Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Careening to currency

The conundrum for far too many teachers is trying to do it all and be all things. Absorbing the current expert, the current trend, the current technology, etc.

I suspect too many teachers no longer have a clear sense of their own teaching styles, so they careen from one expert or trend to the other. Many educators want to be on the leading edge but haven't the time nor the energy to do the hours and hours and HOURS of reading required, and then try to figure out how to integrate strategies, philosophies, or whatever else into their teaching.

Terry Heick expresses some of that thinking in "The Best Teachers Don't Do What They're Told." I get where he's going and I understand the frustration that seems to have informed his thinking and his emotions. But I don't agree with him, which is the stuff of potential growth and professional exploration.

I read another article tonight about a professor at St. Norbert College who is on the verge of retirement and who, this semester--his last semester teaching--opted to try a flipped classroom approach. Good for him! Good for him for continuing to learn and grow professionally, for thinking first of his students.

Ultimately I think that what Mr. Heick is trying to assert. Know yourself as teacher. Know the likely pitfalls for your students. Know what your students are likely to really need for their professional lives even though there is no way on earth you can possibly teach them anything other than rudimentary survival skills. Know that all you can teach them is rudimentary survival skills, but you can also equip them with what they need to keep learning. Eschew "best practices" because a) there is no such thing as a stationary "best" practice as there is likely to be something better with the next heralded expert and b) there is likely to be something better with the next heralded expert about the time you finish revising your lesson plans. And so, be flexible because it's most important that you now yourself as a teacher, respect your abilities to learn, trust your professional judgment, and think first of your students.

In his TEDTalk, Dan Meyer makes an observation that it's important to be less helpful. He also talks about "patient problem solving." Sure, he's a math teacher so he's referring to mathematics, but the same could be said for a lot of things. Our students need to learn to be patient problem solvers and they need to learn to grapple with compelling questions that demand compelling answers. So do teachers.

Angela Lee Duckworth, in her TEDTalk on grit, observes that students need to learn that "failure is not a permanent condition." So do teachers.

Years ago, Marzano was best known for What Works in Schools. Professional development is too often trying to find a single answer for what works in a classroom. Administrators struggle for continuity and consistency. They implement PLCs, though rarely well, and wonder why scores don't skyrocket.

Just as our students need to feel safe and confident the teacher has their best interests at heart, so do teachers. Teachers need to believe that administrators what all of their teachers to do their best and that those same administrators will provide sufficient support. Teachers also need to believe their colleagues will be collegial and collaborative and that because they are collegial and collaborative, the responsibility for staying current, for knowing and assessing the latest and greatest trend or fad is not every single teacher's responsibility.

How great it is to join a faculty meeting or a PLC to have someone share a new strategy and talk about how they think they can use that strategy in their own classroom, and then have others talk about how they might try it and what they might do differently. And the enthusiasm is to reconnect to compare notes and talk about how to continue to improve.

How great it should be to be a new or a veteran teacher and know the community of educators is there to support every educator who is seeking to learn and grow as a professional, who is seeking compelling answers to the most compelling question for most teachers: What can I do today to help my students learn?

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