Some time ago I was looking through a middle school’s classroom library and a book jumped out at me. The title, Mister God, This Is Anna (Ballantine Book, 1974) intrigued me, so I decided read it.
“The book describes the adventures of Anna, a mischievous yet wise four-year-old who Fynn finds as a runaway. Anna by nature is the inquisitor, the forever probing creature who likes to find a rhyme and reason for everything.” (Wikipedia)
As an educator, I found Anna’s learning process an amazing study of how individual perception affects learning. One of the conversations between Fynn and Anna within the book describes something surprising that Anna noticed. She was looking very carefully at the reflection of a boat’s call number. She noticed that a number “2” when reflected in the water became a number “5”.
Being dyslexic myself, when I read this encounter, I thought, “Wow! Someone who understands and finally sees the way I do!” Early in life I discovered the way I perceive the world around me is often quiet different than the way everybody else does. Needless to say, this is a challenge and a great gift all at once.
Because I perceive things differently, I think differently. Because I think differently and I am a teacher, I can challenge my learners in ways in which they have never been challenged before, and hopefully, better their learning experience.
Good teachers design learning
Recently, when I perused my twitter feed, I came upon a blog post titled Teacher as Learning Designer. Andrew Miller, the author, states: “If you are a teacher and you are trying to explain what you do, say, ‘I am a learning designer!’ Teachers need to be empowered with a variety of instructional designs to meet the needs of all students. They need to be honored for their expertise to create creative and engaging learning environments. We can re-frame the concept of “teaching” to truly encapsulate all that teachers can and should do!”
The way teachers teach their students has, I believe, a direct correlation to the way in which they learn themselves. We have all read in the latest teaching journals that teachers of today have to be devoted to lifelong learning. But what does that mean, really? What elements affect teacher learning and then in turn affect how that teacher teaches?
Eight influences on teacher learning
Louise Stoll, Jan McKay, et. al, in an 1999 presentation about influences on teacher learning (summarized at the New Zealand Ministry of Education website) described eight features that impact how a teacher learns.
Life and career experience. Life experiences do affect the way we learn. I was personally challenged when I had to teach soil characteristics to inner city students. These students hadn’t had experience of playing in dirt as I had as a child in the suburbs. My students’ life experiences were very different than mine in so many ways. In order to engage them in the process of learning, I had to understand what their life was all about. I did that by listening to their stories and their experience.
Personal Beliefs. What a teacher believes about a learning concept or a new teaching style greatly influences whether or not that teacher implements the idea. How many teachers were tuned out to early implementation of technology because of the belief that “technology integration is a fad”, or “the way I’ve taught this unit has been fine for the last 20 years”? Personal attitudes, I believe, do color the words an instructor uses and the manner by which he/she approaches the topic.
Emotional Well Being. A lot had been written on the importance of emotional intelligences with regards to student learning. But, what about an instructor and his or her well being? Show me a teacher who has enough self confidence to fail in front of the class, and I will show you a teacher who can help his/her students learn to succeed by building on failure. Show me a teacher who is not fearful of fiascos and I will show you an educator who is not hesitant to use new technology.
Knowledge. This is a multifaceted aspect to learning since it relates not only to the specific content of the curriculum but also to teaching strategies, different types of learner intelligences, and even interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. The teacher who is equipped with a wide understanding of these topics can create an environment that truly supports every learner in their quest to discover the truth.
Skills. This is the “tool belt” that is the arsenal for any good teacher. The tools include different modes of engaging students such as, but not limited to, project based learning, cooperative learning, and peer review. Educators should be skillful enough to alter any style of teaching to meet the specific learning needs of the students.
Motivation to learn. “Motivation is the starting point for learning. For a busy and often overworked teacher to devote effort to change and new learning, there has to be a good reason for the change: some sort of catalyst or urgency – a sense that ‘what I’m doing doesn’t seem to be working.'” We can all look over the history of our teaching practice and recall times when we were motivated to learn something new because the old way just didn’t work.
