I have a vision I want to share with you. I don’t want to complain or whine about the state of education or the role of a teacher. My goals here are to inform about the realities of today’s classroom, offer solutions and encourage discussion. To be honest, I don’t know if what I’m saying is completely unique. I’m hoping my perspective is one which calls issue to the forefront and makes us all think. I can only say what I write will come from the heart and a desire to improve the world around me. Some of this post is a bit common sense but it builds a basis for the next level.
Allow me now to present my vision of learning and the classroom as it needs to be. One issue I feel needs to be addressed when it comes to learning is who is responsible for it. What I’ve seen is that success in the classroom is too dependent upon the teacher. I know what you may be thinking: “Wait a minute! Isn’t that their JOB?” Well, it is, but they simply aren’t supposed to bear this burden alone. Yet, they are the only ones held accountable when students fail standardized testing. I only point out failing because if the students pass it seems to suddenly become a team effort.
Relying only on teachers and students to make learning happen is like relying only on gas and tires to run a car. Learning is a contractual endeavor and should be a team effort to achieve success. All parties must agree to uphold their parts in order for the best learning to take place. At the top of this post I’ve attempted to put my mental vision of this concept into a diagram. Learning is at the center because it is the goal. I know that is a bit “Captain Obvious” of me, but my goal is clarity on a complex concept. Stating the obvious is a way for it not to get lost.
Let me discuss a few philosophical points about education. First, all children can learn on some level. Teachers and schools have an obligation to make learning accessible to every one of those children. School should be a place where students should feel safe. (For some it may be the only place.) That education should be holistic, speaking to all needs of the child: academic, physical and psychological. Besides the three Rs an education should prepare them to survive in the rapidly, ever-changing future. It should lead to students becoming life-long learners and contributing members of society. In order to accomplish these goals with implications beyond the school walls, we need to look beyond the school walls for resources to accomplish these.
Before we look beyond the school walls we need to look at some issues inside of them. An increasing amount of responsibility has been placed schools and teachers. Employees must play nurse, psychologist, parent, consultant, referee, mediator, Oh! and teach them how to live in this world. Students come to school hungry, hurt, ignored, improperly clothed or unable to do homework because there is no power at home. Those are the things we must overcome before the first lesson gets taught. It is simple, you can’t learn if your stomach is grumbling and your head pounding. Children are growing up fast in this world as some are kicked into the proverbial deep end of life. How can we expect them to participate in learning about adjectives when the ones used to describe their lives are so dark?
I have split this concept into two parts: School Level and Community Level. Teachers, students, families and Administration & Support personnel make up the School Level and actually touch the learning sphere. The “Community Level” involves elected, business, creative and faith leaders or organizations and how they play essential roles in making learning successful. Today I will focus on the School Level.
School Level: These are the people most directly involved in learning. Teachers must agree to use best practices and make sure all children are learning. Students must agree to participate and contribute in classroom activities. Families need to agree to support both teachers and students. Administrators and support positions must agree do their best to create a safe environment and facilitate the extras that round out a complete education for all children.
Teachers: We have a responsibility to make sure learning is taking place for all students. We are where the rubber meets the road. Constantly researching and attending professional development in order to be up-to-date on issues, techniques, methods and philosophies is the crux of our position in this contract. We must also be planning and adapting to meet students’ needs. We cannot alienate parents! We must recruit them to support the students by getting them involved in this process in as many ways as possible. Effective communication is essential to accomplish this. Let them know what is going on and what is expected (or needed) from them and the students. To the school and district we owe adherence to policy and especially safety protocol. We have to work with administrators and support personnel to make clear our needs and those of our students they need to help us meet. We cannot be prideful and must utilize those resources wisely. To students, we must be supportive and nurturing guiding them towards the goals set for them. It is our duty to create a classroom environment most conducive to learning by being warm, disciplined and purposeful. We are continually playing more and larger roles int heir lives. They must know they are expected to succeed and that we are doing our best provide them with the tools to get there. Modeling good behavior and lifestyle choices is also important. (Those concepts will be a stand-alone blog at a later date so I won’t go too in depth here.)
Students: Students perhaps have the simplest yet most difficult roles in this equation. They must agree to try to learn. They must follow the rules and not impede on the learning of others. It does require submission to authorities of parents, teachers and other adults. Participation in activities and support of one another are also essential to making sure learning is taking place. For their own safety and well-being they should agree to trust that the teachers and adults at the school have set their safety as a priority. They must feel safe and agree to bring issues of safety to these authorities. Respect for others and for school property are also key ingredients to building success.
Parents: Parents and other caregivers must foster attitudes at home which encourage the students to succeed and be concerned with learning. Their attitudes should also foster respect for teachers. They should support teachers with time or resources if possible, but at the very least with verbal support in front of students. This relationship between parents and teachers has become strained in the past few years. It is one that requires some repairs. I’m not saying they can’t disagree with the teacher, but keep any badmouthing in private. I hear of too many parents attacking teachers over grades, discipline decisions and assessments. I once read an opinion that parents should treat a teacher’s opinions more like those of lawyers or doctors. Teachers need to also remember they are being trusted with what should be a parent’s most prized treasure. We must walk a fine line when handling them. We must push them to grow while not pushing them so hard they fail. We must provide discipline without degrading; allow them to fail without creating a failure. We do have a responsibility to both sides.
Administrators and support personnel: People in these roles must work to make the school a safe place for learning to happen. They must also make the additional efforts and learning support needs feasible. Helping to meet student needs and backing up teachers is an invaluable role to play. Administrators should provide training for best practices. Another important role is backing their teachers when it comes to matters with parents or central office officials. Parents should feel free to approach administrators with issues dealing with both teachers and students. This should include questions about methods, concerns about practices or help guiding the learners with issues of life (hunger, divorce, violence or abuse).
Let me also make it clear that all parties at this level should be learning, not just the students. Teachers, we should be learning about ourselves and our craft. Students should be teaching one another and helping the teachers learn about them. Parents should be learning about new ideas and about their children or loved one. Administrators and support should be learning about new methods or concepts in their respective areas. All these things must feed into learning.
I will endeavor to finish the “Community Level” blog within the week. Thank you!