Saturday, July 2, 2011

Too Heavy

In the past several weeks and months I have been reading a great many blogs and articles about the state of education and where we need to move. I further discussed this at great length with a number of educators at ISTE last week. The question I have is, “are we overcomplicating the matter?” There is a great number of “experts” spouting pedagogy, theory and even some philosophy to try to explain how education should be done in our schools. I kept thinking that it was all a bit heavy and maybe a bit to over thought. For me, I have four relatively basic beliefs about education that everything seems to come back to.

Relationships Rule

At the end of the day it will not matter how much content we cram into our student’s head but rather how we relate to them as people. Yes, content is important, but relationships will always trump it. Teachers that are able to have a positive relationships built on trust, honesty, and mutual respect will always have a greater chance of helping a kid succeed. Student learning will not take place in a classroom where there is fear, mistrust, or a power struggle.

Always remember that the kids in your class are human beings first and students second. If we remember this and address the human relationships first, we will always have more success with the student relationships second. In order to do this, we need to know our students beyond the relatively short amount of time we see then daily. We need to invest time to create personal connections and know them beyond what their homework and test scores tells us. Taking a personal and genuine interest in a kid is never a bad investment and is often the difference maker in some kid’s lives.

In addition to our relationships with our students, those we have with parents and other teachers are crucial as well. We are all in this together and we need each other to maximize a student’s ability to learn and be successful. Parents play a key role in child development and as teachers we need to foster a positive relationship built on those same principles of trust, honesty, and mutual respect.

Stop the Arms Race

Due to many political and economic reasons I either don’t understand or don’t agree with, we are pitting our teachers and schools against each other. Schools are not allowed to share their work with others and student’s work is being kept under lock and key. We are afraid to share the good work we are doing for fear that someone else might copy us. If we are doing good work, wouldn’t we want all kids to be doing it? Should we not be proud of our work and want others to be able to learn and grow from it?

One of the greatest things about my involvement in social media is the connections I have made. Through these connections I have been exposed to great teaching and examples of student learning all over the world. It is through this sharing that the learning experiences in my classes have been greatly improved. Beyond the teachers, we need to find ways for our students to stop competing for grades and awards and instead work collaboratively to create enriched learning experiences. We are better together.

When we Standardize we Bastardize

Yes, I am obviously referring to the standardized testing but more than that as well. Standardize testing’s evils have been written about in such great length that I will not go into any more details. However, testing is not the only thing we attempt to standardize in our schools. We do the same thing with teaching practice. In many schools we look to find “best practice” and then standardize it. When we do this, we are standardizing something that cannot and should not be standardized; people.  As long as humans are individuals and inherently different, teaching and learning practice can and should not be standard.

This also goes with resources and technology. We are trying to blanket cover classrooms with the same tools and resources. This is not the way to go. While I may like a particular resource, it will not work for everyone. Instead or standardizing these resources, let’s make innovation and creativity standard. Give me a tool box full of tools, some guidance, and let me run with it. Let each teacher decide what is best for them and their student’s learning. If we are truly the professionals we claim to be, then we should be more than capable of doing such work. Give us the destination but stop giving turn by turn directions.

Student Learning Above All

This should seem like an obvious piece of the education puzzle but not always the case. We often get caught up in board policies, new technology tools, or political jargon that we forget why we are doing all this. Stop writing policies that limit teacher’s ability to teach effectively. Stop being wowed by the latest gadgets and gizmos without thinking if it will actually help a student learn. Stop making decisions from up on high without ever setting a foot in a classroom to see who your decisions are impacting. Bottom line, if you can’t clearly articulate how your actions directly help student learning, please stop.

Although it must be said that student learning is not always indicated in a test score or a final grade. Some of the greatest learning that takes place in a class is human learning. This is when a student grows and develops as a human being. I put far more weight is the human learning grade than any test about Ancient History or Math Facts.

Many people will disagree and claim that education is not that simple and maybe they are right. However, when I talk to teachers in classrooms doing the actual work with kids, it always comes back to these four things; create positive relationships, start sharing, stop standardizing, and put student learning above all else. 
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