Thursday, April 24, 2014

Teach Well: A Steady Routine of Essential Elements

What does it mean to teach well today?  What patterns of thought, action, and speak lead to optimal practice and service to children?  What are we removing from our agendas of old, and what are we adding to our new routines for best effect?

Caught in a web of old and new, I find myself trying to free myself by creating new paths of best practice, paths different from old time teaching and learning routines. 

Daily Research, Reflection, and Writing
The first addition is the daily time for research, writing, and reflection. In days of old, information was not as readily available, thus research meant a trip to the library, a course, or conference.  Today, information is a keystroke away which leaves us with the task of keeping up with current thought and theory--staying abreast of the latest research and information. 

This task is made easier when colleagues work together to research and share with fluid, efficient systems of communication. Today's vast resources demand effective communication, research, and share systems in order to promote best effort and effect.  Yet this change is new to many systems and some are reluctant to see this as a necessary step in moving their schools and systems forward.  When this is the case, it's advantageous for a teacher to start this process on his/her own, and then to extend the work to like-minded peers. 

Establishing a Professional Learning Network (PLN)
Establishing, nurturing, and contributing to a PLN is essential in today's world of teaching and learning. Your PLN, near and far, is the glue that connects you to current thought and opportunity.  The quickest way to establish your PLN is to join online groups such as Twitter and offline groups such as local associations.  Attendance at conferences, edcamps, and learning events also serves to grow your PLN.  Nurturing and contributing to your PLN also matters.  You can do this by taking on a role in an association, joining a school team, participating in #edchats, blogging, writing, presenting at conferences, mentoring, and more. Your PLN has the potential to be a dynamic, varied professional association that will encourage, challenge, and nurture your work in ways that help you move forward with best practice. 

Saying No
In many cases, you'll continue to be asked to participate in old actions, thought, and speak--ways that no longer serve children well.  Use this question as your guide, "Will this work serve my students well?," and if the answer is "no," or "a little," then it's best to say no, and use your time and effort for work that significantly impacts students.  For example, old-time committee work is often ineffective these days as the work moves much slower than the streams of thought and practice possible so that kind of committee work might not hold potential for serving children well.  Yet, a more modern approach to change such as a short-term, online/offline study group with a clear, well organized beginning-to-end mission, might be a perfect way to affect positive change.  

Similarly, sometimes it's best to save your energy for the good work possible even when it comes to debate that doesn't matter, or debate that clearly is misguided.  Save your time and energy for what matters which is teaching children well.

Target Conferences and Learning Endeavor
There's an amazing number of conferences and learning events you can partake in online and off today.  Again, it's advantageous if colleagues work together to divide and conquer when it comes to the best learning available today, but if that's not possible, then educators have to manage and target that learning on their own.  To do this, start by identifying your needs.  What do you need to teach well?  Then consult your PLN for advice asking about the conferences that make the biggest difference.  If money is an issue consider presenting in exchange for free admittance, or take advantage of the free online conferences available.  It's imperative to think ahead in this regard because many of the best learning opportunities fill up fast.

Daily and weekly patterns ensure that you make the time for what's important when it comes to teaching and learning.  For example, find time daily to read, research, and reflect.  Even if it's only reading one blog post or Twitter # a day, that's a start.  Also create a dynamic weekly learning routine for your students, one that ensures that your time is spent doing the best of what you can do to positively affect their learning.  Try to attend an event outside of your comfort zone or in your area of need once every couple of months--meeting with, and learning from, educators outside of your school system will serve to push your thinking and the work you can do.  Make time in the summer to think about the patterns of education you'll employ in the year ahead.  

Think about the ways that you'll provide feedback to your learning community.  Today's tech platforms offer many new and more targeted and efficient feedback vehicles.  

Goals, Vision, and Mission
You can't do it all.  Again, ideally, it would be great if learning communities really worked together when it came to vision and mission identifying the primary goals and then working together to figure out who will do what so all goals are met with action and share.  Though in some learning communities, that kind of effort is not happening yet. In this regard, it's essential that educators work to identify their vision and mission as an educator and then set specific goals. The tighter your goals, the better able you will be to meet those goals.  In Massachusetts, there is a clear system for goal setting as part of our evaluation process. Though a bit too cumbersome, with lead time, educators can manage this system for their own growth and good work. Summer is a good time to reflect on this area and set the course for the year ahead 

Every professional area has requirements to meet if you want to keep your job.  It's an educator's job to understand these requirements well, and manage that work.  For example, in Massachusetts, we have a five-year period to complete the work necessary for recertification.  That work requires that every educator manage his/her portfolio of actions including the required coursework, signatures, and record keeping. In addition, Massachusetts' teachers have to complete a yearly or bi-yearly evaluation cycle of actions. Further, it is essential that you understand the requirements that have been established for your position. Simply asking the question, "What are your expectations for me?," at the start of the year will help you to understand the expectations your leadership holds for your work. 

Health and Happiness
Like many positions in today's culture, an educator's job is more of a lifestyle than a 9-5 job. Dedicated educators everywhere are always balancing their personal time and efforts with their professional demands--the professional/personal lines are very blurry.  Yet, the best teachers are happy, healthy people, and the only way to achieve that is to have a manageable, effective work-life balance--a balance that will differ in real time from one professional to another based on a large array of factors.  In the best schools, this balance is recognized and supported.  In-school day care, fair salaries, personal time for family needs, and flexible scheduling are ways that school communities can meet this need for all educators. 

To teach well today requires a steady routine of essential elements.  Have I missed any?  If so, let me know.