First, teaching is a limitless proposition. There's always more one can do to learn and teach well. Plus the world of education is constantly changing--new research, resources, and needs are continually shared which calls educators to continually learn, respond, and develop their practice.
Next, there are many, many limitations that challenge teaching well. The limitations include countless rules, budgets, space parameters, support needs, resource accessibility, time, and numbers. For example a good friend of mine had a class of thirty students last year. Many of those students had significant social/emotional needs. Her ability to teach well was greatly challenged by excessive student needs and a dearth of support. Reasonable class sizes, good support, and accessibility to apt resources are vital to teaching well.
Challenges also lie in system issues. When systems work well to serve children and their families, it's much easier to teach well, but when systems don't work well, challenges are great. I believe in servant leadership where systems work to serve the mission and the clients as a first priority instead of systems that become mired in politics, ineffective effort, and ego-driven action. Creating and managing good systems is challenging as the world changes, however I believe that when systems take the voice and choice of all stakeholders seriously and keep the mission upfront, those systems work well.
Schedules, roles, and routines can also challenge good work. When good effort is not made to streamline and focus roles, routines, and schedules in ways that matter, these system constructs can obstruct good work.
In any organization, there will be challenges. Like problems in one's individual life, challenges are a mainstay of organizational work. It's how systems and individuals work with those challenges that matter--the way that they take apart those challenges to understand why the challenges occur and what we can do to better our individual and collective work.
That leads me to the question this post poses, What is a job well done?
As an educator, to me a job well done is marked by the following attributes:
- happy, energized children
- sensitive, thoughtful, informed student care, attention, coaching, and teaching
- a robust program
- an inviting learning environment
- student choice and voice
- mastery of the standards
- apt integration of both new and traditional resources such as technology, hands-on manipulatives, books, games, and more
- real-world study, leadership, and impact
- cultural proficiency
- inclusive perspective which invites and takes seriously the voices and choices of all stakeholders
As I think of these attributes, and the work I do, I would say that the efforts at our grade-level are quite successful. We generally meet the attributes above. The challenge lies in how we develop programs in inclusive, modern, and engaging, empowering ways. This is the area of greatest challenge in my work now. The ability to develop our work is stymied by systematic issues that, in my opinion, need updating with regard to modern growth and development. It's time to re-look at multiple structures that exist in order to enable more dynamic growth and development.
Where do I notice these systematic snags and how can we streamline and empower what we do as a system?
Most snags lie in outdated systems related to decision making, accessing tools and supports, and apt professional learning, development, and growth. There needs to be more dynamic processes in place to streamline systems that don't require a lot of thought and to study and deepen processes that impact deeper and better teaching and learning.
With regard to my individual practice, what does this mean?
First it means streamlining a number of systems that cause great stress and take lots of unnecessary time--systems like field trip and special programming efforts, purchasing needed materials, and getting needed teaching supports to meet all students needs.
Next it means uplifting our processes for teamwork with regard to curriculum development and growth. Many of our processes in this regard have been the same for years and don't go deep with regard to taking a detailed look at what we do and what we need to better serve students. I believe that a number of curriculum tools and processes need updating, and it's been a long time since we've taken a deep, collective, and inclusive look at this. I believe we're relying too much on old time think and practice in this regard rather than new age efforts and analyses.
The way we use time, tools, and individual talents and skill matters when it comes to developing our individual and collective ability to teach well.
For me, the best I can do now is to focus in on the individual children, their families, and my grade-level team. I can work to develop my practice and contribution to these teams in order to help every child develop skill, concept, and knowledge in engaging, empowering ways.
There are many practices in place to do this, yet I wish there was greater systematic openness towards growth and development with regard to modern teaching and learning. I wish the system was looking at modernizing our teaching/learning tools and effect with greater depth and interest.
I believe one step in the direction of making this happen would be to look carefully at who is working with children and to make sure that most people in the system have regular responsibility for student teaching and learning. This would build investment in the questions and work that really matter. This would also provide more support and care for children and their families. I also wish that we would look deeply at the metrics, both formal and informal, that demonstrate what we do to truly build our capacity to serve each child well and ready them for the world they will live in.
Sadly for some, a good job by a teacher is to stay silent, not risk, do as your told, and don't make waves. For many in charge, this type of teacher doesn't rock the boat and makes their work light and easy. Yet, when teachers stay silent, don't take risks, do as they're told, and never challenge, those teachers don't grow and neither do the systems they work in. To remain the same, is to not respond to an ever changing world of possibility and potential.
With this in mind, I'll continue as I have done in the past. I'll continue to use resources and efforts that meet the attributes of good teaching, and I'll also continue to grow my practice in ways that I can via professional learning events, reading, teamwork, and trying out new and more modern ways to teach well. I want to continue my advocacy too, yet that work has been greatly challenged lately leaving me quite discouraged with regard to voice and choice--many disregard teachers' work and demonstrate little to no support for educators. This continues to be the worst part of being a teacher--you are often treated poorly and overlooked with regard to professional needs, interests, and desire to teach well. I have been working to change that throughout my career with little success. For this, I am at a loss right now, but I'll continue to think about it.