I used to think that giving homework the first day of school set the “tone” for our classroom, that this was an academic class that had rigor and demanded their best. Now I realize that I was trying to intimidate my students so that they would work hard and know that I was the one in charge.

I used to think that compliant, well-behaved students were the ideal; now I’m afraid for them. I’m afraid for the kids who think that scoring 90% actually means something in the real world. I’m afraid for the kids who believe the academic hoops they jump through so effortlessly guarantee that they will be successful at life. I’ve come to believe that being good at school might mean you’d make a decent academic, but it isn’t a guarantee of much else.

I used to think, as a high school teacher, that reading was someone else’s job to teach. Now I think it’s important for learners to be taught these strategies across the K-12 spectrum.

I used to think that some kids weren’t cut out for school. They were lazy, unmotivated, and not “academic,” as if being academic was the most important thing in the world. Now I’ve come to realize that it’s the cutout school that’s the problem. Kids love to learn and do it quite naturally. They just might not be buying what I’m selling.

I’ve learned about self-regulation

Self regulation is defined as the process of taking control of and evaluating one’s own learning and behavior. Self-regulated students are learners who can reflect critically and accurately about their own thinking and learning.

Look at the research:

“Self-regulated learning (SRL), as the three words imply, emphasizes autonomy and control by the individual who monitors, directs, and regulates actions toward goals of information acquisition, expanding expertise, and self-improvement” (Paris and Paris 2001).

In particular, self-regulated learners are cognizant of their academic strengths and weaknesses, and they have a repertoire of strategies they appropriately apply to tackle the day-to-day challenges of academic tasks. These learners hold incremental beliefs about intelligence (as opposed to entity, or fixed views of intelligence) and attribute their successes or failures to factors (e.g., effort expended on a task, effective use of strategies) within their control (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Dweck, 2002).

Finally, students who are self-regulated learners believe that opportunities to take on challenging tasks, practice their learning, develop a deep understanding of subject matter, and exert effort will give rise to academic success (Perry et al., 2006). In part, these characteristics may help to explain why self-regulated learners usually exhibit a high sense of self-efficacy (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). In the educational psychology literature, researchers have linked these characteristics to success in and beyond school (Corno, et al., 2002; Pintrich, 2000; Winne & Perry, 2000).

To be honest, until 8 months ago I’d never heard of self-regulation. Now I believe it’s one of the most important things we need to develop in our students, starting in Kindergarten right through to grade 12.

No more “fill-er-up”

I used to think that my job as a teacher was to “fill” my students with the knowledge I possessed, even if I’d just acquired that knowledge from the internet the night before. Lecture was the primary modus operandi in my classroom.

Now I believe that an inquiry/pbl classroom is both empowering and liberating. The most important skill I can model for my students is how to learn and how to talk about learning. Instead of seeing my students as empty vessels, I believe they are reflexive learners, capable of change, who have much to offer to my own learning. My students have proven themselves to be competent researchers.

I used to think I needed to “run the show.” Of course this would be the only way to avoid discipline & behavior issues. Now I know that my students are able to be co-designers of our learning environment — from choosing which curriculum objectives we will work on, to unit and assignment creation, to co-constructing the criteria for the assessment.

I used to think that content was the most important thing I could teach. What was I thinking? In a Google world, most of the content I once valued so highly can be accessed in seconds, making the role of content provider obsolete.  Now I think skills, like collaboration, critical thinking, and being able to locate rich, reliable information are much more important. So now I use content to teach skills. I’m a skills provider.

I used to think that ranting at students about their lack of engagement and their apathy towards learning might get a positive response. Now I realize that if you’re learning about and working on a project that is worthy of your time and attention, you don’t have to be cajoled. Students will devote everything to worthy work, in ways you can’t even imagine at the outset. Students will often defy our expectations if we give them the opportunity to do so.

I used to think homework was important. Now I believe most of what I assigned didn’t do much to enrich my student’s learning.

I used to think the essay was the Holy Grail of the English classroom. Now I honestly believe it’s one of the least useful forms of communication I teach, at least in the 5-paragraph essay format. I still believe it’s important for my students to be able to persuasively argue, but now they learn how to do it via blogging, social media, and using visual and audio formats.

What does 82% really mean?

I used to think marks were important. Now I think they’re arbitrary at best. What does 82% really mean? I’ve asked my students that question. They don’t know, and the truth is, most often, neither do I. I would like to get rid of all marks, and move solely to feedback, and the more often this feedback can be verbal dialogue the better. When my students receive lots of formative feedback they know where they stand as learners. Then it’s about learning, not marks and grades.

I used to think teaching an AP class of top students was the pinnacle of a high school teacher’s career. Now it would feel like I was wearing a straitjacket.

I used to think technology was for searching and sporadic use during end-of-unit projects. Now I believe it has to be infused, authentically, into every step of the learning process.

I used to think exams were vital at the end of every unit. Now I believe that deep learning is much too complex to capture well in this format. Learning needs to be expressed in multiple formats, over a period of time.

I used to think our current K-12 format made sense. Now I believe it fails so many of our students. I look at students who are in Grade 1 or 2 and struggling to learn to read at the teacher’s pace. For some of them, their little brains just aren’t quite ready yet — all they need is more time. But the current system we have doesn’t allow for it. Kids are pushed along the assembly line and many develop not only large learning gaps, but a lack of self-efficacy.

I see this in high school too. Some kids take longer to develop abstract thinking, and struggle with math and other abstract concepts. The truth is that in high school I couldn’t understand Chemistry. Now I teach it. I could learn it in university, as an adult, because my brain was ready.

I used to think I knew what good teaching was . . .

I used to think I was a pretty good teacher. Now I realize that I did the best I could with the knowledge I had, but my classroom was woefully inadequate for many of my students. I failed to equip them with what they needed.

During the past 6 months, working in multiple schools, I’ve learned so much from modified & alternative education students. These are the kids at the margins, the ones who don’t jump the hoops properly. Many of them, by the time they reach high school, don’t feel good about school, about themselves, or about learning.

Unfortunately, many drop out. As much as so-called “regular” kids need our schools to be better, these kids need schools to change even more.

I’ve come to realize that every student deserves to be in an environment that helps them grow and learn, and makes them feel good about themselves. All kids want to succeed. It’s my job to help them find ways to do that. I now believe my students are competent to show me what they need, if only I take the time to listen and ask authentic questions.

I’m becoming a better teacher by giving up a lot of what I used to think.


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