Posts Tagged ‘teacher agency’
A flexible and risk-taking mindset rather than a fixed one will benefit all stakeholders in an educator’s realm: the educator’s learners, colleagues, her or his learners’ families, the community, the field of education-at-large, and of course, the educator him-or herself.
Mindset is defined as “a set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by one or more people or groups of people that is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindset)
Given today’s climate in education systems, one based on accountability, scripted curriculum, and teaching to the teach, far too many teachers develop a fixed mindset. Many educators feel forced into a paradigm of teaching where they feel subjected to teaching practices outside of their control. Then when they are asked to engage in a process of continued growth and development, many profess: “I don’t have enough time.”, “I don’t have enough resources.”, “I need more training.”, “I need to teach using the textbook.” ,”I need to teach to the test.”, “I might lose control of the class.”, “I have always successful taught this way.”
What happens way too often is that given these restraints, educators develop feelings of powerless and of learned helplessness. This leads to developing beliefs that they have no freedom to take risks nor to try out new things in their classrooms. Sadly, though, this becomes an over-generalization.
It is a myth that we operate under a set of oppressive bureaucratic constraints. In reality, teachers have a great deal of autonomy in the work they chose to do in their classrooms. In most cases it is our culture that provides the constraints. For individual teachers, trying out new practices and pedagogy is risky business and both our culture, and our reliance on hierarchy, provide the ideal barriers for change not to occur. As Pogo pointed out long ago, “we have met the enemy and it is us.” http://www.cea-ace.ca/blog/brian-harrison/2013/09/5/stop-asking-permission-change
Instead of this type of fixed and paralyzing mindset, educators should focus on having a flexible and risk-taking mindset. I know that these qualities can be part of a growth mindset which is usually discussed in terms of a growth vs. a fixed mindset. I wanted, though, something specific to educators that signifies their willingness to keep evolving and building their professional skills.
What follows are some strategies educators can use to develop, further develop, and maintain a flexible and risk-taking mindset:
- Develop an awareness when you enter the status quo and mediocrity complacency. Recognize it. Revisit it often. Talk about it. Shake yourself out of it in any way possible! Interestingly, Mr. C. discussed this in a very recent blog post.
I developed an “If it ain’t broke why fix it” attitude. By being comfortable and satisfied with the status quo had I stopped learning, innovating, moving forward…being successful? (Does the Status Quo Make you Comfortable?)
- Engage in continuous reflective practice. As I discussed in Where is reflection in the learning process?, educators need to be engaged in ongoing reflective practice to stay fresh and invigorated, and to insure that your actions in the learning environment are done with intentionality.
The critically reflective habit confers a deeper benefit than that of procedural utility. It grounds not only our actions, but also our sense of who we are as teachers in an examined reality. We know why we believe what we believe. A critically reflective teacher is much better placed to communicate to colleagues and students (as well as to herself) the rationale behind her practice. She works from a position of informed commitment. She knows why she does and thinks, what she does and thinks. Stephen Brookfield
- Establish both face-to-face and online personal/professional learning networks with other educators and other professionals, ones who try to live their professional lives with a flexible and risk-taking mindset.
- Try and learn new things in the classroom modeling taking risks and being a lead learner. As A.J. Juliani notes in 10 Risks Every Teacher Should Take With Their Class:
As I work with students and teachers there is one common thread that the “stand-out” classrooms share: They take risks. Not only do these students and teachers take learning risks, but they also take them together. They are partners in the learning process, where the teacher is the “lead learner”. A.J. Juliani
- Attend conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities outside of your comfort area . . . way outside of your comfort zone.
The bottom line becomes focusing on what can work rather than what is not working. This is not to devalue the obstacles that teachers face. It becomes about noting where change is possible and making some small changes in teaching. Small changes often result in larger, more systemic change.
. . . and sometimes having a flexible and risk-taking mindsets makes an educator an outlier educator in his or her school environment and it takes courage to be an outlier educator.
This is a follow up to a post I wrote, How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn? The purpose of these posts is to encourage educators to examine practices they take for granted, implement without deep reflection of their efficacy. This post discusses the instructional practice of asking students to memorize information.
How often have students (ourselves included) been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts, get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?
To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence “Hamlet kills Claudius” without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is–or, for what matter, of what “kill” means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding. (When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning)
The more closely we inspect this model of teaching and testing, the more problematic it reveals itself to be. First, there’s the question of what students are made to learn, which often is more oriented to factual material than to a deep understanding of ideas. Second, there’s the question of how students are taught, with a focus on passive absorption: listening to lectures, reading summaries in textbooks, and rehearsing material immediately before being required to cough it back up. Third, there’s the question of why a student has learned something: Knowledge is less likely to be retained if it has been acquired so that one will perform well on a test, as opposed to learning in the context of pursuing projects and solving problems that are personally meaningful. (Alfie Kohn)
The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts.
