Beth Holland

Food for thought…

Let Go of the Wheel…. Teaching Without Driving


My first classroom was a 50 foot sailboat. For several years, I worked my way up the food chain at ActionQuest – an adventure learning program based in the British Virgin Islands – from instructor to skipper. During my first summer running a boat, I struggled for the first 3-week session. The responsibility was stressful, and I wasn’t super confident in my own abilities to manage situations. Before the start of the second session, the head of the sailing program pulled me aside and said, “You have to let go of the wheel.”

Think about the terrifying nature of that statement. Let an inexperienced 14 year old drive a 50 foot yacht based solely on my directions. In other words, I had to be confident in allowing the students to have control over the final outcome assuming that I had provided sufficient instruction and leadership.

Last week, when leading an EdTechTeacher iPad workshop, I told that story to my participants. For two days, I made several participants extremely uncomfortable, because I asked them to let go of the wheel.

As educators moving rapidly towards not only 1:1 classrooms, but also BYOD situations, we have to be willing to teach without driving. Here’s what I think that means:

  • We have to understand that there isn’t a single solution when it comes to apps, workflow, and even presenting content. Instead of thinking in absolutes, we need to think in terms of categories of options such as note-taking or screen casting. Similarly, we have to prepare for students who learn better by text, video, face-t0-face instruction, etc.
  • We need to accept the fact that our students might know more than we do about the technology being used. Rather than limiting their capabilities based on what we know, we should learn from them.
  • Rather than trying to limit our students access because of our fears of what they may do with the technology, inspire them to leverage it in order to achieve greatness.

Towards the end of that summer, I let a 14 year old boy back a 50 foot sailboat onto a dock between two large yachts. Before making the approach, I clearly defined the objective, prepared the rest of the students for how they could support their peer, and then modeled the desired final outcome. He didn’t hit anything.

We are now well into the EdTechTeacher summer workshop series at Harvard. If I could give one piece of advice to our participants, it would be to just try to let go of the wheel.

Author: brholland

Researcher, Writer, and Speaker

4 thoughts on “Let Go of the Wheel…. Teaching Without Driving

  1. That is awesome advice, Beth. Letting go of the wheel is very scary, especially for “us” veterans.

  2. Thanks, Ann. It’s really hard to do and goes against so much of what we all learned as “effective pedagogy.” Most recently, I’ve had to abandon the desire to follow the show, guide, do model in my workshops. A colleague encouraged me to model, provide guided challenges, and then wait. Participants struggle with this approach, and our natural instinct is to hop in and take over. However, the learning is much more effective when it becomes intrinsic. Good luck!

  3. Great tribute to the Action Quest mission statement!

  4. Thanks, Allison. Though I haven’t worked for AQ since the summer of 2000, I still leave it on my resume. It’s amazing how much I learned about being an effective educator from everyone there.

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