You might have seen the new, well-produced Life Long Learner video produced by Joplin Schools. It describes the newest focus of our district, a focus that is, perhaps, more well-defined than we have seen in recent years. I'll post the video here within the next week.
Suffice it to say that the work of educators is not one to be taken lightly. While many may enter the profession to "work with kids", as a hobby of sorts, or as a supplementary income for the family, I am here for another reason. It's too cliche to say I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference.
Change is inevitible. There have been times when the job has gotten in the way of the career, when menial tasks have gotten in the way of the mission, and when pet peeves have gotten in the way of understanding, but when uncommon sense prevails, I get to surge forward. While there are moments when we experience stalls blockages in the classroom, we try not to sit still for too long.
A glance at the three rectangles here (left) should convince any spectator that we have a cramped schedule in Room 404.
We are attempting to motivate students to be responsible for their own learning, to track their own progress, and to identify their greatest needs and biggest areas of success. As I've said in recent weeks, that frees the teacher (That's me. 'Pleasure to make your acquaintance.) to address the needs of students at a more personal level, in a systematic, even more individualized manner.
- First, I have quickly identified, in red, the activities we plan to touch on during the course of the week.
- Underneath each is a learning intention; this is the objective of the activity. (The activity is merely the catalyst for the actual standard that is being learned.)
- On the right side of the graphic are some criteria for success. These are the steps students will take to achieve the intended learning.
- Many opportunities for assessment have been imbedded along the way. While I never want assessment to get in the way of learning, these assessments are my own, and they fit within my lesson. They are little compass readings to help us determine our future courses.
- Students will use modern technology throughout the week to achieve many of these lessons. While we don't all have the same access to technology at home, these fourth graders will face ever-changing forms of technology in their futures.
- Choice is built in. I will strive to do less one-size-fits-all instruction and more to address needs as identified by assessments.
- Positive messages about learning progress - not perfection - are sprinkled in. I need students to understand they can safely make mistakes (and learn from them) and that struggle is a natural - and sometimes painful - part of the journey. They must recognize that they can seize the day (cape diem!), and that they can dust themselves off and keep going after a stumble.
- Not everything will be covered with the same emphasis, and changes will be made as we go. There is something to be said for making adjustments "on the fly", and surprises are almost always welcome.
I'm pretty sure I'm not teaching in the same style that my grandmother did (She also taught fourth graders.), and I am convinced that I work harder for my paycheck than she did. That doesn't discount the work she did; it's just an observation that it is no longer acceptable to open a textbook at 8:00 every morning, starting on the first page and working through it as far as we can by the last day of school.
I'm also certain that my students are not sitting in the same classroom that I did. Hey, we were all 10-years-old at some point, right? No matter how long ago you sat in the hard chair and leaned on your wooden (or formica) desk, today's classroom is different. Teachers no longer rely on wit and wisdom to navigate educational requirements; the newest buzz words ring (or is it, buzz?) in our ears during professional development days, such as the one we experienced Friday. We hear about self-regulated learning and visible learners. We establish learning intentions and success criteria. We collect evidence for specific standards, and we report on levels of mastery.
The challenge for me is that, admittedly, I have always stood at the Teaching Is More Art than Science end of the debate. I've always enjoyed the challenge of making things fit my personal teaching style, which I still fully believe is just as important as any of the current trends. I've always described myself as an eclectic educator, taking what makes my engine run effectively and leaving aside the things that will hinder my ability to transmit knowledge and skills to my pupils.
With all of this, now comes a glimpse at some clarity. Some may see the four tenets of Joplin Schools (left) as a coming of age, a coming full circle, or as a return to uncommon sense. Others will see the tenets as yet another mandate from the top. In reality, we keep saying we can only do our best, but we can also increase our best efforts, can't we?