Today I was thinking about a session I attend last year by Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera during the Leading Equity Summit, she stated, “When do you decide that someones life matters enough for you to move with a sense of urgency?” Wow. As educators we have a profound impact on the learners we serve. We play a huge role in the ways they build an identity of self. We cannot take this responsibility lightly. Therefore, we must search inward (which will be hard, challenging and uncomfortable) to make instructional moves as educators that value each learner in front of us. We have an incredible responsibility to be responsive and to learn how our actions affect the young humans in our classroom. This means there is not an easy answer. There is not a program that will do it for us. This means we have to constantly be learners. We have the responsibility to…
INVESTIGATE OUR OWN IDENTITY: Our background, how we were raised, the values we learned, and the history we were taught has shaped who we are. It is important to recognize this as well as confront our own biases (we all have them) so we can interrogate the ways we respond to actions we take. In addition, we must understand how our race and ethnic backgrounds have shaped us and the affordances given to us based on the ways that we identify (race, culture, sexuality, socio economic status, etc).
RECOGNIZE THERE IS NOT JUST ONE WAY TO DO SOMETHING: Every time Cornelius Minor visits our district, he always explains what he shares as this is “a” way, not “the” way – and that is powerful when thinking about teaching and learning. Often, in education, we talk in binaries – either this or that – yet that is detrimental to the learning process. It is not an either/or – it is what decision is best at this moment in order to reach each learners’ needs. We have standards, units of study, scope and sequence, assessments, and more that give us information to follow yet how we implement that work is based on what our children need. We should consider moving away from asking which way is the “right way” or the “best way” to asking “what will work best in this situation with this child?” Being flexible in our thinking in how we serve children in core instruction is vital.
ACTIVELY BE CURIOUS: A good friend of mine would encourage me to always think about what is “fixed” and what is “flexible” within curriculum. I’ve added a couple more “F” words to this and one of those is the word “filter.” As educators, we are consumers of research yet we have to be critical consumers of what is written and the why behind it. A critical consumer filters what is read and asks questions to determine what aligns with the work currently being done and what can be learned from the reading and how that meets the needs of the students we serve. It also means that you may not believe everything you read and that’s okay. The goal is to question and learn and then make decisions that will work for your kids. I encourage everyone to do their own research.
HAVE FIDELITY TO THE CHILD: Yep, this is the 4th “F” word – it is not fidelity to the program it is fidelity to the child. A program does not meet every child’s needs – the teacher is the number one indicator for success of a child in the classroom. Don’t fall into the program trap – one size does not fit all. Do develop your knowledge base in the content that you teach and continue to learn from research. Read a lot. Take notes. Grapple with ideas. Teaching and learning is hard work. It is also messy. When learning is packaged in a scripted program it does know the children in front of you, their stories, or the context in which each child lives. The beauty of teaching is using resources to meet the needs of kids but not rely on a single resource to meet all needs of all children. This is the art of teaching.
UNDERSTAND PRACTICES THAT ARE TIMELESS: A few practices are just so darn good that they will surpass the fads that come and go in education, the shiny objects that enter in quickly and leave. These practices fall under the umbrella of responsive teaching and they are…
- Small Group Instruction
- Cognitive Challenge
I could spend hours sharing about each of these but the important thing is that we recognize that these practices are what withstand the test of time – these practices allow us to know our learners well and respond to them in a way that moves them forward. And this is our goal – moving learners forward in their learning while recognizing that learning is messy. These pedagogical practices create conditions for learning of content to take place – so an educator who understands how to teach reading, how to teach writing, how to teach math, how to teach science, how to teach social studies, how to teach art, how to teach music… (you get the point) can do so in structures and with instructional moves that provide space and time for this to happen. We have to recognize that there is a science to teaching and an art of teaching. It is not one or the other – it is both.
Looking within ourselves, reflecting, grappling with ideas, and making shifts in our thinking is how we grow both personally and professionally. I have always said that if I ever stop learning, then it is time for me to leave the profession. Learning is central to teaching and being reflexive is key. So as you push through your day, make thousands of decisions at school and at home, carve out time to learn even if just 15-30 minutes of the day. Make it a part of your daily schedule. And yes, I believe this strongly but don’t always do it so I am writing this reminder for me just as much as I am writing it for you.
It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!