Apr 23, 2011

Still Learning

This entry began as some random notes I jotted to myself on my laptop while sitting through a belle plates rehearsal Mrs. Arthurs, the principal of our school, was conducting with my students. It was Friday night, the last night of the first annual Allegheny West Conference Arts Festival, and the entire experience had been one of learning—for students and staff.

What I’ve learned:

Talk less. Just talk less. I talk too much. The kids talk too much. We all talk too much. The more I talk, lecture, explain, cajole, threaten, the more I lose the kids. The gift of gab can be a curse. A few words of instruction, well-chosen are far more useful than long lectures or explanations. I’m as guilty as the students of wasting time with talking.

You’ve got to have your stuff together. Dead time is deadly. It’s better to do a few things well than to attempt too much and have it turn out poorly.

There comes a point when all you’re going to get is diminishing returns. Learn to recognize when that is and let it go.

Recognize when kids are (and aren’t) giving their best. Allow time for growth rather than blaming them for not listening. At the same time, don’t settle for subpar when the students can give more. Remember that most things are easier said than done.

It’s easy to criticize. It’s harder to do the work.

Follow through. Once you say something, you have to back it up. Understand that you will not want to do that when the time comes, but you must do it any way.

Focus on prevention, rather than the cure.

When speaking to students, think about how you would feel and how you would respond if someone were saying the same words to you and in the same tone of voice.

I’ve been learning a lot lately and I’ve been trying, with some success (and with a fair amount of failure too), to put what I’ve learned into practice. Two books have had a profound impact on the way that I approach my work as a teacher.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement that these two volumes have literally shaken the foundation of everything I thought I knew about teaching.

The first book is Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators, by Jim Roy, a volume that focuses on radically different take on classroom management and discipline. In the book Roy seeks to draw parallels between William Glasser’s educational philosophy of Choice Theory and Ellen White’s counsels on education. (For readers that are not Seventh-day Adventist, Ellen White was one of the founders of our church, a prolific writer on topics from health to education, and considered by many Adventists to be a prophet). According to Roy, the crossroads of these two educational thinkers is that ultimately classroom’s must be “lead-managed” rather than “boss-managed.” Students cannot be (or perhaps more accurately) should not be forced to conform to the will of the teacher, but instead teachers should seek to encourage students to take ownership of their choices. There is much in Roy’s book that challenges me, and I’m not sure I entirely agree with all his conclusions, but I have also found a great deal of wisdom and truth in what he says and already I’m seeking to change the way I manage my classroom to reflect greater respect for my students free will and encourages them to truly take responsibility for themselves.

The second book is the textbook for the class I’m currently taking for my Master’s degree. Classroom Assessment: Supporting Teaching and Learning in Real Classrooms by Catherine Taylor and Susan Bobbitt Nolen is about techniques in assessing student learning but really it is about a new approach to learning—one that emphasizes authentic classroom experiences (tasks that have real-world application and importance) over rote learning, quality over quantity, and the use of assessment (often better understood as “testing” to the layperson) as a means of enhancing the quality of instruction. In this approach the test is not taken at the end, but essentially taken throughout and used not to judge the student, but to help the student succeed. This book and this class has been revelation to me. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. I look at some of my classes and feel like they need a complete overhaul. A lot of that will have to wait until next year, but at least some of what I’ve learned I’m beginning to try to put into practice right away.

Learning is a funny thing. It is one thing to intellectually comprehend something and another more difficult thing to actually put it into practice. But that process of learning leading to change is what makes any learning meaningful.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Your kids are blessed to have a teacher that cares as much as you do! You're a great GREAT teacher Sean!

Mai said...

Great post - I think I need to read those books! I'm taking a Measurement & Assessment class this summer too. We're using a different book, but perhaps it'll touch on some of the same concepts!

Thanks for sharing all that great advice, I need some of it!