Too Heavy

In the past several weeks and months I have been reading a great many blogs and articles about the state of education and where we need to move. I further discussed this at great length with a number of educators at ISTE last week. The question I have is, “are we overcomplicating the matter?” There is a great number of “experts” spouting pedagogy, theory and even some philosophy to try to explain how education should be done in our schools. I kept thinking that it was all a bit heavy and maybe a bit to over thought. For me, I have four relatively basic beliefs about education that everything seems to come back to.

Relationships Rule

At the end of the day it will not matter how much content we cram into our student’s head but rather how we relate to them as people. Yes, content is important, but relationships will always trump it. Teachers that are able to have a positive relationships built on trust, honesty, and mutual respect will always have a greater chance of helping a kid succeed. Student learning will not take place in a classroom where there is fear, mistrust, or a power struggle.

Always remember that the kids in your class are human beings first and students second. If we remember this and address the human relationships first, we will always have more success with the student relationships second. In order to do this, we need to know our students beyond the relatively short amount of time we see then daily. We need to invest time to create personal connections and know them beyond what their homework and test scores tells us. Taking a personal and genuine interest in a kid is never a bad investment and is often the difference maker in some kid’s lives.

In addition to our relationships with our students, those we have with parents and other teachers are crucial as well. We are all in this together and we need each other to maximize a student’s ability to learn and be successful. Parents play a key role in child development and as teachers we need to foster a positive relationship built on those same principles of trust, honesty, and mutual respect.

Stop the Arms Race

Due to many political and economic reasons I either don’t understand or don’t agree with, we are pitting our teachers and schools against each other. Schools are not allowed to share their work with others and student’s work is being kept under lock and key. We are afraid to share the good work we are doing for fear that someone else might copy us. If we are doing good work, wouldn’t we want all kids to be doing it? Should we not be proud of our work and want others to be able to learn and grow from it?

One of the greatest things about my involvement in social media is the connections I have made. Through these connections I have been exposed to great teaching and examples of student learning all over the world. It is through this sharing that the learning experiences in my classes have been greatly improved. Beyond the teachers, we need to find ways for our students to stop competing for grades and awards and instead work collaboratively to create enriched learning experiences. We are better together.

When we Standardize we Bastardize

Yes, I am obviously referring to the standardized testing but more than that as well. Standardize testing’s evils have been written about in such great length that I will not go into any more details. However, testing is not the only thing we attempt to standardize in our schools. We do the same thing with teaching practice. In many schools we look to find “best practice” and then standardize it. When we do this, we are standardizing something that cannot and should not be standardized; people.  As long as humans are individuals and inherently different, teaching and learning practice can and should not be standard.

This also goes with resources and technology. We are trying to blanket cover classrooms with the same tools and resources. This is not the way to go. While I may like a particular resource, it will not work for everyone. Instead or standardizing these resources, let’s make innovation and creativity standard. Give me a tool box full of tools, some guidance, and let me run with it. Let each teacher decide what is best for them and their student’s learning. If we are truly the professionals we claim to be, then we should be more than capable of doing such work. Give us the destination but stop giving turn by turn directions.

Student Learning Above All

This should seem like an obvious piece of the education puzzle but not always the case. We often get caught up in board policies, new technology tools, or political jargon that we forget why we are doing all this. Stop writing policies that limit teacher’s ability to teach effectively. Stop being wowed by the latest gadgets and gizmos without thinking if it will actually help a student learn. Stop making decisions from up on high without ever setting a foot in a classroom to see who your decisions are impacting. Bottom line, if you can’t clearly articulate how your actions directly help student learning, please stop.

Although it must be said that student learning is not always indicated in a test score or a final grade. Some of the greatest learning that takes place in a class is human learning. This is when a student grows and develops as a human being. I put far more weight is the human learning grade than any test about Ancient History or Math Facts.

Many people will disagree and claim that education is not that simple and maybe they are right. However, when I talk to teachers in classrooms doing the actual work with kids, it always comes back to these four things; create positive relationships, start sharing, stop standardizing, and put student learning above all else. 


Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Bravo! You have hit the nail on the head. I have always believed that relationships are the supreme factor in education. When we get to know our kids, take the extra time for a moment to chat online when they have a question, or ask about how their game went last night, we build the trust that will enable them to take risks and learn. Thank you for reminding me to keep in mind the important things. Wish I could have met you at ISTE11; I think I saw you but didn't get a chance to say hello.

Anonymous said...

You couldn't have said it any better. It's all about the kids. Relationships in all of our lives are key to our existance and development. Content doesn't make you a better person but that teacher who took the time to know you can.
Sharing what we know be it student work, ideas, etc. benefits all which makes the world a better place.
So let's just do what we already know is right and good and lead by our actions and deeds.

Deven Black (@devenkblack) said...

Thanks you for reminding people that students are human beings first, students second (or later). For too long school has been focused solely on creating better students, not happier, more productive human beings.

It is time to realize that the job of school is not to prepare students for college or career, but for life and membership in civil communities.

Instead of focusing on commerce and competition, we should be modeling and teaching ethics, citizenship, collaboration and communication, including listening and comprehension as well as production and output.

ajourneytowardeducation said...

Thanks for this posting. I'm sharing it with my classmates as we go through our teach education program. This is what we as new educators need to be reminded periodicaly. This is why we are becoming teachers -- especially in this time of uncertainty for teachers. Thanks!

Pat Uelmen Huey said...

Well said. I think that the major argument against your points is not that they oversimplify the fundamentals of education, because as you say, they really are that simple. The issue is that many teachers do not have the time to implement them. Five or six classes a day with 35 students in each class (at the high school level) for 50 minutes a day really cuts down on the amount and quality of interaction you can have with each one. Time to collaborate with other teachers is also limiting in many situations as teachers scramble to keep up with their curricula in isolation.

Thanks for the very thoughtful and inspiring post; I'll be following you from now on!

Barbara Day said...

This is a really excellent post, well written and to the point. I just completed a week of training called "Capturing Kid's Hearts" which totally focuses on the importance of relationships. Last school year I had a great group of kids, but I felt like I was torturing them with the constant testing and the micromanaging that was coming from the district level. Posts like this remind me to stand my ground and do what I know is best for the kids. A truly inspiring reminder! Thank you.

SonicGeekette said...

Truly, well said! Very Concise and to the point. I agree with you about relationships being number one. When we think back to teachers in our lives that made a huge impact on us, it may have been because they taught our favorite subject, but it is also how they treated and related to us that ultimately made a memorable impression. We could be the best science teacher, or the best technology teacher, have the coolest lessons, and wow the students every single day, but if we fail to make those personal connections with the students, we might as well become cold computers with the sole purpose of programming the students. For many students, it is vital that we, as teachers, establish a relationship with them, or they will never tune in to hear or understand what we are trying to teach them.

Thank you for reminding us that students are people with names and unique personalities. I think at times it becomes all over statistics and numbers as we become so data driven. Remember the students not the numbers.

I liked your last point, learning. Yes, its sounds so simple, but often we overlook the simplicity while we are trying to overthink our plans. I believe in technology integration, but only as a tool. Technology should enhance student learning. If it becomes cumbersome, then we are not using it correctly. Students need to be able to concentrate on the message not the delivery.