mister-god-this-is-anna-coverSome 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.

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Sr Geralyn Schmidt

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