Thursday, July 26, 2018

Righting the Road: Better Teaching and Learning

Every so often I write a post about my past transgressions, decisions and efforts that I could have done a better job with. By publicly owning this error, I hope that I can help others avoid similar mistakes. In the days ahead, I will use this list to better my professional contributions.

Get curious, not furious
I recently read this great phrase on an Edutopia article shared via Twitter and elsewhere (click title to see article). This is a great, catchy phrase to help all educators rightfully act when they feel angry, furious, or frustrated. Often the working conditions, lack of support, and tremendous needs educators face can result in feeling furious. This has happened to me mostly when I have really good intentions that are thwarted by a child's behavior, an administrative decree, or a lack of good communication. When this occurs I often feel disrespected, untrusted, or diminished. But instead of getting furious, we need to get curious and ask a lot of questions. For example when field trip plans were messed up, I could have asked:
  • How might I change this? 
  • How can we help students to attend this important field trip given the struggle we are facing?
  • What might we do better?
When great tech programs are discredited and not allowed, I could ask questions that dig deeper such as:
  • Since we are not allowing great creative international programs like SCRATCH, how will we playfully and thoughtfully promote coding and the kind of thinking and problem solving coding promotes from an early age? Is this important to our system? What are we doing in this respect?
  • Since we don't allow our students to use Minecraft EDU and most professionals today rely on 3D modeling to tell their stories, invent, and analyze, how are we promoting students' early access to, creativity, and understanding with respect to 3D modeling? 
  • Since gaming has been shown to be an inviting and positive way to learn, how are we growing students' abilities, collaboration, and practice with gaming to learn?
  • Because tech is changing all the time, how can we create faster, more personalized, and flexible policies to support piloting tech venues on an ongoing, streamlined, and open-minded basis to serve students' needs?
  • Since tech is the great equalizer when it comes to learning struggles and disabilities, how are we bettering our ability to sensitively and responsibly use technology as the intelligent assistant it can be for students who struggle in any sphere? How are we growing our abilities to better use technology in this way--what are we doing, and how is that communiciated?
  • Since Khan Academy is a reputable, well-supported, and well-researched intelligent assistant used worldwide to help students' independently develop their skills and knowledge, why won't we allow our students to use this platform, and what are we doing instead to connect our students to internationally recognized modern and forward moving platforms?
  • Since many of our wealthy students get substantial tech access via their homes and families' knowledge access, how can we reckon with our tight controls with regard to our poor students who are not getting similar access or training? Won't that set our poor students back in a world where it will be essential in any field to be tech savvy and experienced? 
  • How are we ensuring that the programs we choose are inclusive and accessible to all of our learners?
When I am frustrated with a student who is misbehaving, I can ask the following questions:
  • Why do you think you did that?
  • What would you do to help yourself if you were the teacher?
  • How can we make this better?
  • Why do you think I'm upset about this behavior?
When frustrated with an administrative decree, I can ask:
  • Help me to understand why this initiative supports better learning and teaching?
  • Help me to understand why I am not seeing the positive aspects of this initiative?
  • How can I help to make promising change in this endeavor?
  • What can I do to contribute to better growth and change?
Always speak with respect?
When one is frustrated there is a temptation to forget to be respectful. It's always good to speak with respect and begin with questioning as well as looking for the promise in the problem that exists.

When in doubt, slow it down
You will never do wrong by students or colleagues by taking a time out. If there are issues that you can't quickly figure out how to resolve, simply take a break by asking students to take a moment of silence, adding an extra recess, leaving a meeting, or simply staying quiet until you better understand what to do and how to do it.

Ask for help
Don't shy away from asking for help when you are in doubt. Better to work together than to make an error that can't be easily remedied. 

Think about the worst case scenario and resulting effect of your decisions
To make a decision with the worst case scenario of the result in mind will help you to right your decisions, and to think about the resulting effects of the words you use or actions you employ will help you to make decisions well.

Write as if it will be front page news
Whenever you write anything down anywhere consider it front page news. You have to be comfortable defending any words or phrases you share with the whole world in this transparent tech age we live in.

Always be truthful
Even when it has been difficult, I am always happy when I've been truthful. Even the smallest of mistruths harms one's character so avoid those. Better to say nothing than to lie.

Keep it simple
Drill down on all efforts to the activities that mean the most. By keeping things streamlined and simple, you have a greater chance of doing the work well.

Continually remember that you don't have all the answers. Put yourselves in others shoes, think about where they are coming from, and listen to their words. The broader our experiences and ability to learn from others, the better we will be.

Know your weaknesses and challenges
Try to steer clear of jobs you're uninterested in and jobs that you know you are not well skilled for. Sometimes you may want to take a job that challenges you to grow in areas of interest, but if you take jobs that don't match your interests and skills, you'll likely be unhappy and you'll likely not do a good job. I've always turned down jobs that I am not well skilled for and I've been happy that I've done that.

Lifelong learner
Keep your goals upfront. Know where you're headed. Analyze and revise your direction often as needed. Learn as much as you can and develop your expertise to do the chosen jobs well.

Steer clear of unethical leaders
While I don't believe that many or any people are purely unethical or without strengths, I do know that there will be leaders you encounter that are seemingly unethical. When this occurs you have to hold tight to your own ethics and not be led down their trail of poor performance and misdemeanor. 

Do your job
Most importantly write yourself a job description and then do your job as well as you can.