Tuesday I was a part of another synchronous session for our eci 831 open education and social media class and a term new to me emerged that peaked my interest. Backchannel dialogue. In a few words backchannel dialogue consists of secondary conversations, which take place during presentations, lectures and other forms of public sharing. I began to reflect about an experience I had with a principal, whom I did not share any educational philosophy with, especially classroom discipline. His beliefs were based on conformity and control and any other conversation in the room was an affront to the teacher’s authority. He went so far as to tell me it was inappropriate for a student to look out the window as that was off task behavior and reflected poorly on my teaching ability. Not the most positive work environment for teachers or students. He refused to acknowledge that there might be an alternate educational approach of equal value to His. It was quite evident that anybody approaching teaching other than the way He prescribed was not worthy to teach at His school. Basically He wanted me to establish “… a collection of bribes and threats whose purpose is to enforce rules that the teacher alone devises and imposes. The point is to get the trains to run on time in the classroom, never mind whom they run over. Everything, including the feelings of students, must be sacrificed to the imperative of obedience” (Kohn, 1996).
Somewhat to his credit he was partially right about how I needed to treat the students more by his methods as when the students came to my room the freedom they were allowed was abused in the beginning. The students didn’t know how to monitor their actions’ as they had never been required to do so in the past. “They have been led to concentrate on the consequences of their actions to themselves, and someone with this frame of reference bears little resemblance to the kind of person we dream of seeing each of our students become” (Kohn, 1996). I believe we need to teach students to reflect on their actions and start an inner dialogue by which they can monitor their own behaviors. “To help students become ethical people, as opposed to people who merely do what they are told, we cannot merely tell them what to do. We have to help them figure out–for themselves and with each other–how one ought to act. That’s why dropping the tools of traditional discipline, like rewards and consequences, is only the beginning. It’s even more crucial that we overcome a preoccupation with getting compliance and instead involve students in devising and justifying ethical principles” (Kohn, 1996). We need to adapt our framework for discipline to foster a more inclusive learning community rather than creating a compliant in the box thinkers and product pumping classroom machines. We have more than the ability to conform, let us create, share and talk openly about all aspect of engagement of student’s minds rather than the controlled manipulation of rewards and consequences.
In the end I left the school after one year and was fortunate to witness at the end of the school year several students telling the principal what they thought of his discipline approach and subsequent loss of their favorite teacher. Needless to say it was awesome and powerful to know I had a hand in their civic disobedience.