Saturday, September 28, 2013

Creating a Culture of Caring

Every single person that I know of has had a bad day. One of those days when all you want to do is be at home by yourself with the sheets over your face. Hopefully we don't have too many of those days, but we all know what it feels like. So we all understand that when you are having a bad day, conflict with another person is magnified because of the state of mind you are in. Now think about this in the classroom.

Each and ever student that walks onto campus each morning has a unique set of experiences that comes with them. Many students have had to overcome hardships that we cannot imagine. Many deal with struggles that may not seem drastic to us, but they are overwhelming to the student. Teachers also come to school with a unique set of experiences when they come to class. These experiences, struggles, and hardships are real to whomever is facing them. A student could be having the best or worst day of his/her life. Likewise, the teacher may be having the worst or best day of his/her life.

There are so many examples of teachers or student not understanding each other and that leading to failure in the classroom. A teacher may feel that the homework was of the utmost importance, but may not realize that the student is facing seemingly insurmountable odds at home. A student may be acting up and not realizing that the teacher is experience hard times.

How in the world do you tackle this reality? How can a teacher possibly understand the context in which the student arrives each day? Well the answer is easy. Schools and the teachers in them must create a culture of caring. Students need to know that the teachers are there because they love them and that there is support in the classroom. The teacher may not know every detail about the struggles of the student, but the respect is there and that means the world. We cannot have success in schools if we do not have relationships in schools. This starts with an enthusiastic hello, compliments, questions about the weekend, humor, showing up to events in which students perform and communication home. If students see this support and love, they will be there for us as well on our bad days. Our most important job starts with caring about kids. If you have that at your core, the rest is just about working hard. Be there for your students on their good days and bad days. Leading is Teaching.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Teaching Innovators and Shifting Learning

If you have been through a college class you have probably gone through this. You find yourself studying all night, pouring over the books, using flash cards, and reading through your sloppy notes that were taken in a hurry as your professor rambled through his/her lecture. Then you woke up the next day (or you just stayed up all night), went to class, took the final (hopefully passing it) and proceeded to forget everything you remembered from the night before. I would say that there was learning going on in those situations but maybe not in the same way that you might think. I would say that you learned that sometimes you have to buckle down and work hard through something that you might not want to. I would say that you learned that you have to meet deadlines to be successful. I would say that you learned the value of finishing something in route to accomplishing something bigger. But I would not say that you genuinely learned a ton about whatever subject you just crammed for. That is not to say that all college classes are like this because I know that many of mine were so much more significant and provided great learning opportunities. However, this scenario brings to mind the notion of learning and the shift that must take place in our education system.

Tony Wagner is a Harvard Professor and author whose research has been focused on American education, how it compares globally, and what we need to do to improve our system to sustain our country's level of success. In his book, "Creating Innovators" Wagner points to the fact that information memorization is not learning in the 21st century. Students can google or easily research any subject they wish. His call to American institutions is to teach our students what to do with the information, how to qualify it, and how to be innovative with our vast amount of resources.

Tony Wagner has spent hours in U.S. schools and Universities studying classrooms that allow for students to be innovative, creative, and independent. He adamantly states that if our schools do not teach students 21st century skills (which include communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking) we will be at a competitive disadvantage globally. Think about the job market today. How many of our service and labor jobs are off shore? That is not to say that those kinds of jobs don't exist in the United States, but in every industry we need to teach our students the skills it takes to be successful in our ever changing economic model.

The United States has not scored incredibly well on international test in the last decade. Our education system has not scored in the top ten in quite sometime (the credibility of these tests are up for debate). However, countries who outscore the United States on these test continue to come and observe classes. The reason is because the United States is home to creativity and innovation. Last year at Minarets we had visitors from China and Singapore. This is what we must continue to do to be competitive and successful. The world has changed and education must continue to evolve to ensure that our students are prepared for the rapidly changing global economy. That does not mean that every student will become an inventor or a scientist. It means that our children will have the skills to work in a variety of fields as the job market changes.

The shift is not easy. Students who have grown up in a system where multiple choice tests rather than skills based assessments determine their success level. That is why we see students getting frustrated when teachers challenge them to find an answer using through inquiry. Students perception of learning is linked to memorization more than creation. Students often feel like they are not "learning" when the teacher is not lecturing but rather moving throughout the classroom as a guide, while the students are producing. Students also run into difficulties transitioning to digital learning at first, because rather than the book guiding their learning, they are challenged to think outside the textbook. However, this shift is happening and it will prove to be more relevant to the world around our students.

Think about your experience in the work world. Ultimately, most of us work in jobs where we were forced to learn on the job. There was no textbook, lecture, or multiple choice test that would have prepared us for it. This is another reason why students need to learn by doing and thinking without being given the answer right away. This gives them a learn on the job mentality and will better prepare them to take that approach in the workplace.

The truth is that there will always be core educational practices that will not change over time. A good teacher could teach with a stick and a rock. We cannot throw out core educational practices for trends . We still need to be rigorous, we still need assessments to measure growth, we still need to teach students how to read and write proficiently, and we still need teachers to be leaders in the classroom. However, teachers and schools must adapt to the world around them by asking the students to be critical thinkers and produce. The world is changing and education must change with it to ensure the success of our students. Leading is Teaching.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Providing Rigor Through Community Service

Schools and students have been active participants in communities since they first began. School is a place in which most families are connected and a place that represents the future of the community in which they are located. So the idea of schools teaching community service is nothing new in the education world. However, using technology to approach real world issues and collaboratively working as a class to solve them is a foreign concept in many classrooms.
 I believe that right now is the perfect time for these two worlds to collide. We are introducing technology into classrooms at an ever increasing rate and the ability to communicate, organize, promote, and research is becoming ridiculously easy. However, teachers and administrators are facing the temptation to do what they have always done, just in digital format. We cannot allow that to happen if we are truly going to prepare our students for the modern world they face.
Two education movements burgeoning right now that will help provide a framework for teachers are challenge based learning and inquiry based learning. Challenge Based Learning is "an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages learners to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems (". Inquiry Based Learning involves project creation through collaboration, raising question, understanding real world problems, and developing the discipline to work through failures to achieve success. These are ways of teaching that could truly impact the success of our students and communities.
If you look at the US economy and compare it to the global economy, there are some trends that need to be observed by American schools. Jobs that were traditionally available to high school graduates or in some cased even college graduates are being outsourced or replaced by technology. This does not mean the death of the job market. It just means that jobs are changing and we need to change the way we prepare students.
We are preparing students for jobs that don't exist yet. Our students will have multiple careers by the the time they "retire." So our focus should be on skills rather than just on memorizing content. We need to teach them to present, collaborate, solve problems, find multiple solutions, create a digital portfolio, and be adaptable. None of that is taught through memorization of content. Lets face it, memorization and multiple choice is not going to teach our kids to acquire these skills in the immediate future.
So how can we tie the value of the traditional school role in the community with these new ideas? I believe there is an easy connection through service learning. If we want to teach students to solve problems, collaborate, think critically, and present, we need look no further than our own communities. We can create real world education experiences through our local veterans groups, charity associations, churches, sports organizations, and businesses. If there is a high poverty rate in a community, what better place to start solving the problem than in our academic institutions? This will provide students with rigorous curriculum while also giving them a chance to make a difference.
Students can become leaders in movements that they are passionate about while participating in projects that teach them to write, present, research, communicate and collaborate. This type of real world teaching will make a big impact in more ways than one. Leading is Teaching.