Friday, April 03, 2015

What Does a Teacher Do?

It's important to assess and evaluate your role every now and then. Looking at your role with both a broad and narrow lens helps you to chart the course with regard to your professional growth and effort. A conversation with a friend in another profession led me to this analysis today, an analysis that starts with these questions:
  • What are your overarching professional and system goals?
  • What efforts contribute to those goals with depth and care?
Professional Goal
To teach children well.

Focus Areas

Home-School Partnership
Working with and for families and students is a primary role of the teacher. What is the best way to support families and children? Regular communication, enlisting families as part of the learning/teaching team, and ready response are integral elements to optimal home-school partnerships. The work we do at the start of the year to establish positive home-school partnerships to serve students well benefits optimal teaching/learning throughout the year.

Knowing Children Well and Positive Relationships
The better we know our students, the better we are able to teach them. What supports this effort? At the start of the year, make time to meet with and get to know each child and family in a meaningful way. Also, early year assessments, both formal and informal, help us to understand a child's learning profile well. Further, asking students to respond to the question, "What do you wish I knew about you?" at the start of the year will help us to know what's important to a child. We might want to ask parents and guardians a similar question, "What do you wish I knew about your child?" at the start of the year too in order to focus in on important areas of a child's profile to support good teaching and relationship building.

Knowing the Content Well
You can't teach well without a deep understanding of the curriculum--that's paramount. This leads me to once again think about what teachers are asked to do. It's important to narrow teachers' competency expectations to realistic parameters. With the incredible information access today, I think it's best to support a team approach to teaching children well. The team approach would foster collaboration in ways that support individual teacher's deep knowledge in specific areas and collaboration that maximizes the collective knowledge for students' interdisciplinary study and vigorous learning experiences. Too many teacher courses, particularly at the elementary level, focus on pedagogy rather than content. I believe that content needs to be a primary focus since understanding the deep knowledge in content areas leads to good pedagogy--this prompts a change in focus, one I believe will better the work we do.

Engaging, Student-Friendly Pedagogy, Tools, and Delivery
Knowledge alone does not translate into good teaching. The way you transfer and promote knowledge is paramount when it comes to fostering an engaging, empowering educational environment. Important components of that environment include the learning experiences, manner, quality, and quantity of feedback and response, pacing and patterns, and culture and community. We can promote these components of good teaching, in part, through regular collegial share and modeling.

The Learning Environment
The physical space and materials we use to teach well impact students' access and availability to learning. By narrowing individual teacher's content expectations we can better maximize the learning spaces. For example the science/math teacher might have a room set up for STEAM learning, while the reading/writing teacher has the room set up for English language arts study. Yet, we want to foster interdisciplinary study and work, hence unlike subject divisions that exist in some high schools, there should be an interdisciplinary flow and teamwork between and amongst the learning/teaching environments and educators to promote blended, interdisciplinary units of study and learning.

Collegial Collaboration and Contribution
Teamwork is essential to good schools. The work we do as a team to teach children well makes a significant difference in a child's experience of school. Good teamwork depends on shared protocols, values, vision, time, communication, and strategic process. I believe that many schools are at the early stages of developing structures, routines, and protocols in this regard. There is great potential for what dedicated teams with time and shared goals can do to make schools better.

Early on when I started my blog, I considered the role of the teacher. Since that time there have been many changes in education and specifically in the environment where I work--positive changes which have impacted the work we can do with and for students. Today, the areas above take precedence with regard to the teaching/learning role. The emphasis on team has replaced the focus on management, environmental design and school structure plays a bigger role in the work we do, and deep knowledge of the content we teach is even a more essential aim in order to teach well in this sophisticated, information-ready environment we live in.

Today's teacher is a skilled professional who serves students and families well with holistic goals and efforts. He/she is a lifelong learner who works to understand his/her content and students with depth and care. Teachers today work together to set goals, advocate, and collaborate around important issues with regard to student response, engagement, and education. It is a vital, interactive, deep role of care, compassion, and contribution.

With political and cultural support, the role of teacher has the potential to strengthen and invigorate community and culture in ways that benefit all. The role of teaching holds tremendous promise for our nation and world if regarded with thoughtful support and right challenge.

I am proud to be a teacher, and I look forward to using the notes above to develop my work in the days ahead. If you have thoughts to add to this post, please let me know. Together, we can continue to develop our profession with strength, contribution, and positive change.

This is a beautiful post about the role of teacher.

David Garcia added "Intellectual Leader" to a teacher's role definition. I like that.