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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teachers: How often do you think something like, When I was a kid, I always did what my teachers told me to do and never questioned their authority, or I hated silent reading, or I loved learning about ancient Greece/making dioramas/participating in science fair? And do these reflections surface when you're making decisions about what to do in your classroom around instruction, management, or curriculum?

Perhaps, for example, you decide to replace the silent reading block that's supposed to happen right after lunch with a read-aloud time, and maybe you reflect that this is because you hated silent reading when you were a kid and you loved hearing your teacher read a novel to the class. Does this scenario resonate?

Teach-The-Way-We-Learned Pitfall

I'm going to guess that we've all been guilty of this kind of decision-making, especially when we were new to the classroom and there were one thousand decisions to make every day. We drew on what we knew and had experienced -- that was the data that drove our decisions. Sometimes our decisions may have yielded great results. Perhaps the kids did not learning about ancient Greece. And sometimes we might not have seen what we wanted to see, or what we hoped our students would learn.

Whenever I hear a teacher say, "When I was a kid...," I press pause in our conversation and then probe this decision-making point. Embedded within this kind of statement are often a lot of beliefs about kids, learning, instruction, and behavior. This kind of statement allows me to explore the assumptions and beliefs that a teacher might be bringing into the classroom about learning and her students. I want to make sure that we unpack those so that we can identify what kinds of data points they are using.

What we need to be reminded of is that what worked for us, individually as kids, may not necessarily work for the group of kids we're standing in front of right now. There are all kinds of reasons why that might be the case, including differences in our generations, race and ethnicity, economic status, backgrounds, gender, and so on. It's risky business to make decisions based on our own learning preferences, styles, and experiences.

Reflection Leads to Change

Usually when I "press pause" on a conversation with a teacher and ask her to reflect on what she "loved as a kid" and how that might, or might not work for her students now, the teacher is appreciative. I'm an instructional coach so I can engage in this conversation from a coaching stance: I'm here to help you think through your decisions, not castigate you. Teachers often appreciate the reminder to use a wide range of information to make decisions.

So what do we use instead? What kinds of data do you use to make decisions about classroom management, instructional strategies, and curriculum? I'm aware that in many schools teachers may have limited decision-making about some of these areas -- there might be mandated curriculum or school-wide management systems.

But there are still 950 decisions that are within a teacher's sphere of control to make every day. How do you make yours?

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Casey Cagle's picture
Casey Cagle
Former professional physicist, now teaching 7th grade science in Texas

As a younger teacher (and one who tended to be a bored student), sometimes I ask myself "when I was a kid, how would I LIKED to have learned" about a particular concept. I find that it helps me relate to my kids more, especially when I explain the reasoning behind my decision to them. I also find that it's helpful to simply ask the students how they'd be like to tackle a concept, and move from there.

LYRichardson's picture
LYRichardson
Literacy and Instructional Coach/ Trainer/ Consultant

For some, teaching IS an heirloom; and it's why so many teach the way they were taught. They want/need to recreate a positive experience. I have encountered former students who became teachers because they were inspired by how I organized my classroom. However, I would hope in time they made the learning community their own, with their own personal stamp. I felt honored.

www.owlmountaincoaching.com

Bob Brandis's picture
Bob Brandis
Principal - Australia (semi retired)

What a challenge you have presented, Elana. Teachers some time teach they way were taught because it was a successful learning experience. And that success drives the teaching. I just hope that teachers still teach for successful learning. I have seen some teachers (and many relief teachers) who really do not know why they are using a teaching technique. A bit like the operation was a success but the patient died! The lesson was great - but nobody learned anything!

Melanie Link Taylor's picture

Teachers can check data--but having that almost mystical connection with the class to know when they may need something extra input for review, or relaxation, or a challenge is a talent not all teachers have. But that 'with-it-ness' does read the mood, interest, and growth of the class that dry data may not expose. I'm thinking it can be scientifically measured by data and behavior. But the key is finding the kids fascinating, and caring for their well being as well as the test scores.

Michael J Podraza's picture
Michael J Podraza
Principal East Greenwich High School

Reminds me of an old rugby bumper sticker "The older I get, the better I was". An additional tendency at play here is people also put positive spins on personal memories. The techniques of the past may have been "dreaded", however now that it is in our personal past we spin it as something that "built me who I am today" & therefore valid.
How quickly what was done in the past becomes essential.
Bringing to light this phenomena can also help to aid in a collective reflection/reframe.

Elena Aguilar's picture
Elena Aguilar
Transformational Leadership Coach from Oakland, California
Blogger 2014

[quote]Reminds me of an old rugby bumper sticker "The older I get, the better I was". An additional tendency at play here is people also put positive spins on personal memories. The techniques of the past may have been "dreaded", however now that it is in our personal past we spin it as something that "built me who I am today" & therefore valid.
.[/quote]

A powerful reminder-- of the way our memories play tricks on us, or the way we reframe past negative experiences into something positive. While those struggles might have helped us become more resilient, it's also true that today there might be other decisions we can make in the classroom. Thank you for this enlightening comment.

Elena Aguilar's picture
Elena Aguilar
Transformational Leadership Coach from Oakland, California
Blogger 2014

[quote]As a younger teacher (and one who tended to be a bored student), sometimes I ask myself "when I was a kid, how would I LIKED to have learned" about a particular concept. I find that it helps me relate to my kids more, especially when I explain the reasoning behind my decision to them. I also find that it's helpful to simply ask the students how they'd be like to tackle a concept, and move from there.[/quote]

Casey -- that's a great way of making instructional decisions. It's why I taught middle school for 12 years -- because I really wanted to give kids an experience that was different from the (horrible) one I had in middle school. I also had to learn to remember that what might have worked for me, might not have worked for other kids. Thanks for your comment.

Katrica's picture
Katrica
3rd grade teacher from Roselle, New Jersey

I agree I feel the exact same way. Yes, the data is important but they are pushing us to lose our relationships with our students.

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