Windscreen wipers and storms – a meditation on education

Windscreen wipers could tell us a lot about what has just been weathered…

Driving is just a way to get ‘from a to b’ for me. Some people love it, others despise it, others get highway hypnosis quickly and find their minds wandering and yet there are so many more things to notice while driving. Like windscreen wipers. Windscreen wipers on oncoming cars can tell us a lot about where someone has just come from as well as what is coming up on the road ahead – and they could even teach us a lot about education.

If a car approaches with its windscreen wipers on we can presume that it has been raining where they have come from. If they are on frantically, then we can assume it has been raining heavily. If they are on intermittently, it is likely that the weather, too, has been intermittent. Windscreen wipers can tell us a lot about the intensity of a driver’s immediate experience, the level of reaction that was required of them and the type of weather they have just come from. You can also tell a more stressed driver from a driver happy to drive through heavy rain with slower wipers. You can tell if they have a need to see well into the future or if they are happy with seeing only a few meters at a time. So, what if our learners came with windscreen wipers? How useful would it be for teachers to get an instant visual gauge on their reactive state? The immediate experiences students are bringing with them to the classroom could be useful to know and a reading on their general stress levels as they approach could be beneficial too. Perhaps being able to read students on their ‘way in’ could be a way to navigate future foggy areas together with more purpose.

The windscreen wiper and student analogy has been on my mind for a while (when driving to work in the rain) and I’m not sure I have it completely resolved yet. Asking students directly how their last lesson was, how their morning has gone or how they are feeling is not always possible nor do I want a detailed story about how heavy the rain has been or how slippery the road was… but a windscreen wiper check in could be useful. If students arrived with a slow wave every now and then or a frantic arm movement on repeat, I might have an immediate sense of how to pitch learning and differentiate appropriately based on mood or current (shifting) capabilities. Differentiation based on the current state is agile responsiveness at it’s best. So how can I get a read on it?

I have added a five minute stand up to start the week and the first question is ‘what is your happy tank number?’ I don’t need an explanation but if a student is an 8 or a 10 then challenging learning is a good match, if they come in with a 1 (out of 10) then maybe something less demanding is in order. Sorting notes, planning, revising would be a good fit for a 1 and a timed work sprint challenge would work for a 10. It is interesting to add a human element to a learning experience from my experience too. I’m a 3 today guys, so we are going to take things slowly ok? I don’t need to explain that I’ve been up with sick kids or that I had some other life drama occur, but a three is a good windscreen wiper indication for them that I might have just come through a storm. It adds a human, albeit numeric, element to the expectations of the lesson. It is an indicator and recognition that we have all just come from different places.

I recently read an article that talked about how every time we teach we are effectively acting and directing our own drama. What our own windscreen wipers say when we walk into a room – lights, camera, action – can dictate the energy and up/down beat expectations for the learning. If I am prepared and have the stage well set then I am calm and collected. If not, the windscreen wipers are on at speed… similarly if I arrive calmly then all the learners can expect a smooth road ahead. ‘People tend to mirror the energy they receive from others’ (The ‘Lights, camera, action!’ method- ellie bambury, teachers matter, issue 48) In the same way that we feel a sense of relief driving out of a storm and seeing drivers with their sunroofs open and windows down coming towards us, we can feel much better about the projected road ahead.

Every student is on a journey – it is so cheesey but also so true. What kind of a difference could a windscreen wiper approach make? Does it matter what we all have just experienced? Do the storms teachers and learners have just driven through affect their current ability to teach and learn? On a metaphorical level as well as a pastoral level, windscreen wipers and storms could teach us a lot.

There is an analogy about learner agency that binds well to this driving lark. At first, as teachers, we drive for them, then we sit in the passenger seat and operate the gears, then we jump in the backseat with the hope that soon they will drop us off and drive on their own. Let’s hope that as they drive off they spare us a wave with fully functioning storm- surviving and future-communicating windscreen wipers.

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