Reflections bringing me back to the beginning
I was reading We Got This by Cornelius Minor today while my students were reading a little independently. I love the initial ideas presented on listening to our students to help guide our planning. It reminded me of the work of Gravity Goldberg in Teach Like Yourself and the idea of students wanting to work more for what agitates them than what irritates them. Being driven by a need to solve something versus being told what to solve.
As I reflected on these rather complimentary thoughts in two great books I wondered back to another idea from Teach Like Yourself, Core Beliefs. What drives our practice? How are we going to achieve our goals? Why are we doing the things we do? As we look at these questions the idea of authenticity starts to come through. I don't imagine there are a lot of educators, who when ask the question, "Why do you teach?" they answer, "For summers off" Teachers are teachers because they see a higher purpose to the work. As I thought about my current Core Beliefs I landed on these three things.
All Students have the right to be both heard and seen.
Our teaching should reflect what we have learned from our students.
Inquiry, both ours and our students should drive our instruction.
1. All Students have the right to be both seen and heard
I have come back around on this a lot lately. Of course all of our students should be seen and heard in our schools but too often many do not feel this is their reality. I have had many students express feelings of not being a part of the community because they don't play sports or because they are not a certain religion. I have had many students share their interests and then not see them reflected in the instruction being offered. Last year as I was new to my current school I wanted to get to know all the students. I wanted to visit with them about their interests, their joys and their struggles. I learned about the anime artists, I learned about the parkour athletes who would defy gravity on their lunch breaks, I learned about the ukulele playing song writers and the fantasy novel writers. I also learned about the desire of all of my students to have a voice their own own learning and so I began a new piece in my learning journey.
2. Our teaching should reflect what we have learned from out students.
I have utilized project based learning for the last 6 years in some form or another in my classroom. I loved the idea of a driving question to promote curiosity. I loved the idea of different products and options to display learning, I loved the idea of a class approach around a unifying idea. When I was first introduced to PBL it came with the advertisement that it would engage ALL students and I feel like many still try to sell it that way. Talk to your students and you will get a different story. What really drives students is their interests, their lives and how their learning ties into it. This year I took to the time to really listen, to ask my students how I could best address them as learners with the content I had to cover based on the curriculum. Through those conversations Project Speak was born. It hasn't been all smooth sailing and some times the waves of frustrations over this "new" way of doing things take some time to ride out but I do see students more engage, more willing to work through the choppy waters and less likely to give up when the rowing gets tough. My instruction is changing more as I listen to my students, as I tailor what I do to better meet them where they are. As we explore how the learning really impacts their life.
3. Inquiry, both ours and our students should drive instruction.
I circle back often to the power of unanswered questions. It has always pushed me to learn more. I can be described as impatient but when it comes to looking for answers we should all be impatient because impatience leads to action. Agitation, the need to solve a problem, leads to action. Students being provided with authentic real life learning tasks, that matter to them, leads to that agitation. When we allow the voices of our students, their questions, their wonderings to guide our instruction our students see we value their words, their feelings. When we allow ourselves as teachers to follow ours questions and wonderings, our practice improves. We search for the answers to better serve our students.
Teaching is not easy. There is no "one size fits all" Through listening to our students and providing them with authentic opportunities to explore what matters to them, framed with what we are responsible to teach we have the opportunity to tailor our instruction to the individual like never before. The question is are we willing to do the work?