In all the talk of (the need for) systemic change, I often remind myself about things I can control and make happen at the micro-level as a teacher. This is my sanity kit on how to do things, a “letter to self” I have decided to share:
- Walk the talk of collaboration
Teaching is a pretty lonely business. We close that classroom door and it’s just “us and the kids”. We teach kids to share, collaborate and so on (multiplied greatly of course by technology) but we so rarely get to do these things ourselves, among colleagues. If we do, it’s an exception rather than the norm. We ‘talk’ about it but we don’t exactly ‘walk’ and model collaboration with our students.
How about (more) team teaching? Across the school, state or the world? Asking colleagues in a different learning area, school or country what they are doing or at least having a rough outline of it in a shared space? Sharing resources by creating and/or using the same Moodle course among several classes? Creating a network of fellow educators? Learning and getting others to start using collaborative tools like wikis, Google docs, social bookmarking as a norm and not some esoteric, new-fangled way of doing things?
Isolation is the enemy of innovation and helpful human relationships.
- Use your freedom
I often hear fellow teachers saying how we have no power to do and change things, how we need to follow a million rules and so on. I don’t exactly agree with all of that.
Down on the ground we are the most free of the lot! If you have ever worked in bureaucracy, particularly at some sort of management position, you would probably know how difficult it is to comply with a mountain of things, regulations, budgets, personality types, lobbies, cliques and other (quasi)politicians.
We and the kids in the class are indeed quite free to be creative, tailor things to individuals (us and students) and give things a go. Sure we may fail sometimes a bit, a lesson will fall apart sometimes but by trying to be innovative, flexible and, very importantly, in tune with the context of the group and individual we teach, we are sending a powerful message – it is OK to try and learn. So … use your freedom, experiment and live a little!
- Plant a seed
I often admire the tenacity and zeal of religious door knockers but I have to say I have always politely closed the door: “No thanks, no salvation here!” They do however remind me of my job sometimes trying to tell people how to use technology and extol its usefulness at work.
I follow my passion(s) but don’t expect others to openly and immediately share in it. I know I had fallen in the trap of “how can’t they see it, I wonder if I am making ANY difference at all…” Now I’d plant a seed instead, give it some ‘fertiliser’ and observe.
As teachers and mentors, we are in a privileged position to ‘plant many seeds’. The flipside of that is that we (may) never see those seeds grow. If you want instant and constant gratification – teaching probably isn’t for you. We may occasionally get a thank you or notice someone using something we had shared with and/or passed on. But that’s about it, wouldn’t expect big bells and whistles about it.
Until you meet a former student or colleague in town one day and they proceed to tell you how valuable your lessons or materials were, how they changed the way they work because of your ideas and so on … that stuff is like a drug!
- Feed back
Lots of educational research tells us about the importance of feedback as the number one factor determining student success.
What about teacher success? What feedback do we get? How often do you get a colleague, an administrator, or a student say “this is really good”? Give you a constructive critique of your work?
Notice the work of your colleagues, praise, help and critique them whenever you can (without being too nosey or cheesy, of course). It rubs off and very easily too. Ours is a business of relationships – feed some back.
- Speak out!
Speak out. Don’t be a sheep. But when you do, have something constructive to say. Isn’t that what we are trying to teach the kids?
I love it when students tell me I am starting to lose them, when I start repeating myself, not making sense. I encourage them to do that because it saves us all time and effort by not doing what is clearly not working well. Ego aside, it is a very responsible way of doing things.
Don’t just tell me that it’s boring, tell me why is it boring.
- Remember the important things
I had a very wise mentor when starting out as a water polo coach many years ago. One of his thoughts has continued to guide what I do as a father and education professional.
When I got the first coaching assignment coaching the youngest of juniors, he asked me if I know what my job is and how important it is. “Of course, I have to teach them how to position their legs properly, swim with and control the ball, basics of throwing, then…” He cut me off and said “No, no, no. Your job is to make them fall in love with the game. If they do that, everything else will follow.”
My job as a teacher is for students to fall in love with learning, thinking and acting as capable, confident and responsible members of the society.
What a job it is indeed!