Friday, January 2, 2015

What Is Unique About My Teaching and Learning?

Day 2 of the Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge from Reflective Teacher @TeachThought 

A few years ago I had a wonderful student teacher who gave our class a picture for our wall that had this quote on it.  It really struck a chord with all of us, me included.  She said that she had loved being in our room as we were all so unique, crazy and slightly weird.  We saw possibilities and questions in everything!  For us, this was an enormous compliment as it meant we were relaxed enough to show our true selves and have fun with the serious business of learning.  

This had been a group of students who, generally, were not engaged, did not enjoy school and would not really engage in conversation let alone relax and have fun with what they were learning.  In some ways, I think they saw me as the 'enemy' - the person who would tell them what to do, what to learn and how to learn it.  It was a class I inherited during the year and their first teacher had done a fantastic job to get them to where they were but there was something missing.  I spent many hours reflecting on what it was.  Was I missing something?  Was it a cultural aspect I was missing as these were diverse learners from many different backgrounds; some of them were experiencing very difficult circumstances.  

The first thing I needed to do was to get to know them as individual human beings.  Not as 'the students', not as 'the class'.  I told them I did not expect them to respect me - I had to earn that right to be respected - but I did expect that they would be well-mannered and not just get up and walk out of class when they felt like it, etc.  The key for me was that they needed to know I had their backs - always and without question.  That can make you unpopular when you are backing a student whom you know is telling the truth against a teacher who is not.  They also needed to know that I respected and cared for them over and above all else, and no matter how challenging they were to me.  It didn't change anything.  I am and always will be their champion - just like Rita Pierson says we need to be.  She is my inspiration because she helped me understand that what I do and how I think is on the right track.  In many ways she validated what I do.  Is it unique?  I don't think so.  I think we all want to be our students' champions.

So what happened with this amazing group of young people?  I changed their programme, in consultation with them, to incorporate their passions and we became a largely digital class. Their achievement levels shot up dramatically, they came to school more often, (often incredibly early!!), they were passionate about learning and best of all...they were not afraid to be themselves, including being crazy, weird and showing all those great creative beahviours.  They had high expectations for themselves as learners.  They were so successful and such a tight-knit group that we kept them together for two years, something that had only been done once before and hadn't been altogether successful.  I was so proud and priviledged to teach and learn alongside them.

Is that what makes me unique?  I don't know.  I think it's a collection of 'things' but they are no more than what most teachers will do or want for their students.  I've started another list to organise my thinking on this.  (Creating a few lists lately - an age thing???).

1.  I expect to share the teaching and learning with my students.  No 'control freak' here.  I learn from and with them.  This is my foundation belief and has been with me since I started at University in 1996.

2.  Knowing my students as individual human beings - what their passions are, what their needs are - is crucial for me and comes before the academic side in the beginning.  I don't believe you can have truly outstandingly successful learners unless they know you know them, believe in them and expect them to achieve with your support.

3.  I am often wrong and will happily admit it.  It's how we learn, afterall.  It's the most powerful learning but we need to be risk-takers to be able to do this.

4.  I will always be there for my students, no matter what, no matter how busy I am.  I'm their chief cheerleader!

5.  I'm passionate about what I do and I'm constantly learning and striving to be better.  I have high expectations for my own learning too.  It's that growth mindset that Carol Dweck talks about.  I expect that for my students too.

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