Thursday, April 2, 2015

New Tech, New Standards, New Everything....Won't Matter Unless We Change Old Mindsets

        I recently had an epiphany. Ok, it’s a reminder, if you will, of what is truly missing in education.  If we really want our schools, and ultimately the learning experiences for all students, to be transformational, we have some basic, yet very foundational things that have to be addressed.
    And these foundational things have nothing to do with technology, standards, assessments, or other things that we are heavily engaged in and working on feverishly.
      I was reminded of what needs to be done, for example, as I see many schools and classrooms integrating technology.  I realize that unless we address pedagogy, but more importantly teacher mindset, technology won’t change or enhance much of anything.  And again, I could say this for the rest of aforementioned items as well.
       So, what are these basic, yet foundational items related to mindset that will help us truly transform our classrooms for all students?  Here you go:

Relationships Are The Most Important Aspect Of Teaching



       We hear and say this a lot.  But we need to make sure that relationships become the first and foremost aspect of all teacher training, all professional learning, all observations and evaluation, all instructional approaches, and all curriculum and technology integration. Whether you use the word mentor, coach, collaborator or others, teachers and all educators need to focus on students through building relationships. If teachers don’t get this and focus on it consistently, nothing else instructionally will matter and nothing will be transformed.  Those educators that realize that this is their first and foremost role in the classroom, have will also reap the rewards academically, intellectually, creatively and personally. In case you are wondering, very little, if any, attention is given to the art of relationship building during teacher education programs, teacher induction programs or most professional learning.  Therefore, we might think it’s important and know that it makes a difference, but we are not making it part of our institutional and formal pedagogy. Literally all aspects of 21st century and transformational learning will be based on relationships.  First and foremost is the student - teacher relationship.  This will, if done correctly, will be the beginning of great relationships and partners whether it’s peer-to-peer, student-community partner, etc.  But we have to make relationship building the core of our instructional pedagogy and on-going professional learning. As a principal, I had to non-reelect several teachers over the years. None of them were released because of lack of proficiency in technology, standards, assessment, or curriculum, but rather because they ultimately could not connect with students.
 



Belief In Who Students Are and What Students Can Do


      Like in most things related to education, there are two types of teachers.  There are those that believe in students and those that don’t.  Sounds simple right?  But do teachers assume the best or the worst?  Call it expectations or what you will. But it seems believing that students can and will do things - especially big, amazing things - is essential.  I only know from personal experience.  When I taught media in the early days, it was “don’t let students use this technology unsupervised.”  When I was an activities director, it was “don’t let students on the mic.” When I was a principal, it was “don’t let students on social media.” I didn’t like any of these directives because I BELIEVE IN STUDENTS. Whatever it is, it seems you have to break the rule or traditional expectation in order to create a learning environment where students know that their teachers and other adults believe in them.  Students know inherently if you believe in them. In an era of more project-based approaches that include choice, student voice, public products, tech use and real application, it will be our belief in students that will be the dividing line.  If we don’t believe, none of these things will matter or be realized.  But if we do, amazing and professional work can be produced by students of all ages. 

We Can’t Operate From Either Fear Or Compliance


     Many of our educational foundations are false realities.  In other words, we create either things to force people to do things (compliance) or scare them that if they don’t, bad things will happen (fear).  Whether it’s grades, detention, points, getting into college, graduating, etc., we need better reasons for students to buy in and do amazing work.  If we approach our classrooms and lesson design based on earning or losing points, or making some cut point for graduation or college, we are never going to instill intrinsic motivation and real success.  These can only come from students that are engaged in projects and activities that are meaningful, personal, real and that take them places.  I know this is tough.  But as long as we approach our instruction with the priorities being on points, grades and assessment as the starting point, we’re doomed to never be transformational.  We have to start with the focus on creating opportunities for our students for them to pursue higher level thinking through areas of personal interest, engagement and project pursuits. If students are doing incredible, professional and real world work, I assume that many smart people can figure out how to score, grade and assess it.  The points, grades, graduation and college will come in more powerful ways than ever imagined.  I know we have systems issues here that have to be addressed.  The more we can move to portfolio work vs. report card/test score work, the better.  The real world looks at one’s body of work and their ability to articulate that work.  Our schools and classrooms need to do that same.  This might be a simple idea, but it has complicated implications.

