Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Trust, Permission, and The Need to Go Out and Do

I was a rule breaker growing up. I was one of those strong-willed individuals who was not afraid to push back and ask why things were the way they were. I was never afraid to do my own thing if I did not like what everyone else was doing. In my very first job interview the principal asked me what I would do if I had an idea to do something great for my students, but he brushed me off. I said I would ask a couple more times then if I still had no reply I would probably just go do it. I found out later on that answer is why I got the job.

My second teaching position was at a different school but under the same principal. I had complete autonomy over what I taught and how I assessed my students. The lack of structure in my school provided me with an unlimited amount of freedom to experiment and change what wasn't working. By "lack of structure" I mean that there was not a particular curriculum or course sequence that we followed. I was the only social studies teacher and I taught four different 9 week classes throughout the year. When I asked my principal which classes and topics I needed to teach his response was that I was the content area specialist and he trusted my judgement. The only mandate was that my lessons had to fit within the Nebraska Social Studies standards. Over time I realized that my principal really did trust me to make curricular decisions and that he respected my professional judgment.

Until I joined Twitter in 2008 and became a connected educator I had no idea that other teachers were not afforded the same respect. I assumed that all teachers had the ability to make professional decisions such as what resources to use and how to assess their students. It was not until I started having conversations with teachers from other places around the world that I realized that I was very lucky.

I have been part of the collective conversation we have been having for year about how "things need to change." Increased access to technology can be a game-changer, but only if teachers change how they approach teaching and how they assess learning. Remember when I said I was a rule breaker growing up? I don't have any research to back this up, but I would be willing to bet that the majority of teachers are rule-followers. They like the comfort and safety of doing things the way they have always done it. People don't typically voluntarily leave their comfort zones---especially people who do not usually enjoy taking risks.

The problem with this mentality is that the world has changed dramatically. The skills that we need today are not the same ones we needed 10 years ago. The way that we consume content has changed forever. If we want to learn something new we no longer have to rely on a teacher in order to learn it. I'm not saying that teachers no longer have a role in education. There will always be a need for teachers. What I'm trying to say is that the role of the teachers has changed dramatically. Those who have not changed how they deliver content and assess learning are doing a huge disservice to their students.

Students who graduate only knowing how to write research papers using information from trusted databases will never develop the skills they need in order to find and evaluate information on the web. Their peers who learned and developed these skills in school will have a huge advantage. Students who spend their days completing worksheet after worksheet will never learn how to make decisions, collaborate with others, think critically, evaluate information, or create projects that demonstrate their mastery of skills and knowledge.

I would like to share a TEDx video where my friend Karl Lindgren-Streicher discusses the role of teachers as change agents. If you are a teacher who is afraid to do something different and innovative because you are afraid of the potential consequences from your administrators then you need to watch this video. If you are an administrator who has the power to encourage teachers to kick the status quo square in the face then you need to watch this video as well. Like Karl says in his talk- plan on doing something every single day to fix education. Even if you are in the camp that doesn't believe education is broken there are always things we can do to give students more opportunities to make choices and to have their voices heard.

If you are a teacher or administrator who has already been doing what is best for students then KEEP DOING IT and share like crazy! I scour Twitter every day for examples to share with the teachers I work with. And please don't ever forget that something that is ordinary to you might be extraordinary to someone else.

No comments:

Post a Comment