Monday, October 22, 2018

25 Years Burning Down the Road...Some Things Just Don't Change

This is my 25th year in education.  Some novice teachers who are reading this may say, wow, that's a lot.  On the other hand, fellow veteran teachers with even more experience may say, "Yeah, so what?"

I recently attended my 25 year college reunion and predictably there was a lot of reminiscing.  Looking back is typically what you do when you reach a milestone.  We look back and may smile, shed a tear, or probably cringe. We also realize how much has changed. During my first years of teaching the notion of emails, flipped and virtual learning, cell phones, iPads, Chromebooks, and smart watches were unfathomable.  And yes, I am one of those old timers that can still remember the moist feeling of a freshly mimeographed piece of paper!

It's easy to look back and see how many things have changed.  Particularly in education we often view those changes as progress.  It is more of a challenge to look back and see what has remained the same.  Let's recognize and celebrate certain practices that we know are, and always have been, right for our students.

10 Things that are as true today as they were 25 years ago

  • Building relationships is an important part of everything we do and can help students achieve their goals.  As teachers we are expected to follow the curriculum, build and manage procedures, create a stimulating learning environment, individualize instruction, foster social emotional learning, encourage collaboration, and about a thousand other things.  Is this even possible?  Absolutely, if you have a group of learners that are all on board.  They most certainly will be if you take the time to get to know and establish a relationship with each one of them.

  • Smile.  Yes, this is a simple gesture that can yield great results. When you greet students with a warm, inviting  smile, you have connected with them in a way that will help them to be better prepared to learn.  And when you are seeing them off at the end of the day, a smile is telling them that you are looking forward to seeing them tomorrow.

  • Responsibility needs to be given a chance to grow and the only way to do that is to provide learners with opportunities to flex that muscle.  When we shift responsibility to the learner we are building confidence and independence.  When individuals. of any age take ownership of their learning, they are more invested and have likely to develop intrinsic motivation to succeed.
  • The process is just as (if not more) important as the final product.  Think back to that diorama you made in 3rd grade, that trifold board in fifth, that essay you wrote in 9th,  or that presentation you gave in college.  Now ask yourself what you remember most about them and when did the learning happen.  We know this as adult learners and should be sharing this philosophy with our students.

  • Recognizing and capturing that teachable moment is important, however so is establishing an environment that allows students to create their own teachable moments.  When students are excited and engaged about what they are learning and we allow them the time and space to choose how they want to learn it, every moment becomes teachable.

  • Planning is not a bad word.  A group of construction workers didn't just show up one day with random materials and tools and build the structure you live in, yet your home is unique and has it's own characteristics.  So too are your lessons.  Let the curriculum guide you to where you need to get, but make a plan on how to get there that works for you and your learners.

  • Collaborating with colleagues will help you grow professionally and help you better meet the needs of your students.  The how, when, and where you meet is irrelevant, it should be all about the what - as in what are you going to give and what are you going to get.  Listen to concerns your colleagues may have and don't just give answers and share stories, but rather ask questions that will lead them to the answers that might work for them.

  • Using data to guide your work.  At the beginning of my career collecting data involved sticky notes, index cards, and a whole lot of time.  Today, collecting, analyzing, and using the data has never been easier, yet many in the field don't take full advantage of the tools we have available to us.  Relying on hunches and making spontaneous decisions are certainly part of teaching, but not when it comes to identifying areas of need and  providing targeted interventions.

  • Accountability.  This one has evolved for me personally over time as I have transitioned from teacher to administrator, however the spirit of it has remained the same.  Holding all members of the learning community accountable is an essential part of establishing and maintaining trust.  Whether as a member of a committee or through your interactions with parents, students, colleagues, or administrators, following through on plans and holding yourself accountable goes a long way toward achieving personal and collective goals.

  • Meaningful reflection is an important part of the learning process that shouldn't be overlooked.  Having students reflect on their work is certainly not a new practice and the benefits have been well documented.  It is however in danger of becoming stale and looked upon as something that just needs to be checked off at the end of an assignment. Students need to be trained to know what to look for, given the vocabulary to articulate it, and finally the opportunity to build upon their work.

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