Students Have Interests And Need To Explore Them


     A lot is being written about passion and its connect to learning, education and schools.  This is tough too.  After all, school has successfully culled the passion, creativity and inquiry from most students long before they ever get out of elementary or middle school, let alone high school.  However, I still believe all humans have interests and passions.  Yes, for many young people it might start with video games and gaming, music, sports, media, etc.  But these are great starting points.  Indeed, there are thousands of real world projects, and yes eventually careers, that connect to these areas.  But more importantly, we need to model for and train students that they need to maximize their interests.  Everything we ready, write, present and pursue will be far better if it’s related to our passions or areas of interest.  All important skills can be taught with connections to personal interests.  To be honest, we need to re-visit our primary grades in school and learn to not lose that essential element of feeding students’ natural inquiry vs. eliminating it.  Students’ interests will change and evolve...and that’s ok right?  But we will use their interests as foundations to connect and engage.  We need to not wait until college to have majors.  We need to have students to identify interest areas early on and each year (or even more often) and have these serve as their learning themes/backgrounds.  After all, our goal is to make students natural and efficient lifelong learners.  This can only really be done if we continually connect their interests to skill acquisition and mastery.


Students Need To Be Trusted with Real Roles
and Tremendous Responsibilities


     We have to transfer ownership. We have to look at what we view as teaching, classroom organization, curriculum and instruction and begin asking how can the students assume the role of being in charge. All students need to serve a purpose.  And again, the purpose cannot be about points, grades, graduation or college.  The purpose has to be immediate and it has to be real.  When pursuing more relevant and real world work, there are natural needs that develop.  These turn into roles and we need to have students serve in those roles.  When I taught media or leadership, I always had students in coordinator roles.  There was no way I was going to keep track, monitor, supervise or even inspire all that needed to be done all the time. I needed to transfer that to students.  Students are dying to be in charge of something that matters and waiting for us to give up that control.  At my last high school, we created Student Project Coordinators (SPC’s for short).  Instead of just having a TA, what if classrooms had students that co-facilitated, co-supervised, co-managed, co-presented and co-lead the learning in the class?  Students have expertise. Students have skills.  Students have a need to facilitate. We only need to create and foster the environment where that is inherent. If we want them to assume real and responsible roles in their careers, they need to experience this now.

Where Our Focus Should Be

    So, instead of making our focus tech integration, new standards, assessments or whatever else occupies our time and focus, what if we truly focused on the following:

Relationships Are The Most Important Aspect Of Teaching
Believing In Who Students Are And What Students Can Do
Educators Cannot Operate From A Place of Fear Or Compliance
Students Have Interests And Need To Explore Them

Students Need To Be Trusted With Real Roles & Responsibilities

(images courtesy of Minarets High School)

4 comments:

  1. This post is brilliant. You are providing so much in the way of student ownership for learning and I really respect the way in which you have laid out the priorities for schools. The one thing that resonated with me most, however, was this statement:

    "As a principal, I had to non-reelect several teachers over the years. None of them were released because of lack of proficiency in technology, standards, assessment, or curriculum, but rather because they ultimately could not connect with students."

    I believe that it is this connection that we are striving for each day, and without which, students will not learn. It is the re-imagined role of the student that is somehow elusive in the conversations about standards or technology integration. And yet, it cannot be written off. It is the whole of what we are trying to build.

    So, let's connect with our kids and let's make those connections authentic enough to support them through some really difficult and important learning tasks. If you are doing these things at your school, you are doing right by your students. I thank you for it.

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here: http://learningischange.com/blog/2014/12/27/c4c15/

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  2. Excellent and helpful post… I am so glad to left comment on this. This has been a so interesting read, would love to read more here….Find out more information on new technology 2015

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  4. It was a real pleasure to read that article - you pointed out the most important things in learning. These days more and more people decide to go with online learning and this method is missing many important aspects of classical education.

    ReplyDelete