Day 7

1/28/12

It’s Saturday. Why am a writing a post? Because I never stop working. That’s what happens when what you do is a labor of love.

Today I did the following librarian-related work:

  1. Went to the public library to pick up books for the 4th grade research project.
  2. When shopping at the Family Pathways to buy books for the “free” book store in my office.
  3. Emailed all of the 3rd grade and 4th grade teachers about an epiphany I’d had concerning the 6-Traits Writing workshop I’d recently conducted.
  4. Emailed two teachers about what the data told me about a couple of kids that we’d shared mutual concern about.
  5. Worked on my LIS class, read my chapters. Gotta say, this is the best text book yet. I really think it “gets” what a good LMS is…a good leader.
  6. Wrote a blog post for my friend’s education blog. See it below. I really like it! BTW, my nickname is “Rita” and I only go by “Jennifer” when I’m in class.

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Five Things I Finally Understand About Teaching and Learning

Rita Platt (ritaplatt@hotmail.com)

What is your philosophy of education? This was the question that the professor asked us in my second year of my teacher education undergraduate program. Philosophy of education? I had no idea. In fact it wasn’t until very recently that my philosophy was anything but an inchoate slush of ideas, inclinations, and questions. Though I know that my philosophy will grow and change, almost 20 years after that question was asked, I think I have an answer. Okay, I know. I’m a little on the slow side.

I have taught grades 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and remedial classes in high school. I have worked as a mentor, a cooperating teacher, a professional development coordinator, a reading specialist, and a librarian. I have loved students in tiny Eskimo villages on the Bering Sea Coast, in inner-city Las Vegas, and in rural Wisconsin. I have sat on every possible type of committee and attended more meetings than anyone should ever have to attend. I earned National Board Certification, published in journals, and presented at conferences. Most importantly each year I have loved my profession more deeply and each year has been seminal in my growth as an educator and as an educational philosopher.

Today my philosophy boils down to a list of five things I know to be true about teaching and learning. In my experience these are among the most important truths for successful educators. If I had to distill them into a few sentences it would read something like this:  Students will learn if they work, they will only learn if they work, and they want to work.  A teacher’s job is to lend students their expertise and allow them to get busy.

Without further delay, I am happy to share my list of the 5 things I finally understand about teaching and learning. For each I will give a brief overview and link to resources when possible. All of the resources are quick and easy-to-read. Teachers are busy. I respect this.

  1. The brain can be exercised and grown! EVERY single student can grow, learn, and achieve at high levels. All children want to learn and all crave challenge. This comes from the research of the brilliant psychologist Carol Dweck. Dweck teaches us that our brains are malleable and that humans can actually get smarter. She also reminds us that failure is a part of learning and should be celebrated as part of the process.

2. Motivation is key, but the way we think of motivation must change. Motivation comes from success. Motivation comes from feeling good about your work. Motivation comes from “seeing” growth with hard data. Motivation is not something we give to students is something we teach to students. Daniel Pink and John Hattie have done outstanding work in this area.

3. Classroom management is absolutely foundational to teaching and learning. Excellent teachers know how to run a classroom, how to manage children, how to differentiate instructional experiences, and how to proactively ward off poor choices. Differentiated instruction is a big part of classroom management.

4. The answers are out there. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Years and years of research by our professional leaders have given us some solid answers about what works. We must let go of our egos and allow ourselves to be open to the possibility that someone else might have better answers. Teachers are trained in colleges that mostly subscribe to a problem-solving approach. The thing is, you’re not in college anymore, you’re in a profession and professions are defined by shared knowledge and resources. Thinking as a professional means using the body of knowledge that is out there. Of course, each of us has something to add to the body of knowledge but we don’t have to and shouldn’t treat all of education as a do-it-yourself endeavor.

5. The best teachers are coaches not facilitators or bosses. Okay, despite what I said in number 4, this comes mostly from my own head but also seems to be emerging and converging from a variety of sources as we move from the teacher as facilitator model. But, if you’ve ever watched a coach work with her/his team. You know I’m right. Coaching can be defined as the art and science of helping someone achieve their goals through explicit teaching, modeling, hand-on guided practice, and lots of independent practice. That just oozes good teaching.

That’s it. A full 20 years after I was asked about my philosophy of education I finally know the answer. Too bad the brilliant old professor who asked this of my cohort of novice educators isn’t around to hear it. His only possible response would have been, “Duh. What took you so long?”

Before I close this essay I’ve got to talk about Finland. Finland public education has gotten a lot of press recently for the amazing international test scores they’ve been posting. Last week the Finns shared what they consider the reasons for their great success. In a nutshell they cited the following as foundational: universal social services (health care, extended maternity/paternity leave, free quality education), allowing students to grow in developmentally appropriate ways (kids learn when they’re ready not when a grade or age says they should be ready), and treating teachers as professionals (paying them well, respecting them, and offering them generous planning time.)

These are not things America is yet prepared to consider, much less do. While the philosophy I’ve outlined above still holds true, I believe that no systemic change can happen for our public schools until we start taking lessons from Finland.

That may sound negative, but it’s not! Think about understandings number 1 and 5. Idea number 1: Americans can grow their brains!  We will come to realize that fair is fair and equal is equal and we must do right by our most precious American resource, our students. Idea number 5: The answers are out there all we have to do is implement them! Finland found some answers and they’re willing to share.

Now, the question is, what is your philosophy of education?

For more information about the Finnish school system, link to the articles below.

 

 

 

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About ritaplattlibrarian

I am an elementary school librarian and I love my job more than it should be possible to love a job! A Nationally Board Certified teacher, my experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergarten to graduate students.
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