Memorizing facts often means a waste of students’ time and energy. In some cases, too many cases, learners lose their passion and excitement for a subject or topic that, if taught in another way, may have not been the case.
The Need for Context
Learning facts and knowledge about a content area topic is an important prerequisite to understanding that topic and then developing expertise. The key to this understanding is providing a context for the facts. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts. This is especially true for abstract concepts. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.
Lave and Wenger (1991) argue that learning should not be viewed as simply the transmission of abstract and decontextualised knowledge from one individual to another, but a social process whereby knowledge is co-constructed; they suggest that such learning is situated in a specific context and embedded within a particular social and physical environment. (Situated Learning)
Increasing Context and Relevancy
Authentic learning can be the driving force for increasing context and relevancy. Jan Herrington describes authentic learning along two axes – the authenticity of the task is on one axis (from authentic to decontextualised), and the setting is on the other (the classroom/university to the real setting). The goal of educators should be to increase authenticity which leads to more contextual learning (and vice versa).
The following are some suggestions for establishing context (the list is just a start). Ironically, they are practices that are often recommended are best practices in teaching but they aren’t implement as often as they should be:
- Assess and Connect to Learners’ Real Life and Previous Experiences with the Topic – see http://ideaedu.org/research-and-papers/pod-idea-notes-instruction/idea-item-11-related-course-material-real-life
- Use Hands-On and Experiential Activities – see http://www.raft.net/case-for-hands-on-learning
- Use Case Studies and Simulations – see https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/instructionalstrategies/casestudies.html
- Have Learners Engage with Real World Practitioners – see http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/52279118#52279118
- Implement Place-Based Learning – see http://www.ourcurriculummatters.com/What-is-place-based-education.php
The bottom line is that regardless of the content area, students deserve educations that have self-perceived authenticity, relevancy, and a context that makes sense.
I have discussed educators as model learners before:
The educator’s role has or should change in this age of information abundance or Education 2.0-3.0. The educator’s role has always been to model and demonstrate effective learning, but somewhere along the line, the major role of the educator became that of content and knowledge disseminator. Now that in this information age content is freely and abundantly available, it is more important than ever to assist learners in the process of how to learn. (Educator as Model Learner)
The goal of this post is to encourage educators not only to adopt the mindset of the educator as a lead learner but also to model, demonstrate, and teach his/her learners the process of learning how to learn new “things”.
In our schools, “the emphasis is on what students need to learn, whereas little emphasis—if any—is placed on training students how they should go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to support robust learning,” writes John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio. However, he continues, “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important—if not essential—for promoting lifelong learning.” (Smart Strategies That Help Students Learn How to Learn)
To effectively do so, though, the educator needs to understand and be able to articulate and demonstrate the process of learning, him or herself. It is a mistaken assumption that educators know how to do so. The learning process can be made overt through recording and clearly articulating the steps, procedures, and/or strategies for doing so. To learn and model this process, I recommend that educators pick something new to learn and practice doing the following:
- Explicitly state and record the metacognitive process while learning.
- Demonstrate and articulate the actual steps of learning.
- Record the stages of artifact development.
- Understand and embrace the iterative process of learning.
- Use and demonstrate the self-evaluative reflection process.
Deep Understanding of Metacognitive Processes The educator should be familiar with and able to demonstrate metacognitive processes. “The most effective learners are metacognitive; that is, they are mindful of how they learn, set personal learning goals, regularly self-assess and adjust their performance, and use strategies to support their learning” (http://sites.cdnis.edu.hk/school/ls/2011/05/12/teachers-as-lead-learners/). Developing one’s on metacognitive skills begins with developing an awareness of one’s own thought processes while learning new things. Once this awareness is developed, the steps of learning can be more clearly articulated.
Articulate and Showcase the Actual Steps of Learning If learning is understood as a process – one that goes from not knowing to one of knowing, then educators should know, understand, and clearly articulate the steps to that process. Granted, learning different things requires some different strategies, but there are some steps that cut across disciplines. For example, some of these steps include how one does the following:
- How do I gather information about what it is that I want to learn?
- What are the steps am I taking to learn?
- How do I know if I am adequately acquiring the knowledge, skills, etc., related to that learning?
- What do I do when I get stuck?
- What do I do when I need help?
So related to the metacognitive process, if the educator records the steps to their learning process, this can help make it more overt and obvious.
Understand and Embrace the Iterative Process of Learning The following video discusses that “effective” learning is often iterative which involves prototyping, testing, failing, tweaking, and then repeating this cycle.
The educator as a lead learner normalizes, embraces, models, and reinforces the iterative process of learning.
