Sunday, June 27, 2010

Great "stuff" doesn't make a great teacher...

After reading Andrew Churches' wiki post regarding the characteristics of 21st Century teachers, and while still thinking about a tweet I posted a while back, I want to share some evolving thoughts on effective teaching in today's complex educational world.

In my Twitter #edchat conversation a while back I said that "many new teachers think success comes from 'stuff'- resources, programs etc. Success will ONLY come from them and sound personal philosophy." Hey, let's face it... many teachers, new and old alike, are feeling a bit like Inspector Gadget lately; we are being pulled (the pessimists among us may say 'pushed') in many different directions as time marches on in education, and in the broader society we reflect. So how do we navigate these turbulent waters?

Relax. There are no emergencies in education. This personal maxim has served me well for a long time since adopting it from a former principal I had the privilege of learning from. True, there are a number of roles teachers need to play in order to keep up with the evolving disposition of the new-age learner, but rather than rue this challenge, why not accept it with excitement and enjoy the ride?


I agree with Andrew's above vision of the 21st Century Educator. Although today's teacher is most definitely all of these things, I believe contemporary teachers need to consider themselves primarily as collaborators within the learning process... a stark removal from traditional teaching perspectives where the teacher was first and foremost a provider of information. We are (need to be) much more than that for the brilliant young people evolution has provided us the good fortune to work with.

Teaching is about relationships... great teaching is absolutely not about the "stuff" (those resources, technologies, programs, textbooks etc.) that many associate as representing a good educational environment. Next fall as thousands of new North American teachers scramble to find the latest and greatest classroom tools to make their first year of teaching manageable and successful, let's reflect seriously on the fact that positive and effective educational environments aren't about teaching tools; they're about relationships... people working with people to establish the trust and commitment necessary in any successful relationship. Teaching and learning is a collaborative effort that we should be making together with students as opposed to a deliberate attempt by the teacher to contol, dictate and disseminate information.

We're hearing much about authentic learning lately, and we all know what Mr. Bloom would say about some of the transactional practise evident in today's classrooms... why can't we lighten up a bit and enjoy the ride as much as we would like our students to? I believe that when we make positive and authentic connections with students first, that the control many teachers crave will happen authentically and automatically. In the wise words of Nel Noddings, "it is obvious that children will work harder and do things — even odd things like adding fractions — for people they love and trust."

Let's stop worrying and concerning ourselves so much about the tools of our trade, and return to the roots of our craft. Let's tap into our higher order thinking skills and start working on regaining the creativity and optimism that comes from ideas, understanding that ideas can come from anywhere, including our students. Let's collaborate on the learning process by adopting an attitude of inquiry and discovery and getting on with Fourth Way ideologies of the future.

Let's relax and have fun doing what we have the privilege to do...

7 comments:

  1. Your post is right on the mark, relationships are what make schools work, but everyone seems to have forgotten that in press of the requirements of standardized assessment, new standards, old standards, no money, laws, regulations, performance pay, etc.

    I would love to simply make great relationships with as many of my students that I can, teach and have us learn together in my classroom. Unfortunately, fun is out, rigor is in and down the road we go.

    p.s. I will still have fun in my classroom no matter what :-)

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  2. You have a different situation in the U.S. than we do up here in Canada... much of what you refer to as 'requirements' haven't impacted us to the same negative degree.

    I submit though, if the relationships are positive and authentic, and the kids we work with are engaged and eager learners, doesn't satisfying those requirements take care of itself?

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  3. Great blog post! I totally agree!

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  4. Agreed, relationships are the number one thing that need to be established in any educational setting. Not just with teacher to student, but student to student as well. Students have to feel safe in taking risks and know that failure is okay. They aren't so willing to do this in front of their peers if relationships haven't been established and they don't feel safe. Further, if I were to walk into a 21st Century classroom, I would expect to see "messy" learning going on. Groups of students collaborating, talking, discussing, pulling things apart (ideas and physical objects), and putting them back together with a new understanding. I would expect to see one group of kids working on one topic, perhaps another group working on the same concept but with different tools and using a different topic. Some kids might be working independently. Differentiation, differentiation, differentiation. Notice, not once have a mentioned technology - although technology can and should be a piece of 21st century learning but only where it naturally fits and will be used in a manner that transforms learning. In other words, it's not being used in place of old tools just to say technology was used.

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  5. Thanks for that Terri... we're definitely on the same page. I'm hearing 21st Century this and that so often lately, I fear it's fast becoming a catch phrase that teachers feel they need to use without really giving any thought into what the term means in a real-time classroom, and of course as you eluded to, many for sure seem to be of the perspective that 21st Century learning is synonomous with the integration/evolution of technology in teaching and learning- certainly not the case in my opinion.

    Thanks again for your feedback!
    Namaste
    Sean

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  6. I like your post! My experience has clearly been that the technology does not make the difference, but rather it is the teacher. A maxim: Technology is a liability; people are assets. Whatever tools any teacher gets should be incorporated into the learning process. Just as Michelangelo could create art on any medium... even upside down on a ceiling... so must we apply the craft of teaching and learning within the constraints of the learning environment we have. The outcome should be measurable on standard assessments as well as more qualitative methods. Thank you for a great blog posting.

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  7. Dan, I couldn't agree more, and sorry for the delayed response;o)

    Those other "tools" are great as conduits for thought, but at the end of the day, it's the minds of the teachers and learners that are our greatest "assets". There are many stories to be told in teaching and learning, and every one creates a lesson to be learned, no matter the subject area. When we fill our classrooms with the power of ideas and thought, anything else designed to enhance the process of educating becomes a bonus.

    Thanks for reading and responding; very much appreciated!
    Sean

    ReplyDelete

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