Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Teachers Learn Some Bad Ideas in Teacher School

      As an educator, I have learned a great deal from many sources.  Indeed, it has been a lifelong journey in on the job training, courses, studying, sharing, collaborating and more.   
First and foremost, I have learned so much from my students.  In my 23 years, I have been emotionally, spiritually and intellectually inspired, challenged and motivated by the lessons that my students provided.  Whether it was from that first Journalism or English 10 class in 1990 or from the iPad-slinging freshman from the class of 2017, I learn from students everyday.

I have also learned from colleagues continuously.  Educators are a tremendous resource as long as they share with one another, collaborate with one another and keep an open mind.  They are the people who test potentially life-changing ideas everyday with students.  Thankfully, my first principal taught me how to say “yes” instead of “no.”  And I appreciate that my high school English teacher and mentor insured me that I would never find something better in life than working with students or educators.
         Finally, my first grade teacher was right.  If I keep reading, I keep learning.  It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s hard to replace reading.  And you know, this includes all reading.  That’s right.  Personally, I don’t care if one reads fiction, non-fiction, journals, news, academic publications, social media and/or other.  To me, we all know that reading is the ultimate personal journey of ourselves interacting with the thoughts, ideas and world views of others.  Regardless of the source or written vision, it’s all good for us.  It stretches us and keeps our brain fresh.  Learning is always available if we take advantage of all the voices out their sharing.  To me, the Internet has only expanded both the writing and reading opportunities for us all.
         Now, where did learning miss the boat for me or many others as we entered the world of teaching and education?  Well, some of it was teacher classes or teacher education.  Now, I actually had a pretty good experience because my teacher education was a lab approach where we were actually teaching and learning from one another’s mistakes, successes and tribulations.
       But most teachers are taught some very misguided standard and mainstream teacher mantras or guidelines.  And whether it’s from their teacher ed. programs or from those teachers that anoint themselves the experts, these standards mantras are all wrong and very damaging. 
        Here are the myths, the truths according to me and all the associated glory:

Bad Beginning Teacher Myth or Mantra # 1

* Don’t be too nice in the beginning with your classes…they won’t respect you.  You need to be mean, really hard and can only back off once you have them fearing you. 
This is ridiculous.  We actually have told teachers over and over to be mean to their students.  We somehow convinced them and others that this would make them an effective teacher.  Instead of focusing on relationship building, engagement or other, we had them start off by scaring and disconnecting with students.  I can’t imagine how much damage this has done.  I bet there are many students who never realized their educational potential because this is how each school year started for them.

Bad Beginning Teacher Myth or Mantra # 2

* Don’t smile until Thanksgiving or even Xmas.
      This is actually a continuation of the first one.  Essentially, it was about not being nice, or weak in one’s eyes, and being mean, or strong, in one’s eyes.  Again, doesn’t this just seem ridiculous?  Wow….there might not be anything more personal, emotional or sensitive than a student-teacher relationship.  So, instead of getting new teachers to grow and foster that, we taught them to discourage or even destroy that from day one.  

Bad Beginning Teacher Myth or Mantra # 3

* Don’t be friends with your students.  They are not your friends.  They are your students.
      Again, this is an extension of the first two and operates under the myth that students will only respect you if you keep a distance.  I think good teachers struggled with this always.  Indeed, the opposite is true.  Not only should we be friends with our students, we should embrace them as family.  Teaching is about creating a supportive and encouraging environment.  We need to lower that affective filter.  This is done by reaching out to students and letting them know you care about them and will do anything in your power to help them succeed.  All good or great teachers I’ve ever met refer to students as “their children” or “their kids.”  They mean this.  They realized from minute one that they had to care about them as their own in order to maximize their learning.

Bad Beginning Teacher Myth or Mantra # 4

* Let the textbook be your guide…
      Whether this was intended to be literal or not, many veterans operated this way and many beginning teachers followed suit.  Actually, I think most good, or great teachers, knew from day one that there was always something more than the basic or standard curriculum.  They inherently knew that the world always had so much to offer their students and that their role as a teacher was to bring all of the great and varied resources of the world to their students.  There are many ways to slice this.  But in the end, it comes down to teachers who were there for the minimum vs. those who knew it was something more. 

       My blogs are eternally dedicated to starting or continuing a conversation.  So, with that in mind, I am aware that there are many more bad beginning teacher myths or other standard educational traditions that are flawed.  Feel free to always add to the fray.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Project-Based Education Demands a Different Type of Student....And Some Will Resist

      As we know, education has traditionally been teacher-driven vs. student driven.  Whether it was the factory model that we had for decades, or even the high stakes bubble test environment, both students and teachers understood the game.  Teachers drove the instruction and learning, while students learned to play the game. 
     For students, the game was compliance.  The more students essentially kept their mouths shut, did the work, completed tasks on time and followed instructions, the better they did.  In the end, it was not about critical thinking, creativity, divergent ideas, or anything else related to what we inherently know was “actual learning.” 
      The problem is that students learned to accept and even perfect this game.  Students did not have to invest themselves into their learning.  It wasn’t about their ideas, their voice, their choice or their engagement.  And as ultimately counter-productive or now out-of-step as this seems, this is how we trained our students.  Some never bought in or performed in that environment either, but everyone understood the game and knew what it would take to succeed if that was a goal.
     Flash forward to our second decade in the 21st century.  The game is dramatically changing.  Whether its is because of new standards, the advent of technology, or the changing nature of jobs and the global economy, the learning world is now asking students to do something very different.  Indeed, they are requiring them and demanding them to do more. 
     Education is now asking students to generate ideas and share them.  We are asking them to collaborate with teams in their classes and even beyond.  We are asking them to be public (present, publish, etc.).  This represents a very different type of learning expectation and ultimately a very different type of student.
      No longer is it just about compliance, completed homework, high grades and scores.  Students will have to invest themselves.  In the end, they will have to do more and not less and the rules will be different.  Some students may not like that. 
    Don’t get me wrong.  Many students have been waiting for years to unleash their creativity and were not bought into what it took to be successful in the previous model or models.  But while there have been many who were dying to produce and share relevant, real world work, there are maybe just as many who were glad that they didn’t have to. 
      For example, what is ultimately easier?  Completing a worksheet and turning in for points towards a grade or having to come with an idea an see it through? Well, obviously, the first one is much easier.  In the end, it demands very little from the student.  Even it is a long or complicated worksheet assignment, a student does not have to be creative, collaborative or communicative.  And they certainly did not have to critically think. 
        But when you ask a student to come with an idea for a project and then pursue it all the way to fruition, they inherently know that it will require a great deal more from them.  Not only will it be ultimately more work, but it will also be more personal, more reflective, and more public.  And they may not like that.
     There could be many other challenges as we evolve this new type of student.  Previously, it was always easy to determine who was academic and who wasn’t, who was successful and who wasn’t, who was getting it and who wasn’t.  But now, it will less uniform and more individualized.  There will now be more than one way to be academic, be successful or even get it.  And again, some students may not like the new, more level playing field.
        When we get into real project-based education, there will be standards, expectations and rubrics, but there will be lots of diversity.  Instead of a system based on compliance, it will now be based on what level students are willing to invest personally.  As educators and the system continue to evolve, students will too.  But it will take time.  For some, years of training will have to be undone.  For others, the redefining of success and learning will be challenging. 
(photos courtesy of Minarets High School)