Record the Stages of Artifact Development This strategy can be especially useful if the goal is to create or make something. It can include writing something, learning a new skill, and making something (as in Maker Education). Too often education techniques focus on exemplary models. This gives the message that perfection is expected – not respecting that there are several stages, often several prototypes or iterations on the road towards perfection. Recording those iterations as artifacts through images, pictures, descriptive narratives will support and reinforce learning as a process.
Use and Demonstrate the Self-Evaluative Reflection Process
The authors [of this research] argue that learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection—that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. The results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” (Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance)
Another strategy, intimately connected with the others presented in this post, is engaging in periodic self-evaluative reflection. It involves the revisiting the following question throughout the learning process, “What criteria am I using to assess the “goodness” and accuracy of my learning? In the absence of meeting that criteria, what do I do to adapt my strategies to meet this standard?”
Knowledge of one’s learning process can (and should) be used as part of an educator’s professional development. If done as such, it teaches and reinforces:
- The importance of learning new things; the importance of being a lifelong learner.
- The process of learning so this process can be more easily described and reinforced with students;
- The importance of a growth mindset; that growth is possible during any time of one’s career.
It is important to realize the implications for our students of our own critical reflection. Students put great store by our actions and they learn a great deal from observing how we model intellectual inquiry and democratic process. Given that this is so, a critically reflective teacher activates her classroom by providing a model of passionate skepticism. As Osterman (1990) comments, “critically reflective teachers – teachers who make their own thinking public, and therefore subject to discussion – are more likely to have classes that are challenging, interesting, and stimulating for students” (p. 139). Stephen Brookfield
Our creative genius is the fountainhead of originality. It fires our compulsion to evolve. It inspires us to challenge norms. Creative genius is about flying to new heights on untested wings. It is about the danger of crashing. It is amorphous, magical, unmeasurable and unpredictable…But we need our genius to bail ourselves out of the messes we continually get ourselves into. So, individually, we must override the cartel, set aside our herd longing for security through sameness and seek the help of our natural genius. Yours and mine. Orbiting the Giant Hairball
This post is a teaser for, a taste of a panel in which I am participating at The International Conference of Creativity, Thinking & Education in April, 2015 (please consider attending). The panel and this post focus on the idea of orbiting the giant hairball of education. Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordan MacKenzie is the inspiration for both the panel and this post. The theme revolves around how the systems of business and education often proclaim an affinity towards creativity of and by supervisors, employees, and stakeholders but in practice, actually stifle any actions that threaten the status quo. Growing Up and Out of Creativity in the System of School I believe one of the greatest ethical breaches of our school systems is training learners (and often educators) out of their love of learning and personal passions and creativity.
Our artificiality is caused, in part, by the many teachers who work so hard to instill a professionalism that prizes correctness over authenticity and originality. Flesh-and-blood students persevere the rigors of broadcast school only to emerge with voices as unreal as their pancake make-up. Budding designers, capable of passion, sweat the grind in schools of architecture and graduate to create environments unconnected to the lusciousness of life. Diamonds-in-the-rough enter business schools and come out the other end as so many polished clones addicted to the dehumanizing power of classification and systemization. Orbiting the Giant Hairball
The Giant Hairball of School
On the way to getting big, most companies [schools] turn into Giant Hairballs. Not on purpose; it just happens. Two hairs get tangled — not because they don’t work but because on some level, for someone, they work just fine. As it is joined by more and more hairs, each of which worked well enough somewhere for someone, the tangle becomes more complex and larger. Before you know it there’s a ball of hair so big it has it’s own gravity field strong enough to pull . . . almost anything . . . nearly anyone . . . into its mass. That force field is success. The Hairball prefers repeating established processes to the risks of innovation and creativity because repeating those processes works—every day until it stops working. A world honeycombed with established guidelines, techniques, methodologies, systems, and equations are at the heart of the hairball’s gravity. The trouble with corporate normalcy derives from and is dedicated to past realities and past successes. There is no room in the hairball of corporate normalcy for original thinking or primary creativity. Re-synthesizing past successes is the habit of the hairball. Orbiting the Giant Hairball
Many new educators enter the institution or system of education with high ideals, high energy and high creativity. In order to fit in, they work hard to conform to the guidelines, rules, and regulations; overt and covert; expressed and hidden, of that institution. Often, the result, sadly, is having their creativity sucked out of them – both as professional educators and as humans. They become victims of the giant hairball of institutionalized education.
