Horse whispering in high school : developing teacher savvy




Drew, Daryl Wayne

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Disconnection in teacher-student relationships caused by the alienating processes and goals of the public school system is the most pressing challenge facing high school teachers today. Disrupting this disconnection and subverting the forces that produce it are the primary goals of the savvy teacher. In this dissertation I claim that teachers require two distinct yet interconnected kinds of abilities to achieve this disruption. They need the curriculum teaching skills they are taught in teacher education programs, and they need additional skills not formally taught which would enable them to build and sustain relationships with students, in the face of school structures and processes that produce fear and isolation. These relational skills I term `savvy' (Parelli, 1993).' I contend that teachers who are savvy can establish and sustain teacher-student classroom partnerships that ameliorate the fear produced by the social, political, and economic forces that shape the institution of schooling. The following research describes how I adapted my horse whispering savvy to teaching in a high school setting. Being savvy in the classroom involves the ability to win students' trust, to form partnerships with students, and to sustain those relationships through continuous changes that threaten to disrupt them. While the development of teacher savvy is a very individual process, that process must lead to the acquisition of three vital abilities: the ability to develop teacher-student partnerships, to sustain those partnerships, and to track behavior indicating changes in relational rhythms. These abilities can be developed only in concert with an awareness derived from personal experience of the need to change teaching practice. Acting on this desire to change, the savvy teacher must be able to utilize the inadequate processes of schooling to educate students about the problems produced by our way of living that is neither compatible with our planetary systems, nor sustainable over the long term. To practice horse whispering savvy in the classroom teachers must learn to see the teaching environment as a complex interaction of systems, that is, as a network of interconnected reciprocal relations that function well as long as its interacting systems unfold harmoniously. They must learn to track this relational system from within, immersed in the web of classroom relationship, being sensitive to shifts in relational rhythms, and aware of the patterns and needs of other systems that compose the learning setting. Savvy teachers must be willing to educate students to understand the influence of the corporate agenda in the process of schooling and, to this end, abandon typical prescribed curriculum plans, and rely instead on teachable moments that occur within the classroom setting, all the while camouflaging their intent to educate students to think for themselves. It is important for the savvy teacher to realize how being powerless can make students and even student teachers feel fearful and disconnected, unprepared to handle what occurs in the school setting or even influence the outcome of events. The savvy teacher needs to help form solutions to problems, encouraging and enhancing self-sufficiency in the classroom in order to disrupt dependency on the processes offered to us by the corporate way of living.



teacher-student relationships, human-animal relationships, Columbine High School Massacre