Thursday, October 31, 2019

Do Your Students Know You’re a Learner, too?

We know that learning is essential for professional success.  As adults, we are often expected to learn according to someone else’s agenda.  This is in contrast to studies that tell us the most meaningful and lasting learning is collaborative, authentic, and goal-oriented. Further, we tend to be settled in the patterns we have established and may fear failure if we try something outside of that comfort zone.  In our rush to get through “it all”, we often miss the learning opportunities that present themselves to us on a daily basis. Yet, research tells us that continuous learning contributes positively to self-efficacy and our own well-being. 

Career Academy teachers discuss learning targets
In education, it is our goal to create systems that provide experiences for students to become independent thinkers who are  able to contribute to society in authentic and meaningful ways. I was once told that I would know I did my job well if my students didn’t need me anymore.  The concept of students driving their learning was both daunting and exciting. First, it seemed out of reach. How was I, one person, going to meet the needs of all these students?  Second, it seemed out-of-sync with what I’d been taught. Aren’t teachers supposed to be the boss in the classroom? Finally, it felt like a challenge and I like a good challenge.   

This idea of student driven learning caused me to reflect on what I was currently doing in my classroom. At first glance, I thought I was doing pretty well. Students seemed to be busy, they were doing their work, engaging in discussion, and I had minimal management problems. Then, I decided to ask the students what they thought. Some responses affirmed that I was meeting the needs of some learners. (I like the open ended activities, having a choice makes writing more fun, my best friend isn't the best partner, my journal is a safe place for me to think.) Several more indicated that I had some work to do! (Sometimes I need more directions, I need some quiet space, I like more think time and, my personal favorite, "You know some teachers give candy for motivation.") It was a humbling experience to realize that my carefully planned activities empowered some students while leaving others to flounder. If I hadn't asked, I would never have known. It marked the moment I realized the importance of intentional and personalized learning, for both my students and myself.
Problem solving anyone

Earlier, I wondered, “How was I, one person, going to meet the needs of all these students?” The answer is simple: “I” cannot, but “we” can.   I learned the students in that classroom were not just mine. I learned the value of a school community: students, teachers, families, administrators.  We all share responsibility and that requires collaboration and communication. My team PLC and our instructional coach became two of my greatest resources in my personal learning journey.  I also wondered, “Aren’t teachers supposed to be the boss in the classroom?” I learned that in a sense, yes, that is true. Teachers control the culture of their classrooms. I learned that true learning requires a partnership between the students and the teacher.  In order for students to feel safe enough to ask questions, reflect, collaborate, and take risks, I needed to be vulnerable enough to listen and own my mistakes. It is up to me to keep my eyes open for the learning opportunities that present themselves in the ordinary pieces of the day.   It brings to mind a quote by John Cotton Dana, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” Now that sounds like a challenge I’m willing to take…are you?

Twitter Questions:
Q1: As an adult learner, what needs to happen for you to feel supported in your own learning?
Q2: Share a time you saw a gap in your own learning based on an experience with a student. 
Q3: What opportunities can you take advantage of to see yourself and your teaching from a different perspective?
Q4: What strategies do you use in your classroom to empower student voice in their learning?
Q5: How do you model your learning for your students?
Boyle, B., While, D., &Boyle, T., (2004) A longitudinal study of teacher change; what makes professional development effective? The Curriculum Journal, 15(1), 45-68. doi; 10.1080/0958517042000189470

Knight, J. (2018). When teachers lead their own learning. Educational Leadership, 76:3, 20-26.
Martin, L.E., Kragler, S., Quatroche, D, & Bauserman, K., (2019) Transforming schools; the power of teachers’ input in professional development. Journal of Educational Research and Practice 9(1). 179-188. doi; 10.5590/JERAP.2019.09.1.13

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