Unfortunately, while the heart of Hallmark (and many schools) sings the virtues of creativity, the company’s intellect worships the predictability of the status quo and is, thus, adverse to new ideas. This incongruity creates a common corporate personality disorder: The organization officially lauds the generation of new ideas while covertly subverting the implementation of those same ideas. The consequence is that, on any given day, umpteen people at Hallmark, responding to official corporate invitation, come up with concepts for new methodologies or fresh, original products. Then those ideas, by nature of their newness, are deemed fundamentally unseemly by the same authority conglomerate that asked for them in the first place. This makes for a lot of frustrated ideamongers. Orbiting the Giant Hairball
Orbiting Around the System of School The purpose of this post, actually, is not to emphasize the dire straits schools are in regarding creativity. The purpose is to propose a call to action for educators to be creativity facilitators – to facilitate their own and their students’ natural propensity for creativity. To do so, they need to learn to orbit the giant hairball of school.
Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mindset, beyond “accepted models, patterns, or standards “—all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate [school] mission. To find Orbit around a corporate Hairball is to find a place of balance where you benefit from the physical, intellectual and philosophical resources of the organization without becoming entombed in the bureaucracy of the institution. Remember, Hairballs don’t set out to become Hairballs. It is an unintended consequence. If you are interested (and it is not for everyone), you can achieve Orbit by finding the personal courage to be genuine and to take the best course of action to get the job done rather than following the pallid path of corporate appropriateness. Through this measured assertion of your own uniqueness, it is possible to establish a dynamic relationship with the Hairball — to Orbit around the institutional mass. If you do this, you make an asset of the gravity in that it becomes a force that keeps you from flying out into the overwhelming nothingness of deep space. Orbiting the Giant Hairball
The following acrostic-based poster, Create Orbits (informally titled An Educator’s Soul Survivor Kit), proposes strategies to assist educators who want to learn how to orbit the giant hairball of schools – to remain creative, excited, and energized (and assist learners to do the same) within acceptable boundaries of the school system.
Resources and Articles
- Schools are still killing creativity.
- Study Reveals Global Creativity Gap
- Inside the Box: People don’t actually like creativity
- Can Any School Foster Pure Creativity?
- What Kills Creativity?
- Educators argue creativity just as important as literacy and numeracy in national curriculum
As a parting shot – some creativity in education quotes:
I am facilitating an in-service on Growth Mindsets for Educators. I created an infographic, Thinglink, and Slide Presentation of resources that I am sharing below:
Thinglink that contains links to Growth Mindset Resources http://www.thinglink.com/scene/549674394805338114
I have been discussing and blogging about The Other 21st Century Skills
Many have attempted to identify the skills important for a learner today in this era of the 21st century (I know it is an overused phrase). I have an affinity towards the skills identified by Tony Wagner:
- Critical thinking and problem-solving
- Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
- Agility and adaptability
- Initiative and entrepreneurialism
- Effective oral and written communication
- Accessing and analyzing information
- Curiosity and imagination http://www.tonywagner.com/7-survival-skills
Some other ones that I believe important based on what I hear at conferences, read via blogs and other social networks include:
- Hope and Optimism
- Empathy and Global Stewardship
This post lists children’s books to help teach children and youth about these concepts. Some are even appropriate and applicable for adults. Children’s books, as they are written and presented as stories, have great potential to explain these often abstract concepts. There is also evidence that the brain processes stories differently and more powerfully than facts and lectures. I discuss this in Storytelling Is Not Lecturing; Lecturing is Not Storytelling
Stories are different. Stories have everything that facts wish they had but never will: color, action, characters, sights, smells, sounds, emotions–stuff that we can easily relate to. We can imagine ourselves doing, or not doing, or having already done, what the story describes. Stories put facts into a meaningful, and therefore memorable, context. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/douglasmerrill/2013/03/08/a-story-about-stories/)
Brain Activity: Lecture versus Storytelling
It’s in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.
When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too. (http://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains)
Here is the list categorized by the skill or attribute:
- The Little Engine That Could by Walter Piper
- Horton Hatches an Egg by Dr. Seuss
- The Dot by Peter Reynolds
- Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
- Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull
- Oh, The Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss
- Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
- Zagazoo by Quentin Blake
- Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
Hope and Optimism
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- On That Day: A Book of Hope for Children by Andrea Patel
- The Little Hope Book
- When Pigs Fly by June Rae Wood
- Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake
- Live Now: Artful Messages of Hope, Happiness & Healing by Eric Smith (not quite a children’s book)
- Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
- Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim
- Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
- Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan
- Possum Magic by Mem Fox
- My Mouth Is a Volcano by Julia Cook
- Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
- When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang
- I Lost My Bear by Jules Feiffer
Empathy and Global Awareness
- Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Tomson
- Is There Really a Human Race? by Jamie Lee Curtis
- The Hating Book by Charlotte Zolotow
- One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joann Rocklin
The entire list can be found on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/lm/R2VU5OSVB73GOX/ref=cm_lm_pthnk_view?ie=UTF8&lm_bb=
Here are some suggestions for a few of the skills identified by Tony Wagner:
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Curiosity and Imagination