Do you have a manifesto?
It’s not a question we think about often. But it’s an important one. What is a manifesto? The word might invoke thoughts of pirates, politicians, and famous speakers. Manifesto to you might mean Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech or Karl Marx’s writings.
Miriam-Webster defines manifesto as “a public declaration of intent.” Geoff Mcdonald has a great blog about this here. But I think the juicy part of the word comes from it’s etymology (or, linguistic history):
Manifesto is related to manifest, which occurs in English as a noun, verb, and adjective. Of these, the adjective, which means “readily perceived by the senses” or “easily recognized,” is oldest, dating to the 14th century.
Something that is manifest is easy to perceive or recognize, and a manifesto is a statement in which someone makes his or her intentions or views easy for people to ascertain.https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/manifesto
A manifesto is not only a public declaration of intent, but something for people to live by which makes their intentions, beliefs, values, and actions obvious and easily perceived by others. You can’t just make a manifesto casually and privately. It must be something you believe in your core and can shout from the rooftops.
Which is why I say to you – Do you have a manifesto? If you don’t, you can have mine:
Create an environment conducive to learning.
There have been times when I’m mad at this phrase, and times when I embrace it. Times when I feel like a failure because of this call and times I feel triumphant. I’ve passed this phrase on to younger teachers, older teachers, and anyone who is interested. But let’s unpack what this really means.
Creating an environment conducive to learning starts with an action: Create. This means to “bring something into existence.”
You don’t have to be a so-called ‘creative person’ or have any artistic abilities to bring something new into your classroom. This is not that kind of creating. To create simply means you are bringing your classroom culture and environment into existence.
If we as teachers don’t build a culture for children, they will build their own.
There will be a culture in your classroom, but you get to decide who is creating it.
What actions are you taking to build, produce, and bring into existence the classroom culture your students need? This is more than cutesy bulletin boards. (We can’t all be first grade teachers.) To create your classroom culture means taking daily, deliberate steps to guide what you want your students to do and learn. If students are not doing or learning what you want them to, it’s a sign that they are the ones creating the environment, not you.
So, step up and create something. Look at how your teaching communicates culture to your students. The physical organization of your classroom; your lesson structure, pacing, materials, and methods; your response to undesired behavior. All of these things create an environment.
What environment are you creating?
Environment dictates action. When the climate changes to winter, you change your actions. You wear different clothing, move differently, perhaps eat different foods, go about your business in a different way, and might even change your daily habits to accommodate the cold weather.
What actions does your classroom environment dictate? Does the culture, climate, and weather inside your room foster lecture-style, listen-to-the-teacher-or-else learning or collaborative, self-discovery, fail-in-order-to-succeed learning?
In ninth grade, my world history teacher gave the perfect example of creating a classroom climate that forced us to take different actions. Instead of lining up the desks to face the front of the room, with students sitting in the same desks every single day, he changed the arrangement of the desks almost every time we came to class. One day the desks would all be pushed back against the walls, forcing us to stand or sit on the floor. One day the desks would be in groups, or in two flanks facing each other, or in a circle. The simple environmental change of desk placement influenced our action, which in turn directed our classroom culture. We had to sit somewhere different every day, thus mixing up our class and providing more interaction than we would have had the desks been in neat rows facing the front. He communicated without words, just in the environmental changes, that collaboration, sharing, speaking, and participating, were welcome and encouraged in his classroom. To this day, he is one of my most influential teachers.
If you’re out there, Thanks Mr. Kofford!
To be conducive is to promote or assist. It is a unique word that must be accompanied by a conjunction, or something it develops or leads to. A coffee shop that is conducive is not a place I’d like to be. I might come away electrocuted, or worse. But a coffee shop conducive to casual conversations sounds perfect. Meet you there at 2:00?
How does an environment that you create become conducive to, or promoting of, learning? Conducive also comes from the word conduce, which means to lead to a desirable result. A result. To conduce something is an interaction verb. It implies starting with something, going somewhere, then ending up somewhere else. Conduce also is derived from the latin educe which is where we get educate and education. To educe means to draw out.
So, an environment that is conducive to learning includes promoting or assisting, it includes a starting point, a journey, and a result. And it implies doing so in a way that draws out. Draw out the natural abilities of your students, draw out what they can do, their potential and strengths. Draw out what is inside of them. To conduce a learning environment you see the potential for success in every kid, draw it out, promote it, point it in the right direction, and give it the means by which to travel and achieve the destination.
My job is not to create an environment conducive to sitting, or filling out bubble sheets, or clicking answers on a test, or following directions, or doing what I want my students to do. My call is to create and environment conducive to learning. So, whatever it takes to make learning occur, I will do. This does not mean I ignore behavior or assessment, or rules, or discipline. It just means that all those other things are seen through the lens of the ultimate goal: Learning.
What do I want my kids to learn? Well, as music teacher I feel at an advantage because I get to teach my students things like galloping to William Tell Overture, or playing the beat on xylophones, or singing in a performance group, or annoying their parents with Hot Cross Buns on recorder.
But I can’t stop there. My ultimate goal cannot be to teach three notes on a little plastic flute. When I pass out recorders, what is my ultimate goal? Yes, it’s nice to have students make a good sound and play a whole bunch of fancy things that they’ll never remember. But if I go into teaching with my goal being my immediate circumstances, I will always fail.
I want my kids to learn the power of creating something themselves.
I want my students to learn how to cooperate with a group of people they may not like to make something beautiful.
My ultimate goal is to give them the experience that music can give – getting out of ourselves and our temporary problems and issues in order to make something with others. For me to be successful as an educator, the environment I create in my classroom every day, every week, every month of the school year must be conducive to their learning how to create. If my students have not learned how to create, there’s something wrong with the environment I created.
Have you thought of a manifesto yet? Have you decided to steal mine? As I sit here writing about it, I realize that I need to revise my almost two-decades-old manifesto. It’s not so much that I am creating an environment conducive to learning, as it is creating, or growing, or discovering.
So, here’s the updated (as of today) manifesto:
Create an environment conducive to that which my students need on any particular day and in any particular way which will ensure their success as a happy and contributing member of society.
On second thought, that’s a little wordy. Perhaps I’ll stick with the original.
Tell me your manifesto in the comments below, whether you’ve stolen mine and revised it or written your own.