Teaching for the Future 30 Year-Old

 

Pretty much every educational vision statement I’ve ever read aspires to create lifelong learners. However, in a nation that consistently measures students against the average, the focus remains on content and skills and not actually learning. I absolutely agree that students need to learn skills and need to know content, but teaching at the expense of understanding learning is misguided practice. As the interest of personalization of learning grows, we need to recognize this is actually a very historical perspective about learning. In the one room schoolhouse of the 19th century, every student was treated individually by necessity. You clearly can’t teach a fourteen year-old in the same manner as a six year-old. But as our schools became larger, and industrialization set in, our curriculum became standardized for an average learner. The problem is, there is no such thing as an average student. In the 21st century, we need to educate our students for an ever-changing world and fortunately we are beginning to understand the role and importance of personalization in creating lifelong learners.

But personalization goes much deeper. It allows students to learn and develop skills through their interests. We know that emotion impacts our ability to learn, why not harness that? “When students are engaged and motivated and feel minimal stress, information flows freely through the affective filter in the amygdala and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make connections, and experience “aha” moments. Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and directed lectures, but from classrooms with an atmosphere of exuberant discovery (Kohn, 2004)”. Imagine how much more interesting it would be to learn how to calculate percentages by having a student in a rural area think about a 33% off sale on a Cabella’s website instead of a math sheet! What would be even more interesting (and truly beneficial) would be to have them figure out on their own how to do it (with guidance of course), and then have to present to their peers about their process. The proficiency at the skill level would be met, but more importantly the seeds of success, relevance and life long learning would be planted.

I love that schools are moving toward implementing programs such as “genius hour” “Fed-ex Fridays” and individualized capstone projects, but if we only offer them an hour a month for exploration, we are missing the point of personalization of learning. Mandating that all students do math for the same amount of time so that they can take the same test in two weeks assumes that all students need the exact same thing and will flourish if we standardize the curriculum and the class schedule. Todd Rose charges that by accepting the myth of the average student, we deny our most important assets, which are our variability and diversity. Obedient students can accept learning as an average, but truly innovative students often rail against it. We need to shift to a paradigm of learning.

By personalizing learning, we can recognize and encourage the strengths (multiple intelligences) and interests of our students and tailor the way students learn so that they don’t perceive learning as a snoozefest…a perception that could stay with them for a lifetime. By asking students to always be reflective about their learning, we are teaching them how to learn well; a disposition they will always have. My father used to say, “The benefit of a liberal arts education is that you learn how to think and how to learn”. This is what has led me to be a lifelong learner. As educators in the 21st century, we need to educate for the thirty year-old in our students. We want them to love learning and use that passion to be productive citizens throughout their lives. It’s not enough that we feel okay about them going on to the next level of standardized tests.

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Things Every Teacher Should Document

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My dad gave me loads of advice when I was growing up, but maybe the most useful was “document it”. (I sort of wish he had advised me to invest in Apple, but this might be just as valuable.) As an educator this advice has been exceptionally useful. Here are five things I really recommend educators document:

Parent Contact

Any time you have a conversation with a parent be sure to document it. Using email is effective because it is an automatic archive of a conversation, but there are many times when email is not appropriate or the parent has indicated they prefer a non- electronic notification method. Either way, be sure to document the context and content of the contact. It isn’t necessary to write the conversation verbatim, but be sure to write down the time, date and duration of the conversation, with whom you spoke and the gist of the context and content. For example:

March 12, 2013, Mr. Adams (12 minutes) Discussed his son’s lack of success on the most recent quiz on school vocab and how he might improve. I suggested the class quizlet. He agreed. Will check back with Mr. Adams in two weeks.

If you can, send them a summary of the discussion. I can’t stress how critical having this kind of documentation is when Mrs. Adams calls up the principal later on to find out why her son currently isn’t passing. Any seasoned educator will agree that whether it is for encouragement or to suggest strategies for improvement, having the documentation about the call is well worth the time.

Discussions with Your Administration or Other Colleagues

Most discussions with either colleagues or your administration are friendly and collegial, but it never hurts to take notes. I’m not suggesting that every time you pass by a colleague in the hallway you jot down a note, but if you meet to discuss curriculum, student matters or anything to do with your performance, I suggest jotting a quick note in a log either while you are meeting or shortly thereafter. If there is even a chance the content of your meeting might be contentious, I highly recommend having a union representative with you. Still, be sure to take notes, and send a quick follow-up email to the colleague or administrator summarizing the meeting. I’m always willing to take notes at meetings because it is how I process and it beats having to rely on my middle-aged memory. The reality is when you need the documentation most might be when you are emotionally invested in a conversation and having that feedback loop will clarify both party’s perspectives.

Student Work

We all keep grade books (either electronic or the old school paper kind) and educators try to maintain them as current as time allows. But what happens when 7th graade Sally Pierce passes in her quiz on the three branches of government and, although you graded it, the phone rang and you never logged it before passing it back….Oooops. Teachers often log over a hundred grades a day. It’s not surprising that some might get accidentally “not logged” or logged under Bobby Paulson’s name, the next guy down on the list…who, BTW, didn’t turn in his quiz. This is a great opportunity to teach students about documentation. I always insist that students hold onto work that is passed back either until the end of the quarter once they have seen their report cards, or until they see the electronically logged grade. This year, since my students will all use electronic portfolios, I will ask them to take a picture of their hard copy quizzes and tests when they get them back, so they can add them as evidence when reflecting on their learning. That way, if their grade doesn’t seem to reflect their success in class, they will have evidence they need to demonstrate their success. Phew! Grade changed, tears and anger averted, and I wear just a bit of egg on my face. I’m okay with that.

Your “WOW” Moments

Whether you are looking to become certified for the first time, re-certify, become nationally certified, are applying for a new job or just want to share your expertise with others, having examples of your “wow” moments is very useful. These are the moments when you really see evidence of student learning and student connection. Most all of us now have our plans and our activities online, so it’s not a stretch to keep our wow moments at our finger tips, but make sure you keep student work and student feedback to support those wow moments. This is especially important if you need to put together any kind of portfolio. It is not enough to say you have evidence of your expertise because you created a unit on great American writers if there’s no student evidence of learning. You must show evaluated student work to really demonstrate your ability to create and evaluate student proficiency. When a pre-service teacher passes in a portfolio piece that doesn’t have student evidence, I send it right back to them. Gather evidence from your wow moments, reflect on why they were wow moments and file that evidence somewhere. But be sure to include the final form of documentation…

Parental Signatures

Any time you request a parental signature… for a field trip, in order to use student work, to share a picture, or even to respond they have read a report or letter, document it. Document when the request for parent signature went out, document if the signature came back in and keep either a hard copy or electronic copy of the signature until you are certain you will never need it. There have been innumerable times when having the signature of a parent on a mdi-term report has made the end of the term much more reasonable. With the Google Drive App it is now simple to take a picture of the parent signature right on the document and store it into a particular file such as “parent letters 2015”. Once we get to September of 2016, I’ll delete the 2015 file…it’s just that easy.

I do not make these recommendations just because we live in a litigious society (which we do), but they are really meant to make your life easier. Email does document most things automatically for us, so if you can hold onto emails, that’s the easiest way to document your life as an educator. But if email isn’t an option, be sure to document the phone calls, meetings, student work and parental signatures and you will sleep better at night.