The Biggest Driver of Educational Change- My Take

I still remember the day that our family got our first real computer. (Not including the Vic20 with the tape player attached to it) We picked it out at London Drugs, brought it home and proceeded to take over my Mom’s sewing room. That computer had two uses: word processing and solitaire. End of list.

Fast forward to today. This is the eleventh post I have written for this blog. I have written exactly zero of them on a desktop or a laptop computer. Nine of them have been written on my phone as I take the bus home from work. Today, as I did last Saturday, I am writing on my ipad as I watch my daughter’s skating lesson. My phone can take pictures and videos, access the internet, update my calendar, send emails, create documents, show presentations, pay for coffee, and oh right, make phone calls.

We’ve come a long way.

The implications of this dramatic change in access to technology has huge implications to teachers and students. In fact, I feel that changes in technology are the biggest driver of educational change today. It is giving students, teachers , and parents instant access to more information than I would have thought possible when I was in school. No longer are teachers the gatekeepers of information. It is forcing teachers and schools to redefine the role of teachers in the learning process. Knowing “stuff” is not good enough any more. Students have access to that “stuff” by reaching into their pockets.

Students are becoming creators of content instead of consumers. They are producing videos, podcasts, blogs, websites, robots. Most of them are more adept at this than their teachers are. This shift redefines the role of teacher from that of benevolent transmitter of knowledge to that of guide, facilitator, and learning coach. It is more important for a teacher to teach process, collaboration, and problem solving skills than it is for them to relay information to passive vessels.

We’ve come a long way.

We still have a long way to go.

Balance

It is report card writing “season” for teachers at my school right now. I use the word “season” purposefully in order to illustrate the amount of time and effort it takes teachers to create them. They are usually written outside of school time, typically on evenings and weekends.

I don’t say this to complain or to have anyone feel sorry for me. It is part of the gig. The reason I bring it up is that this “season” always causes me to re-evaluate the idea of balance in my own life. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey names the search for balance as Sharpening The Saw and talks about  it in two ways.

First, finding balance involves looking inward at yourself and trying to find a balance between body, mind, and soul. Any well balanced lifestyle involves activities such as exercise and a healthy diet. It includes finding ways to learn new things or develop enjoyable habits. And it involves looking for things in our lives that uplift our souls.

The second way that Covey talks about finding balance is in the roles that we live out on a day to day basis. I need to find ways to balance my roles of teacher, vice-principal,  husband, father, son, brother, and friend.

It can be very difficult to find balance when any of these roles makes greater demands on us than they do usually. It is almost impossible for one of those roles not to suffer. As teachers, it is important not to let the demands of our career overshadow the other roles in our life that we have and to ensure our spouses and kids do not face the brunt of our work demands.

So, my advice? Go right now and hug your kids and spouse. Eat dinner with them and ask them about their day. Take them out to celebrate when you finish off that last report card.

Happy Report Card Season!

Perseverance

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Every time that our school community goes to Mass at the Church building that shares our property, we pass a little flower garden. It kind of juts out into the path that people take as they walk back into our school building. In the corner of this garden is a sad little plant, stepped on and trampled by many as they try to save one step on their way back to the business of their day. I would have expected this little plant to have died by now, faced with constant trampling by the feet of countless students over the years. Instead, this plant constantly battles back from every trampling that it takes, trying over and over again to reach its potential as a beautiful flowering plant.

To me, this sad little plant is a symbol of perseverance. It is a symbol that can show us how, when things are difficult, to keep trying, even when we know that things may well get hard again.

I think perseverance is one of the most important qualities that we, as teachers can attempt to foster in our students. One of the ways that we can do this is to be careful in the ways that we provide feedback to students. In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset (which, as I said, I will comment on more at another time), she states that praising effort over ability can help students to achieve a growth mindset that allows them to grow as a learner. While I have not taken the time to do any deep research in the matter, the concept rings true to my lived classroom experience.

Perhaps it sounds funny that a half dead, trampled plant can be a strong symbol of perseverance to me, but it is definitely one whose attributes I hope that I can emulate personally and  encourage in the students I teach.

