Sunday, January 24, 2010

Teacher as Learner?

The following is a critical reflection to reading, “What did you do in school today?” Teaching effectiveness: A framework May 2009, sponsored by the Canadian Education Association, in partnership with the Canadian Council on Learning and school districts across Canada. They focus on the idea of student engagement in the classroom, and explore the relationship with adolescent learning, student achievement, and effective teaching. They make a clear distinction between intellectual and academic engagement. On their website they remind us that. “Students have a better educational experience when teachers and students actively collaborate in the process of improvement.” A lived knowledge of self with embedded assessment. In addition, “Teaching is incredibly complex and today’s teachers are called upon to work with their colleagues to design learning environments that promote deeper engagement in learning as a reciprocal process among teachers and students”.

Throughout my 26-year career as a teacher there has always been a push for some sort of school reform. In the Alberta Programs of Studies (1995-2009) teachers currently are being asked to make a fundamental shift in their practice away from a teacher centred delivery of content to a more generative and collaborative exploration of content. They also are being asked in the Learning and Technology Policy Framework to “develop the competencies to integrate technology successfully into their teaching and to guide students in the use of technology to achieve learning goals”(2004). All of this requires a major adjustment in not just the traditional power relationship between teacher and student but also a shift in teacher as transmitter, to teacher as learner. It is not clear to me that we recognize the depth of shift in practice and the skill required by many generations of teachers relating to the infusion of digital technologies into learning and teaching let alone inquiry. To add to this complexity, in the program of studies teachers are asked to build a learning community and develop capacity for personalized learning, while demanding a standardized practice. There have been major shifts in our thinking of knowledge in the post-industrial age. In her brief history of ideas about teaching Friesen speaks of the traditions our current education system was built on. Many in education today still value scientific management as a model for teaching and learning. In the article chapter one reminds us that standardized practice is dedicated to the value of efficiency. Sorting learners into levels for learning and judging them through a standard method. It seeks higher and higher goals in what may become a data driven, top down non-negotiable environment. In this place knowledge is seen as something that can be improved through repetition and validity comes from being able to do it again.

Teaching for today’s world alerts us of the need for change. Many researchers have the same concern. In “Teaching in the knowledge society”, Andy Hargreaves (2003) argues that teaching in the knowledge society involves cultivating these capacities in young people; developing deep cognitive learning, creativity, and ingenuity among students”. He believes also teachers need to work in networks and teams, and pursue continuous professional learning. He feels they need an environment that promotes “problem-solving, risk taking, trust in the collaborative process, ability for to cope with change and commitment to continuous improvement as organizations” (p. 3). He also cautions that teachers can not make this shift without the support of good professional development. The kind of support that happens in a culture of caring, grounded in long-term relationships of trust, foundations of security, and commitments to active care (p. 170). Not top down reform that seems empty of shared wisdom, a place of musts, where teachers are told they must do things the same, they must collaborate rather than opening conversations to allow it to occur naturally. A standard place where diversity is ignored. In this place a teacher may feel disconnected from their own learning and decisions being made around them. A place where others think deeply and you just do what you are told.

Knowledge is now seen as flexible and ever expanding. It has shifted from being a thing or something to go and get and prove you have on a test to a kind of energy and a key form of work (Gilbert 2007). Historically in school we have focused on knowledge as a thing in academic engagement and done a poor job dealing with the capacity of knowledge and intellectual engagement. We have also focused mainly on student engagement alone and not teacher as learner. In order for this shift to take hold in our classrooms, teachers need to not just think of themselves as learners they need also to be treated as such. They also need to feel connected to the questions they have about learning and not be blocked from digital connections such as social networking. I argue that the shift required in education must include the teacher shifting from deliverer of content, to demonstrator of how to learn what we want to know, when we want to know it. How to manage and organize one’s knowledge (information literacy) becomes a new skill for this century. Students today do not want to memorize information. They want and need to build their own personal knowledge, and thus need to know how to retrieve it when required. They need to develop multi-modal literacy, in order to be seen, heard and read by other both synchronous and asynchronously. Learners are finding flow in their personal lives outside of school and boredom inside. Finally what good is knowing something without doing something with it or sharing it with others in our connected world. I believe at the most important thing we need of schools in the 21st century is to teach our students to become participatory citizens. In this they do need to learn academically but they also need to feel connected to what they learn and each other. Not a linear cause and effect world, but a nebulously connected world.

