The classroom of teenagers ignored me, talking loudly with their backs turned towards me.
“They aren’t going to listen to you,” taunted Fear in my ear.
There was a momentary silence in the teens' conversation.
I made my approach, “Well”, I coughed, “I have a question to ask.” I paused and ummed and allowed the temporary silence to grow, “Is it OK with you that I lead this lesson?”, I offered.
It was a big ask, they had no idea who this temporary teacher was, nor what was about to happen. In the foot-shufﬂing silence, I continued in an upbeat voice, growing in conﬁdence.
“I will make this lesson interesting and fun. I will decide who gets to talk, and for how long. And I decide who works with who. Can you be OK with that for an hour?”
Their glances towards the informal class leaders gave me the information he needed. I turned to face each of the informal leaders in turn.
“Can you be OK with that for one hour?” I asked the ﬁrst leader.
“Can you be OK with that for one hour?” I asked the second leader.
“Can you be OK with that for one hour?” I pressed them both.
They eyeballed me with curiosity and surprise. Their continued silence indicated sufﬁcient agreement.
I chose to begin the lesson and shared a simple scenario, “What if you had to decide between going out with one group of friends to the cinema, or another group of friends to play basketball. How would you choose? What’s important to you?”
“Talk to the person next to you for three minutes and then I will ask you to share your answers.”
After the three promised minutes, I invited one of the informal leaders to speak aloud their answer, “So, what would you do?” Then I moved on to the other informal leaders. After they had spoken, I repeated the most recent opinion and invited the other students to stand for their answers, pointing at different places in the room.
“Stand here if you agree with that, and over there if you have a different reason, and here in the middle if you don't know, or if you want more information.”
Eager feet stampeded across the room to stand in their desired places. I walked into the midst of the pushing and shoving and as the noise settled, I interviewed some of the teenagers who were standing for their opinions, “What is the reason you are standing here? What makes that important to you?”.
Sometimes I built on their agreements, other times I built on their disagreements. I mixed in questions like, “Who else agrees?” or “Who has a different reason?”, and changed interviewee following the energy in the room.
Wherever necessary I raised my voice and asked for respect, that they should listen to each other's differences and similarities. Wherever possible, I asked for pauses for silent reﬂection on the deeper meaning of what they were actually doing in this lesson.
“What are we doing here?”, “What are we learning?”, “What’s important to us, as learners, in this place?” After an hour, the teens were leaning into the deepening discussion. They were exploring their values and building courage and trust in their shared learning environment.
Courtesy of Martin Richards.