Parents, Never Say This to Your Kids

One of the things that I find most challenging as a teacher is when, in the middle of class, a kid pipes up and says, “I’m just not good at Math!” I am pretty sure that every teacher of an intermediate classroom has heard it and I am sure many share my frustration from hearing it at that moment.

So, where does this attitude come from? I can tell you almost without fail that every time I hear this phrase come out of the mouth of a student, that by the end of the year I will have one of their parents tell me, “I was no good at Math when I was a kid. I’m still not good at Math. Little Billy is just like me.”

Obviously, little Billy is struggling with the concepts being presented. However, this is also a way that students and parents let themselves off the hook. They could be saying, “I find Math hard, I don’t enjoy it very much, and I don’t want to put in the work.” At least that would be honest. And if we are in the business of being honest, it also gives parents and students a way to protect their own ego in the event that they try hard and fail.

It always amazes me the things that a person can achieve through hard work and dedication; the things that they can achieve if they see struggle as an opportunity for growth instead of an indictment of them as a person. Where would Michael Jordan have been if, after being cut from his tenth grade basketball team he had said, “I’m just not good at basketball.”?

So, please, parents, don’t tell your kids that you weren’t good at Math. Tell them that you believe in them and that they can achieve whatever they put their minds to. Help them to “Be like Mike.”*

*Jordan, not me 🙂

Are You Ready For This?

After school today I was havinga conversation with the dad of one of my students. We were talking about teaching our kids how to ride bikes. I told him that there was a summer, I think my son was four, where I tried to teach him how to ride on two wheels. We tried and struggled, struggled and tried until finally, by seemingly mutual consent,  we gave up and winter came. Fast forward to the next summer. My son asked me to try teaching him to ride on two wheels again. I told him to go and get his bike and wait out on the road of out townhose complex for me. I dutifully got my shoes and sweater on and headed out to give it another shot. As soon as I stepped out of the door I heard my son shouting, “You don’t need to help me anymore Dad, I taught myself!”

He was ready.

We all want every one of our students to produce a series of brilliant masterpieces. However, not all of our students are ready to produce masterpieces at any given moment on any given topic. This is not an indictment of a teacher’s work or a child’s  capacity to learn. Sometimes they just aren’t ready.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that anybody does not have the capacity to grow or to learn or to produce a life full of whatever masterpieces they are passionate about. Quite the opposite actually. I am currently reading Carol Dweck’s book called Mindset (which I will talk about more deeply another time) and it has reinforced for me the idea that through time, passion, and perseverance, people can achieve far more than they think they can. Sometimes we just need to be patient with where our students are right now and create an environment where they have time and opportunity to get ready.

Where Is Your Center?

One of the themes that kept coming up while I was taking my Masters degree was the idea of being able to hold true to your core beliefs and values even through times of change in curriculum, padagogy, technology or things of that sort.
I think that there are things that happen in education and in life that either lead us into, or force us into change. As you might have figured out by the title of this blog, more often than not, I embrace and enjoy change, whether that is in how I do things or just in how I perceive them. I do, however, need to take a gut check from time to time to make sure that my words and actions are in line with my core beliefs.

In many ways, working in a faith based school makes it easier to articulate my beliefs, even in my own mind. The ways I think about kids and about learning flow directly from my beliefs as a Catholic. I do not feel, however, that not having a faith based work environment would move me away from my belief in the value and dignity of each person that waljs through the door of my classroom.

I look at it kind of like a tree blowing in a wimdstorm. We should not worry about where the winds of educational change take our branches as long as our roots are firmly planted in the beliefs and values that we hold dear.

Sunday Struggles- Question of the Week

I have decided that on Sundays I am going to do something a little different with this space. I am going to float a question out there for anyone who might be reading. I suppose if no one is reading, I will just put it out there to give myself something to think about. These will be questions that I am struggling with and figure I need some ideas from others.

So…the question for today…

If greater learning happens when kids are engaged, what can we do with students that are just not interested in the subject or topic that we need them to learn? For instance, what if a student just has no interest in Science?

I would love some feedback.