When I tell people what I do and who I teach, they say, “Wow, you must have a lot of patience.” I nod and smile and say, “It’s understanding I have.” There’s an article I read in graduate school that has had an incredible influence on who I am as a teacher– I even remember the professor who assigned it. “Food for Thought. Patience or Understanding?” was written by Nancy Weber-Schwartz in 1987 with the conviction that good teachers aren’t patient, they understand the whole child.
I follow this, as is evident in a few of my previous posts– it’s my mantra as a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I have felt frustrated working with children. When I do, I step back and reflect, sometimes catching eye contact with another adult in the room to indicate I need a minute away. In these times of frustration, finding different ways to approach the situation is imperative- I make a visual for the next time, chat with the student when he or she is not upset, or make an incentive plan based on the child’s goals. Knowing exactly what impacts a child’s ability to complete a task or follow a direction is key to providing the necessary support for the child to be successful. Providing the support is what makes a good teacher.
Good teachers who work with toddlers understand that they touch everything because they are curious and discovering their world, so they give them the tactile input they need. Good teachers who work with teenagers understand that their rebellion is something to be embraced, so they ignore the fact that they were late and instead give them a reason to be on time. Good teachers who work with children with special needs discover patterns of behavior, so they can preempt behaviors with necessary support. All of these good teachers have something in common; their work is centered around understanding the child.
Stemming from what can sometimes be crippling compassion and understanding, there’s a high level of dedication and follow-through that good teachers have. Sometimes this follow-through means dreaming about the classroom, not being able to sleep at night, working late and early hours, needing multiple venting sessions in a day, and needing someone else to tell them it’s time to take a break from school. If school schedules didn’t dictate vacations, teachers would rarely take the time for themselves. Most of the teachers I know drag themselves to work when they’re sick because they are overridden with guilt if they miss a day.
I think about the perspective required to understand teachers, and there are few outside the profession who have it. Unfortunately, the ones who really don’t understand are the ones making decisions in schools. Successful teachers aren’t measured the way they should be. Schools get graded based on text scores and test score improvements, not on actual growth of the children. What will it take for our system to recognize what we’re doing to both teachers and students?
I read a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog called Hackschooling: Is This the Future? about a TEDtalk by a teenage boy about redefining schools.
He has a valid point. Learning comes from passion.
The whole picture is not just about making schools centered on individual interests without the training– there’s a fundamental point that he makes about the relationship of his teacher (or guide) to his work. He chooses the topic and someone teaches him how to explore it, question it, and master it. Logan clearly has teachers who work with him to learn the necessary skills to execute research, write about it, and then deliver an eloquent speech. Redefining does not mean taking teachers out of the equation; it means that the child’s passions are merely vehicles for teaching skills.
Math has been on my mind a lot lately, which is evidenced by my series of recent math posts. The idea of giving the children work to do on Khan Academy on Fridays is working out really well. Clicking around the site has helped me to see how well-differentiated I can make this flipped classroom. Each child has his or her own login, which helps me to track their progress. In addition to tracking the progress, I can coach them and suggest specific strands to work on.
What this does is free up our time to solve real-world problems in the school during math. As we’re working on measurement, I had them do a project in the art room to measure for a tech installation. They came up with two solutions, and we did a shared writing activity to describe the solutions. After that, they each drew diagrams illustrating the solutions and gave reasons to go with their individually chosen solutions.
This complex, real-life problem was so illuminating to me as a math teacher. It allowed me to coach them through the process and see exactly where the challenges were– more so than any dry word problem in a book. They were also very motivated to be at the head of this meaningful project for the school. I’m looking forward to continuing this kind of work with my group.
I’ve been fascinated in the idea of a flipped classroom. The children I work with are grappling with much more than just how to do math problems. As a result, instructional time can be eaten up with the needs of the class. My schedule this year has allowed me to try out the flipped classroom in a controlled setting. Math is scheduled Monday through Friday, but I am not in on Fridays. There is coverage for my group, but they have been spending the time playing various math games. Over my December break, I had time to think about what the group should be doing to help them with the projects we work on when I am at school. I signed them each up for an xtramath account to strengthen their facts, and I started giving them specific math videos to watch on Khan Academy. I formatted the group, so they can practice their quick facts on xtramath. When they feel ready to move into content, they go to Khan Academy to watch videos and complete activities. I took the time this week to teach them the navigation skills needed for working independently on Fridays without me. There are a lot of skills they need on the computer before just handing the assignment to them, and the lessons gave them time to learn the routine. By yesterday, they were confident. What amazed me was that the same content I’ve been teaching was all of the sudden much cooler when in a tutorial video online– I think kids get sick of hearing my voice. The kids loved the control and the fact that it was on a computer. I can pick different videos for different children to help with the specific skills they need to hone. Fridays will now be much more productive, and I’m also collecting data! It’s so convenient, and the motivation and engagement has increased significantly.
Writing has encouraged me to think deeply about my craft as a teacher. In addition, my break has given me more time to reflect on my way of working. Combining writing and time away has helped me to further reflect on my previous post I wrote about taking time for myself to both enjoy my work and avoid burnout. An extension of this reflection is the connection to a few articles, this one in particular, I read about a changing the presentation and delivery of professional development to engage more teachers on a meaningful level. Basically, no one looks forward to a lecture at the end of the day– no one wants to watch someone else click through a Powerpoint after a long day at school.
In this digital age, we have changed our way of learning. Most learning happens through our individual drive to learn (as it always has), but it looks different now. It has become more accessible from home, which results in less face-to-face interaction. Teachers seek on their own what they know they want to know. The problem is that teachers want (and need) to talk with other adults who share their interests and have similar experiences– it can be done online, but there’s value in being able to converse with colleagues in a physical setting. Being able to be fully honest in a place where confidentiality is not broken is important.
What can motivate teachers to want to have PD after school within the school community? There’s no question in my mind that teachers want to learn; that’s not the issue– it’s everything else on their plates– being stuck in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute and missing out on the bigger picture. It is only natural for many teachers to work like that, but there is a need for exposure to new ideas, bigger ideas, conversations, and reflection.
Here’s the test idea that we’ll try: a small group of teachers will meet regularly to continue a school-betterment project that was started by all the teachers earlier this year. This smaller focus group will continue work on the project, which will deepen our understanding of the flow of academic goals for children and will help create a more consistent reference for the curricular goals for reports, IEPs, conference notes, etc.
The project is intense and will require dedication, motivation, and energy. What’s going to be different is the presentation– we’ll have snacks, coffee, and even a little wine. So, instead of a forced collaboration with only goals and checklists, we’ll get together and work on the bigger ideas– our common interest fueling our learning in a more social and fun context. It seems like it will be more productive this way, and we’ll also feel better about it– not dreading the time we will spend on the project but looking forward to the time we spend on it. The sense of accomplishment at the end will hopefully also come with an interest in doing another project of the same magnitude. We’ll see!
Happy New Year to our followers!
2013 was a great start to professional blogging. I’m happy to report that I love it– There’s so much gained from writing about teaching (and being human). It taps into another brain process to help understand what we do and why we do it. I hope the readers are enjoying it as much as I am.