A Reflection on Oneself

Each year we have the opportunity to sit down with Administration in our school to reflect on our individual (teacher) plans for learning.  It’s like any job where you must have a yearly performance appraisal yet for teachers (at least those in Ontario) who are life-long learners we have ALP’s (Annual Learning Plans) which are not only reflections on what we have done in the recent past in terms of professional development but also visions as to what we see ourselves doing to improve our practices in the near future.  ALP’s are just one of many components meant to keep teachers accountable for their practices both in and out side of the classroom.

This year we were asked to reflect on two questions in preparation for what we call our fireside chat (without the fire because of course that wouldn’t be a safe thing to have in an elementary school).

The first question, “Are you an ‘outlier’ teacher or are you teaching the way you were taught?” was derived from a questions asked in Tony Wagner’s latest book, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”  which asked, with knowledge now being a free commodity, how can we develop a culture of learning that promotes 21st century skills?  And he came to suggest that “We must focus on skills and not content,” and “to succeed in the 21st-century economy, students must learn to analyze and solve problems, collaborate, persevere, take calculated risks and learn from failure”

Much like the feelings of Wagner, I feel that developing skills are far more important than the content that is used to develop those skills.  My wife @SLewisYoung  often find ourselves discussing the pitfalls of the education system, how it sometimes can fail students especially because of the overwhelming expectations of the curriculum and the need for greater integration across the subjects areas.

As a result, my intermediate students that I have taught for the past 7 or so years, have heard a very similar statement directed to them at the beginning of every school year, which is, “This year you will develop the skills that will help your work through the challenges that life will throw at you” and that if I want to “I can teach you everything that you will need to know in Grade 7 or 8, Language, Math, and Science by using Geographic content”.  I am a little biased when it come to the content I would like to use to drive my program because the world makes things go round.

To be honest, I was a bit afraid of this question at first.  What if I had the wrong answer?  What if I felt that I was but what I did did not really represent their vision of the ‘outlier’.  So, though I knew what  was in store, I ignored the need to organize my thoughts surrounding the ‘question’.  I mean, I do this for a living, I plan, I prepare and I deliver.  All I would need to do would be to give myself a few hours time to consider how I would respond and I work best under the pressure of a deadline which for my chat wasn’t for a couple weeks at the time.

Time passed, almost two weeks this and it was the night before my fireside chat with Kathryn when I remember that there were these questions that I needed to prepare to discuss.  So I sat down at my computer and put finger to keys and…this is what I came up with…

“Are you an ‘outlier’ teacher or are you teaching the way you were taught?”

I feel that I was taught (K through University) using a great variety of teaching practices from the traditional methods of rote learning through to practices which incorporated the use of the latest and most innovative pedagogies including the use of technologies in the classroom.  So, do I teach the way I was taught? I do not believe so, (And the following is what I have added with some additional thought and reflection) but of course my childhood memories of school are limited to my knowledge that “my desk” was “that desk” most often seen beside my teachers desk.  But the fact is, the classroom today is a much different place than that I experienced in my own education especially what I had experienced in K through 8.  I mean I learned how to read, write, compute, solve problems and share knowledge that I acquired by reading, writing, talking and listening.  And based on skills I possess today I feel that my teachers including my parents/grandparents did a good job of providing me with the skills necessary to be successful.  Were those who taught me ‘outliers’?  Probably not, but they were using teaching strategies proven to give the results they wanted which were children who could read, write and have a basic skill set that could be developed with further schooling.  Were they capable? certainly.  Were some innovative and creative in the way they approached teaching the very basic skills that Wagner now suggests are needed to be successful in the 21st-century?  Most definitely.

So again, do I teach the way I was taught? I do not believe so, as pedagogies have evolved significantly since I left my primary education (K-8) almost 25 years ago.  I would find it hard to believe that anyone in the teaching profession presently would teach just as those teaching 20 or even 30 years ago, as a teacher then or now was/is a life-long learner and therefore constantly working to develop his/her practices to educate the youth of society.  Am I an outlier? Sure. Why? Because I feel that I am willing to try new methods that may or may not work as I expect and learn from the risk of possible failure.  Because I want to prepare my students for a world that does not yet exist because of the ever so rapid evolution that technology has brought upon us.

The second question that I was to be prepared to discuss was, do you infuse play, passion and purpose into all learning in your classroom?

Yet again, considering how I would respond was a daunting challenge.  Play? Sure. Passion? My own, of course. Purpose? Yes, there is always a purpose.

This year particularly has been a year of passion and inquiry.  Learning for a purpose has always held great importance for myself.  I was one of those “students with potential” who “did not value education”, so I generally feel that I understand where some of my less motivated students who feel this way are coming from.  Though when I express this to them, I get the most bizarre looks.  For them, I am their teacher and there is no way that a teacher would have once considered school unimportant.  For this reason, learning for a purpose has always been a goal in my teaching practices.  Life skills are important and the content in which we use to teach those skills only serves to give them some general knowledge about the world around them.

Inquiry has also been an area of focus in the more recent years as I have attempt to shift the learning focus to student interests with some guidance and parameters in order to ensure that I meet curricular expectations set out by the Ministry of Education.  Inquiry also lends itself to ‘play’ in a sort of trial-and-error, experimentation, solving sort of way where by the students can get down and dirty with their learning.

Passion, I have embarked on a journey into the world of Genius Time/20-percent time, developed out of a theory employed by the Internet superpower Google who paid benefit to employees with free paid time to work on projects of their own interest.  The result, many of the tools we find today integrated on the web.  Within the realm of education, Genius Time has been gaining popularity in an effort to bring back a love for learning amongst students by giving them the time to work on projects of their own interest where for the teacher the assessment for and of learning focuses on the processes/skills rather than the product(s) of their learning.

What makes a teacher an outlier?  Is it a necessary trait? Are we all ‘outliers’ according to the question above?  What are your feelings about infusing play, passion and purpose in your practices?  Please feel free to share.

Posted on December 21, 2013, in Home and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Matthew Oldridge

    First pedantic math teacher thought: if we were all outliers, there would be no outliers any more. But that would mean the median teacher had shifted down the line toward innovation, so I’m all for that! There would be a new middle of the data set, in other words.

    Second, the #Peel21st is all about moving that middle, through #edtech, and embracing tomorrow’s technological world. But we don’t know what that world will be like, other than that human interaction will be just as important as it is today. All the tech in the world won’t change that.

    So your work with #geniustime, passion and play is ALL about preparing students for the world of tomorrow. Habits of mind, hard work, empathy, and plain old wonder. That’s what tomorrow’s adults will need, and you’re preparing them for all that.

    Great blog post!

    Like

    • Matthew, you keeping me thinking. The innovator/experimentalist in me hopes that all teachers are outliers. The realist knows that this is probably unlikely as there are those who are confident and good at what they do and therefore do not want to involve the thought of making change.

      You’re right we don’t know where the world will be in terms tomorrow’s technologies and yes human interaction will be evermore so important as technology alienates humans from that true face-to-face interaction.

      And yes I cannot agree more that the goal of genius time is about developing the abilities that will allow students to be successful in their education but also contributing members of society further off into the near future.

      To infinity and beyond Buzz Lightyear would say.

      Like

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