Archive for the 'Teaching' Category

The power of storytelling

Dennis

Stories are a wonderful way to teach and to influence people.

That’s particularly true when the stories are drawn from our daily lives and reveal the storyteller’s attentiveness to things that  the rest of us often overlook.

Here’s an excellent example from David Fife, a school administrator in the Thames Valley, Ontario, School Board.

I encourage you to read David’s post because of what he notices in the interaction between an “elder” and a young trainee in a grocery store and the important lesson he extracts (take pride in everything you do) that has implications for both our professional and personal lives.

No place for hatred…

Dennis

Good teachers have always created inclusive classrooms.

Their work is made more difficult, though, by bigoted and demagogic political leaders who speak to this nation’s fears and arouse hatred.

While I have been pleased to see so many politicians from across the political spectrum rebuke Donald Trump for his divisive and hateful views, it may be too little and too late.

Even now Trump continues to be the Republican front runner, and I am deeply concerned about the damage he is likely to do here and abroad before he is done.

In such times the work of good teachers and administrators in building inclusive classrooms and schools is more important than ever.

Deep work

Dennis

A man sits alone in a courtyard with a pad of paper in front of him.

He writes and then pauses, looking off into space. He writes again.

As I watched I realized that those are the essential ingredients of “deep work” – solitude, a process that allows us to externalize, clarify, and elaborate our thinking (in this case, writing); thinking about what we think (metacognition); and then beginning the cycle again. Deep work is essential in classrooms and meeting rooms. It is also an essential ingredient of professional development that leads to professional learning.

Because focused conversation enables us to externalize, clarify, and elaborate our thinking, it is important that schools provide generous opportunities for well-designed group work in classrooms and among teachers.

But it is also important that schools value the solitary activities that are often a prerequisite to the deep work that is the foundation of meaningful learning, teaching, and school leadership.

Self determination

Dennis

When it comes to teaching methods, Glanz observed that most techniques teachers used “promote the feeling that students have little control over or responsibility for their own education.” —Larry Cuban

I recently talked with an elderly woman about her dissatisfaction with the diminished life she has in a long-term care facility. She knew she would be happy, she told me, if only she could have an apartment of her own.

I pointed out her children’s concerns about her safety, and she said she would rather die living life on her own terms than live longer in her current circumstances.

While this may be an extreme example, no matter our age or life circumstance all of us want to feel in control of our lives, to make decisions large and small whose sum total makes up the substance of our days.

I have worked at jobs where virtually all important decisions were made for me. My circle of influence was very small, and while I knew that I could choose my attitude about those circumstances, I nonetheless often found myself feeling frustrated and unhappy.

A child says, “You are not my boss.” A dissatisfied worker says, “Trust me to make decisions about my work.” An elderly woman says, “I would rather die than not be able to do the simple tasks of life that gave me purpose and responsibility.”

The desire for self determination is deeply embedded in the human psyche. People have been willing to give their lives on its behalf.

What are the implications of this “truth” for school administrators and teachers?

From my perspective it means that we do everything in our power to give those with whom we work—both young people and adults—as much decision-making authority as possible, pairing that authority with appropriate responsibility and abundant learning opportunities to increase the likelihood of success.

When we trust others to take responsibility and enable their ability to do so we will be richly rewarded by the continuous flow of expertise and energy such trust generates.

What is your experience with both young people and adults in enabling self determination?  

Schools are intensely interpersonal

Dennis

“[T]he transmission of knowledge is not done in a vacuum. The quality and influence of relationships has a tremendous influence on how and what is shared, and with whom.”

Tarsi Dunlop

Schools are intensely and unrelentingly interpersonal. That’s why the continuous improvement of teaching and learning requires strong relationships founded on trust.

And that’s also why “reforms” predictably fail when they are based primarily on technical remedies such as high-stakes testing and poorly-designed teacher evaluation systems.

A recent study supports those conclusions:

“What we have found over and over again is that, regardless of context, organizational success rarely stems from the latest technology or a few exemplary individuals.

“Rather, it is derived from: systematic practices aimed at enhancing trust among employees; information sharing and openness about both problems and opportunities for improvement; and a collective sense of purpose….”

High-quality teaching and learning for all students requires that administrators and teacher leaders develop school cultures that have at their core high levels of integrity, mutual respect, and trust, attributes that are challenging to cultivate and even more challenging to sustain.

Leaders who ignore this challenge or minimize its demands will fail in their most important responsibility—the creation of school communities in which everyone thrives, no matter their age or role.

The person doing the work does the learning…

Dennis

“The person doing the work does the learning.” That adage is as relevant today as it was when it was first spoken decades (or centuries) ago.

The “doing” of both simple and complex tasks promotes learning.

That’s why many teachers, myself included, report having learned so much more about the subject matter they taught through the complex process of teaching it than they did in universities.

To elaborate:

The person doing the explaining does the learning.

The person doing the planning does the learning.

The person doing the assessment of his or her own learning does the learning.

Consistently acting on this adage in every classroom and professional learning venue would change virtually everything.

And it would be a change for the better.

Think like a teacher

Dennis

Doctors not only learn medical terminology and procedures, but they also learn how to think like a doctor.

Lawyers learn legal terminology and procedures, and they learn how to think like lawyers.

And so on through the professions.

But do teachers learn to think like teachers?

Do teachers think about their classrooms and learning in ways that separate them from parents and others who care about the well being of young people?

I think that they do.

For instance, competent teachers plan with the end in mind. They visualize the classrooms they want for their students and create physical environments, routines, and rules that will create the desired classroom experience. The same is true when those teachers plan instruction.

What, in your experience, does it mean to think like a teacher?


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