- Go to lunch with students. Or just talk to them. Discover who they are and remind yourself what it is to be a student. It won’t take long to remember that they are wrestling with some really fundamental questions about life. Who am I? What am I going to do? Am I going to make it? How do I find meaning and significance in life?
- Dwell in some deep thought for awhile on who they need to become to find answers to these questions – find their passion, contribute to the world, be good global citizens, and live a happy life (or whatever other grand goals you may hope for them that light you up and made you want to become a teacher.) What characteristics, strengths, capacities, and skills do you think they need to develop?
- Look at your syllabus, line by line, and ask yourself, “How does this help them get there?”
My syllabus was a simple list of topics taken from a textbook. I had work to do.
- Find the meaning between the lines. If you are like me, you don’t need to start all over. These questions have been poking at you in the back of your mind for years and day by day you have found ways to make the content you put on the syllabus meaningful to them and relevant to the core goals you have now made explicit in Step 2. Go line by line and identify the big meaningful idea that relates back to those goals. If there is no big idea, consider replacing that day’s content with something else.
- Create a journey or storyline. Write out the big ideas and look at how they relate to one another. Is there an obvious way to make them into a sequence that can take the student on a journey of transformation? Or a way in which they can speak to each other, creating an engaging story with dramatic tension, conflict, epiphany and resolution?
- Make the journey explicit to your students. As Neil Postman points out in the End of Education, “to become a different person because of something you have learned – to appropriate an insight, a concept, a vision, so that your world is altered … you need a reason.” Give your students that reason. Here’s how my syllabus turned out:
- Get so excited about the journey that you create a ridiculously over-hyped trailer to get them pumped up about it.
tldr version: Start with Who not What: “Who are my students and who do they need to become?” rather than “What content should I cover?”