The common placed wisdom of today that prevails, is to find a niche and stick with it. If you tend to dabble in other interests and desire to learn other topics one is labeled as unfocused, unable to follow through, or at worst shallow.
As a teacher whose obligation is to learn, I feel this is off the mark. A brief study of history will reveal how misplaced this supposed wisdom truly is. Thomas Jefferson was innately curious, he spoke seven languages, he was a lawyer, a paleontologist, an agronomist, a botanist, a musician, a mathematician, and a gifted architect. This is not even the full-list. A little mind-numbing and in today’s age we would have probably thought something was seriously wrong.
Yet, we see this common thread among many of his contemporaries, John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Rush, and Benjamin Franklin. Society was different back then too, learning and having an education was valued as one’s “pursuit of happiness”. That phrase has been taken and construed to mean chasing “The American Dream”…at one point learning and independent thought was the core of the American idea that established our country.
As we look at our education system today, we have constructed false academic silos separating topics from each other. This makes the drawing of connections between topics difficult and prevents synergistic learning that could be yielded from the mixing of various content areas.
Our obligation to our students and ourselves must be to tear down these false barriers and bring in various topics that will deliver relevance and connection for our students. We must continue to push ourselves to seek knowledge from a wide breadth of content areas as they will only benefit our learning and in turn our teaching.
What topics are you learning and what connections can you draw from them for future application?
Agimus tibi Dominus
This past semester I started substituting for bus routes in my school district. Yesterday, I started driving a full-time route! Only catch, it was my first-time driving the route and all I had was a map. Of course I studied on Google Maps too and tried to learn distinctive landmarks, but trust me its a lot harder once you get on the ground and it is completely dark.
After picking students up at the first stop, they got an early pop quiz. Help the new bus driver pick up the rest of the students. Overall they succeed, I only missed two turns, but was able to adjust the route. On the afternoon route it went smooth!
However, during the afternoon route, I got to witness a natural extension of the classroom I never considered until I reflected more on the posts I have written previously. The grade range of students on the bus are from 6th grade to Kindergarten. With only 12 students on the bus in the afternoon it makes for an easy route, but they are spaced far out in the country and most of the students are on the bus for at least 45 minutes.
Over the course of the trip, the children were eagerly pleading that Lily read to them. As she would read the younger kids would squeal (yes, literally) with delight. They would ask what certain words meant and practiced enunciating with some of the older students. No one told these students it was time for a class on reading. No bell announced that finally the school day had begun.
As we look at society, it’s easy for us to get caught up in everything that is changing, but fail at times to see the aspects that are still timeless. Yesterday afternoon I saw something that should encourage us all. The passion to learn and grow is alive and well in this generation!
Agimus tibi Dominus
Yesterday we looked at Principle #1 – I am Not the Teacher. The next principle is directly tied to this one. If we desire for students to approach and learn from their inner teacher we too must be a student of our inner teacher. The hard part is thinking of how this might show up in the classroom.
Today, we receive contradictory advice on “great” teaching practices. Some say you cannot admit you don’t know something to your students or they will lose respect of you. Some say that students do not need you at all and they should be free to learn on their own. Both extremes are poor alternatives to the fundamental truth of this principle that as written in The Choice: In Teaching and Education is, “Students learn best by watching others learn, not by watching others teach” (The Arbinger Institute p. 20).
The next passages in the text challenge us about who the real master teachers are, the children themselves. Here is a quick snippet:
“Who can deny that they are the most brilliant teachers of all? For they join with their friends, each sharing strengths and abilities in ways that invite others to quickly acquire them.
Did any child ever kick and scream to avoid these lessons? Was there ever a child that only went through the motions in the presence of such teachers?” (The Arbinger Institute p. 20).
What can we learn from these master teachers? Some may extract that learning must be made fun! Yet, is it really simply fun? Learning to ride a bike and you fall down and scrap your knee…not fun, but for some reason that does not stop a child from getting back on it to try again even though they got hurt…they failed. Learning is a thrilling process because of the challenge and the time that is committed.
I return to this question, how can we practice learning for our students to see and apply in their lives?
I’ve pondered this question and I am still grappling with the magnitude of its calling. In private, I push myself to learn and trial, but how might I pull back the curtain a little for my students to see?
Agimus tibi Dominus
As a teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of believing we are the sole source of information and knowledge in the room. The moments of my worst teaching were when I was simply focused on the transmission of material and not on the students in front of me.
During my lessons I must ask: “Am I allowing my students to deepen a relationship with their inner teacher?” At first I was resistant to this thought…that should not be one of my focuses surely. Then the more I reflected on the principle as applied to my practice it began to make sense.
When I give my students the proper amount of ‘wait-time’ after I have asked a question. I am allowing them to engage with their inner teacher. The silence is awkward, because in our lives today we have cancelled out this process of intentional thinking and reflection. Some students I’ve learned cannot handle it…they must either respond to fill the silent void with some noise or they look around wondering what just happened.
The more though I have been intentional about preserving that space and time for thought the more naturally students fall into the process. Reflective and purposeful thinking must be trained similar to a muscle. The more we use it and practice with, the better and stronger it will become.
The thoughts of an inner teacher runs deep in various cultural and spiritual contexts, but the example I will draw upon is the Quaker tradition of ‘clearness committees’. In seeking guidance for significant decisions and problems, a person would be asked by a group of close friends or community members questions that would allow for deeper reflection and processing. There can be no feedback or commentary, only open-ended questions from the group. The goal is to help the person find clarity from their inner teacher.
Think of how you could apply this principle in your own life. Practice intentional reflecting through journaling. Take time in the midst of the day to just think. One of the reasons I started this blog was to have a repository of my thoughts on learning and continue my practice of reflecting.
What will you do to help you and your students interact and grow from your inner teacher?
Agimus tibi Dominus
The Choice — As the New Year starts we are beginning to make choices that will affect the rest of the year.
As a learner and teacher I am reminded in the book The Choice: In Teaching and Education by the Arbinger Institute that we as educators are presented daily with a choice.
The text summarizes this fundamental choice as: “My choice is whether I will see and act on an obvious truth: that another is as legitimate and human as I am.” (Arbinger Institute p. 3)
This choice touches on the basic truth that learning is relational. True learning will not occur within any context if a relationship is not present. This relationship can take many forms beyond the commonly thought of teacher-student relationship.
The relationship could be a personal connection to a topic or issue. It could be a mentoring relationship that springs forth from within the pages of a historical biography. Even in this digital age, relationship within our learning means as much as ever.
Finally, the book helps us apply this truth with four principles that I feel will help kick us off right as we return for another season of learning and teaching. The four principles are:
1) I Am Not the Teacher
2) My Obligation is to Learn
3) I See Greatness
4) I Build Community
Agimus tibi Dominus