This afternoon, I was forwarded an article by Robert Smol that spoke to the extra stresses that are put on teachers as we move towards a new vision of schooling. This article suggested that the main stresses that are placed on teachers come directly from educational changes imposed by administrators. As an administrator, I take exception to this.
The direction of education (inclusive, personalised, accountability, technological advances, Social Emotional Learning, Differentiation, Assessment for/of/as Learning) are not new to education, but there is a greater demand and faster movement to create communities of learning where each student is safe, healthy, engaged, supported and challenged. Conversations on twitter around Why School, by Will Richardson have sparked great debates on what is schooling and how best to prepare learners for the new realities of our increasingly technologically connected world.
These new realities in education can create a great divide between those that see school as an institution that must provide basics of education and those that see learning as a social process. As with all change, demands and responsibilities will shift. Those that do not change their mindset around learning will be left in a very difficult position if we, as a society, follow the neural and developmental sciences that provide insight into the education of our youth. This adds to the already great stress of being a great teacher: how do you prepare students for a world we cannot imagine, in a system designed of instructional delivery from the 19th century in buildings from the 20th century? For those educators that begin in the nineteen nineties or earlier, this can be a difficult task.
I often find it difficult to remember that the way I taught in 1994 is completely different from the way I taught in 2004. Quizzes, tests, assignments were all seen as opportunities for students to gain marks, to reach that golden group to move to the next level. I did not design them so students could practice, consolidate their conceptual understanding, and become lifelong learners by knowing their strengths and working on their weaknesses. When I moved towards the assessments for/as learning, I realised that students needed time to develop the difficult mathematical or scientific concepts; that a one or two page worksheet did not create the levels of understanding that would be required for them to take ownership of their learning. These worksheets became hoops for students to jump through, not authentic learning experiences.
I changed my thinking as I saw my students struggle to understand. This took time and effort on my part. I had to ‘weed the garden’ of my practice and ‘plant new seeds’ for learning: differentiation, collaborative working groups, assessment for learning.
Again, this took time. For those teachers that are just starting on this journey, I say keep moving forward. Try things out. Experiment! Work with a colleague, co-plan, co-teach, collaborate with others (I find twitter is amazing for this). Connect with other educators outside your building.
The realities of education is that we all keep learning.
Time will tell whether the realities of schooling and learning will change, but we all have to find better ways to create those students that feel safe, are healthy, are engaged in their own learning, are supported as a whole being, and challenged to move forward with resilience, respect for themselves and others.