Thursday, September 29, 2005

Back to Jack's room

This year I find myself teaching all Socials again (finally) after the bumping and reassignments of the last few years in our school district. I've even inherited a classroom from Don Jack (retired Socials teacher) complete with a Geographic library and the ghosts of earlier Socials teachers. This is my 3rd year at DPTodd and I still feel lucky to work here... very supportive staff and admin, great students, positive experiences, etc. My last school was a study in disfunction from the office down to the foundation... low morale, bizarre policies, ineffective leadership structures, brutal communication, staff animosity, even low-level corruption! Anyways, I make the comparison becaue I don't want to forget how a school/teaching/learning environment can go from good to bad in a hurry, but takes a lot of work to go from bad to good. My present school has worked hard to cultivate a great learning school culture!

Friday, September 16, 2005

reflections on a meeting

I met yesterday with a group of educators to review concepts of leadership, teaching, learning, and collaboaration (among other things). Here are some preliminary thoughts to provoke some thought and encourage discussion:

What I liked:
-emphasis on reflective practice and improvement
-modelling a review of relevant literature
-welcoming space for the practive of educational theory

What I'm not so sure about:
-that money in the system (as in reduced class size) is not important
-that everyone needs to be "on the same page" for progress to be made
-that students, parents, government, media, etc. don't share a large responsibility for educating kids

1. Money... I would agree that there are many other factors which can improve student learning besides reasonable class sizes, but over-stuffing a class is not working. I have a Socials 11 class with 34 kids in a small classroom. I would like to design activities which generate movement (stations, flexible groups, etc.) but there is not enough room; as it is the kids have to slide sideways to get across the room. When I have a screen projector rolled out on a cart, the one functional isle is blocked. Our school has limited facilities -- I can't always book the library when I want the students to do something other than sit in their desks and not move. I also have reduced the scope and number of assignments I will give because I'm not willing to commit extra hours to marking. I suppose I could design more peer marking activities, or get rid of the desks or the table with 2 computers for student-use, or a hundred other adaptations, but what I'd really like is to move ahead with ideas I'd love to try out but which require class sizes which fit my classroom.

2. "Same page"...I always get worried when I hear that everyone should be working in concert... groupthink comes to mind. Diverse goals (sometimes incongruent), multiple perspectives, a spirit of debate, a sense that rich uniqueness trumps tacit consensus -- these are values I honour in the classroom and work for in my professional relationships. If everyone in a room agrees on something, I tend to be frightened.

3. One the hardest and most important things I try to do as an educator is teach responsibility. Students who learn responsibility will unlock talents, build confidence, become effective citizens, and pursue healthy relationships. I realize there are many things I can do to improve my practice (and the learning that takes place on my watch), but I am only a piece in the learner's puzzle, a puzzle which is ultimately the property of students, a function of their identity. To claim that I am the problem if a student in my class does not learn is to take something away from the identity of my students; it usurps control and assumes that learning = higher marks. I will do my best, but sometimes my best is to allow students to make up their own minds about what/how/when to learn. I don't know whether teacher, school, or district, or public education can be individually responsible for student learning -- none of them are on their own -- teachers have departments and schools to influence practice, schools can't create solutions without conforming to district rules, districts can't work in isolation of the government, etc. I think the "whole vilage" it takes to raise/educate a child can claim responsibility (including parents, media, corporations and the learners themselves), but this does not seem to be the message I am getting. Yes, I want to get better at the things under my control, at facilitating learning, but I want to do so without robbing students of responsibility.