Referenced in this post:

Alberta Learning. (2000-2003). Information and communication technology, kindergarten to grade 12: Program of studies. Curriculum Standards

Alberta Learning. (1995-2009). Programs of Study.

Alberta Learning. (2004). Learning and technology policy framework.

Jane Gilbert. (2007, July). "CATCHING THE KNOWLEDGE WAVE" REDEFINING KNOWLEDGE FOR THE POST-INDUSTRIAL AGE. Education Canada, 47(3), 4-8. Retrieved January 23, 2010, from ProQuest Education Journals. (Document ID: 1296660451).

Friesen, S. (2009). What did you do in school today? Teaching effectiveness:A framework and rubric

Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society. Teachers College Press.

Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow state is a special detached state of consciousness, in which you are aware only of the moment, of activity and of the sheer enjoyment. To find flow one needs to find the right balance between challenge and skill.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Teachers as Catalyst

A question I keep returning to, the one that seems to be at the root of all other questions is; how do we live well together? With all the complexities of contemporary life with all the diversity required for a good life, how do we learn to get along, and how do we as teachers prepare our students to be participatory citizens in the 21st century? At times it feels that our society has squeezed the democracy out of school. With so much emphasis on getting ahead, keeping up and doing it faster are we really interested in taking care of each other? I found myself recently on top of a ski hill with this thought about community. Skiers and snowboarders will know that moguls are carved slowly through a season of collective effort; they are formed as a kind of “collective intelligence” if you will in the snow. There is no power of one here only the many that have left a whisper of their presence behind. It is in the voices of the many we may find connection to each other. Dialogue and the sharing of our stories in narrative also over time form a shared understanding. Expert skiers will tell you that they trust the wisdom of previous skiers and follow their path laid down before them while at the same time leaving something of them selves behind. The wisdom that is left behind for me in my research will make up my literature review.
In a previous post I discuss the need for school in the 21st Century. I wrote, “teachers are being asked to make a fundamental shift in their practice away from a teacher centred delivery of content to a more generative and collaborative exploration of content.” Yet as a classroom teacher I find myself in a place between this and what appears to me a data driven, top down non-negotiable environment where I struggle as a teacher to find my autonomy and creativity. A place empty of shared wisdom, a place of musts, where I am told I must collaborate and personalize learning. I am disconnected from decisions and the authority that says I must provide students with choice, yet I wonder where is my opportunity for choice?

What should I call this place? Andy Hargreaves (2003) refers to this as teaching for a knowledge society, a professional paradox.

To add to this, Alberta teachers will soon find a new technology in education policy to work with. In the rational of the draft of this new policy states, “To achieve success and fulfillment as citizens in this ever‐changing complex society, students need to be self‐directed lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and problem solvers. Communication and collaboration skills will be essential. Students will also need to be flexible, creative and innovative as they adapt to the changes around them… Preparing students with these competencies requires that educators design a variety of relevant learning experiences that engage students in productive inquiry through the use of technology.” In addition the first goal of technology in education it mandates the development of digitally confident leaders and educators (p.12). I am left to wonder what professional development plans are being made to support teachers in this confidence?

Hargreaves states that, “Deep professional learning involves more than workshops… it requires time to understand, learn about, and reflection on what the change involves and requires” (p108). This process involves more than just doing what you are told and applying what other have taken the time to think deeply about. It is about taking ownership of your own learning by have choice in the first place in what you want to be curious about. You can’t be a confident learner if you are constantly shoulder checking who is watching. Planting the seeds of change in this soil would give it shallow roots.
Technology has the potential to be a democratic tool to understanding, and teachers have the potential to be a catalyst for change. Is it not time to stop blaming teachers from the hallways of schools for their lack of confidence with technology and being barriers for student digital citizenship and get into the classrooms and start talking to them? What can we learn and perhaps understand by dialoguing with teachers about this place?

I was unable to find a direct source of the Alberta Education Draft Technology in Education Policy but the ATA has published an initial response in the form of a PDF to it at:

Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society. Teachers College Press.