Personal Confidence. Face it, sometimes teaching can be like mud wrestling; it’s messy and exhausting! But the educator who believes that the job of teaching is worth the effort shakes off the mud and makes a difference in the lives of those being taught.
Sense of Interdependence. I used to be the Queen Mother, Judge, Arbitrator and Center of my classroom. Then I began to shift ownership of learning to my students. With the added presence of technology, my classroom became a hub that had spokes in all parts of the world. Collaboration, creativity, team building, and collegial aptitudes are now huge elements in the culture of my students’ learning experience.
In a nutshell, today’s teacher needs to be able to learn continuously from their students as they present the curriculum. To quote Anna from Mister God, This is Anna, “in the dark you have to describe yourself. In the daylight other people describe you.” Educators have to be comfortable about being in the dark and journeying to the light by learning with students.
Sr Geralyn Schmidt
Latest posts by Sr Geralyn Schmidt (see all)
- Virtual Integrity and the Digital Citizen - April 27, 2019
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- Does Your School Need a Culture Re-Boot? - August 15, 2013
I find this very insightful. I was wondering what your thoughts are on homework. My own feeling is that the current homework system is extremely problematic, but I would be interested in hearing what you think.
My thoughts on homework. I know that I only assign homework that further the learning that happened in class. It would not be just “drill and practice” or “busywork.” Homework should be about deepening the passion of the learner.
Ye very confusing. our kids come home with unfinished class activities and write them as homework. on the other hand, they have no idea of the content. it is so confusing to both children and parents as if we should carry out some other people duties. Quite frank to assist whole heartedly so but i appeal to educators to do what is due to them as well.
I so much appreciate how you frame the work of school leaders. We need to help build a faculty culture in which faculty see themselves as “designers of learning” rather than distributors of knowledge. As designers we (teachers) can fiddle around with the design until we get it right. “Right” is in the eye of the beholder (student). We need to collect data from our students to see if the design we constructed is working to meet their needs. The design needs to be flexible if it is to meet the needs of ALL learners in the learning space. I want to thank you for framing this so well.
So much of the culture of not only the school but also of the classroom comes directly from the educational leader. I so agree with you that knowledge of our learners is KEY to establishing this culture and touching the WAY the learners learn.
Drop the curriculum in its entirety & focus on learning what your students are interested in and who they are as people, the rest will follow.
That is a wonderful idea, but not really practical in today’s world. If that were to “fly” not only the principal but also the parents would have to be behind you 100%. Curriculum should be the pathway but not necessarily the EXACT way in which a learner learns.
First, I remember learning with you at EdCamp Harrisburg the past 2 years, and I was excited to see your writing pop up in one of my Smart Briefs!
Secondly, I appreciate the way you emphasize the MANY skills necessary to become and remain an effective teacher. Although many realize that knowledge and confidence are key, so few realize that life experience and an attitude of openness are just as important to being effective.
We do not have the luxury of choosing what types of learners or students we work with. Therefore we MUST maintain a sense of flexibility and humbleness in order to meet our own potential as teachers. The next student who walks through my door could be different from every other student I have had, and if I’m not willing to learn and adapt, I will not be effective.
Thanks for the insightful article that has me thinking even on this final day of school before Christmas break!
Very beautifully explained in a very simple words…. Thnakyou Brianna and Sister Geralyn
Edcamp Harrisburg was wonderful! Too funny … wonder why I would stick out in the crowd???
I like the idea of being a humble teacher! Even after 28 years of experience of as an educator, I am still striving to be the best I can be. I think that is truly an important aspect of modeling what lifelong learning is all about. It seems to me that since you are so ardent in your discription, you MUST be the model for this as well! Keep up the good work!
What’s up i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this paragraph i thought i could also make comment due to this good post.
Thank you for your commet. I am glad you like the post.
Maelezo yako ni mazuri endapo waalimu tutayafuata.Wasiwasi wangu ni kuwa,wengi wa watu wanaotoa miongozo mizuri kama hii mara nyingi siyo watekelezaji wazuri wa miongozo hiyo.Sijui kwako wewe una mikakati gani katika hilo?