time.

But something there was newly familiar as well: Something about the chaos of the roller rink gave me a hint of the atmosphere in the learning spaces at HPSS.

We may be enjoying a “modern” learning environment at HPSS, but it has a bit in common with this edifice of my eighties upbringing.

In the rink, a large number of people are circulating at a range of speeds and skill levels. Some speed around challenging themselves to improve their skills or learn new maneuvres, some are helping their friends to learn, while some are learning together. Some make their way slowly around the periphery, scaffolding onto the rail to build their confidence while others weave in and out, confident in their abilities to avoid collisions. It is a scene of wonderfully orchestrated chaos.

This, I guess, is where I feel like teaching is the most rewarding and challenging for me. There is no teacher in the rink: no 1 person conducting the band, or giving out individual instructions. People are engaged by their own enjoyment of the activity and their own desire to improve their skills and abilities.

When you’re inside the rink skating, though, things aren’t as chaotic as they might appear: There is an agreed direction of circulation and a hierarchy of ability keeping the n00bs to the outer sides and the speed demons toward the centre. There are parents, siblings, friends or cousins protecting the smallest ones and helping them back to their feet and trained staff on hand in the event of any injury or emergency.

It is hard, as a teacher, to resist the urge to assume control of the way learning happens and instead allow ākonga to find their own path around the rink, but for many students a bit more room to learn at their own pace and in their own way can really help to build interest and confidence in their own self-efficacy.

Of course this doesn’t mean relinquishing control completely, but more a recognition that if your class is organised by some simple principles — ie. “everyone skates in the same direction”, “keep each other safe”, “if you’ve mastered this bit, help someone else”— then students can be far more empowered to learn for themselves, their whole lives long. Which, after all, is what teaching in New Zealand’s schools should be all about…

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