If I had the opportunity to work with new teachers I’d share with them a few of the most meaningful changes I’ve made in my practice.
1. I’d tell them I blog. I enjoy openly sharing what happens in my classroom to a broad audience. I want my students to see how I am learning from them and for them to understand more deeply the many layers of purpose that are scaffolding what we’re doing together as a community. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my teaching and document what we are doing whether it’s our use of a web tool, an inspired lesson, or some amazing student work.
And all of my students blog. I want them to personalize their work in ways that the traditional pen and paper method won’t allow. I want them to document their learning through writing, photographs, video, hyperlinks, memes, screencasts, artwork, and any other tool they would like to use. I want them to create an awesome online representation of themselves that reflects their learning.
2. I tweet. I’ve nurtured a PLN that inspires and challenges me. On a daily basis I meet someone new or I question someone’s directions or I rob someone’s idea. It is the most collaborative and easy change I’ve added to my teaching to date.
3. My classroom doors are always open. I used to think that what I was doing, how I was teaching, should be behind closed doors. It was as though good learning should be hidden, or it should be in a quiet room, or it should be secluded from other learning happening in other rooms. What I’ve come to realize is that the type of community I want to build in my room is one where we are proud of what we’re doing. We should have nothing to hide. In fact, the learning happening in our classroom demands celebration and that by having our doors open I am beginning to do just that, I am celebrating students and making our learning more visible to those around us.
4. I now spend so much less time at the front of my class and so much more time at my desk or beside my students. I know what you’re thinking: what could students possibly be learning if I’m not teaching them? When I did my internship practicum, 10 months from September to June at Esquimalt High School almost 15 years ago, I created such detailed lesson plans that every minute of those 10 months was accounted for. Of course I’d be forced to stray from the plan and adapt on the fly but I was just so focused on using the time I had with the class to my fullest ability. What I’ve come to realize is that no matter how well thought or planned a lesson I have created is, it’s doomed to fail if students do not find it meaningful. No matter how much I have to contribute to a class, what the students have to contribute is just as important if not more so. What is more important than teaching them from the front of the room? Teaching them how to be resourceful, how to do meaningful work and research, and how to identify their learning path and work towards their own definition of success.
5. I am not in control. Today my classroom is a student centred learning space where the students have voice and choice throughout the semester. I am in control in the sense that I support them, provide them structures to explore, question, and demonstrate understanding. I am in control in that I am a mentor and leader. I am in control in the sense that I know more about the PLOs of the course that need to be met, sound assessment practices that we can use, and what the final exam looks like at the end of our time together. But I am not in control of their creativity. I am not in control of their curiosity. I am not in control of their passions. And since this is what I am asking them to explore, clearly I am not in as much control as I once thought I was.
6. I use technology to help students personalize their learning. Whether it’s using FaceTime because a student is unable to attend school due to anxiety, offering up various web tools to assist students in sharing voice, or working in a 1 to 1 device setting so students can access the knowledge they need from they experts they demand, my implementation of technology has created so many more access points for students to be successful.
7. I began to rethink the definition of “literacy”. After years of believing that the best way to assess oral language in an English class was to ask students to memorize and recite a Shakespearean sonnet, I’ve come to understand that how I look at what literacy is does’t match up with what I was aways told it was. Can oral language be a screencast? Can oral language be a podcast? Can oral language be a voice recording? Can oral language be a vlog? Of course it can. But it took some considerable time and discomfort to come to terms with this.
8. And this brings me to my final point: I am more comfortable in areas that used to make me extremely uncomfortable. I’ve been surrounded by teachers my whole lifetime; from kindergarten to elementary school to high school to university to becoming a teacher myself. If anyone knows what good teaching looks like it should be someone who has seen so many darn teachers. But on the contrary, what all of this has done is created a pretty terrible learning DNA and muddied the waters of what good teaching is. The individual that is most successful in school is the one who can delay gratification the best and get through the dullness of school by sticking to a boring task. I’ve had to unlearn and redefine my understanding of what my role as an educator should be. And this has been extremely uncomfortable. But now I embrace these moments of “awkwardness” because I truly see the value in doing things differently than they were done before me. I need to continue to grown and adapt and rise to the challenges my students bring to the classroom and being comfortable in the soup of all the uncertainty is key.
A colleague and mentor of mine once told me that the most important thing I could do to be a better teacher was to make just one change, one single, achievable change. So I did just that. And by changing that one thing it led to another small change, and another one after that. And over time these changes created a transformation. It’s my hope that one small change in all educators will not just lead to many transformations within our profession, but a revolution of the landscape of education.
And no better way for us to make this revolution happen than by working with young teachers entering in to the most meaningful profession in the world.