Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The best can get better

The biggest achievement over the holiday was to think about work again or was it I mixed work with pleasure...

I read an invaluable article that came in the mail that brought excitement to my time-off. The title was Eight lessons: Becoming the Great Teacher You Already Are " by Mary A. Armstrong in Thought and Action, Volume 25, Fall 2009, The NEA Higher Education Journal. Here are her eight lessons 's titles in bold and followed by my interpretations and reflections of the lessons.

1. "It's not about you and it's not about me, either. It's about them."
Student success is ultimately our success. I agree. It's why we tirelessly work with students, give them lots of feedback, examine every single piece of their work, rehearse facilitating unexpected questions, etc. We were just being ourselves with no presumed roles or assigned pedagogy.

2. "Life isn't fair, but your classroom had better be."
True indeed. How we define and sustain fairness is everything to students. No favoritism; consistently keeping the principles that are important to learning, practicing protocols to sustain respect for all, etc. When I left my last teaching post, a student described me as a judge that was firm but fair.

3. "It's not the dive that gets you, it's the diving board"
I think what she meant here was that we need to have the courage to take risk in the classroom when we see the moment, no matter how many times we have taught the lesson. The moment to crack an obstacle in thinking, in understanding an enduring question, a change in an attitude, etc. Students will, with our fingers crossed, realize that it's engaged teaching. It's caring for students. So even though it might flop, students and teacher will learn something from it as a result of the impact.

4. "Everything was going according to plan until someone started thinking"
I think this is an extension from number three. The irony is that when we are successful in our teaching, students would finally take the initiatives to ask questions. Questions that might not be in your lesson plan. That's why when we prepare our lessons, we should never assume anything. We should be the student with an innocent mind that is willing to drill to the root of any concept and ask "why not?". As skilled facilitators, we should help them to find the answers themselves and realize there might be more than one answer or the answer/s could be for more than one question. Thinking becomes a way to see patterns not dots.

5. "Create a "pre-crises" classroom"
Don't wait till problems arise to find solutions. Don't fight fire but prevent them. It's just good management skills, classroom management. After all we are people, very diverse in what can be visible or invisible. Assume nothing. Being fair, the top rule, in every sense of the word. Another rule is to spell out the rules verbally and in writing, such as in the syllabus. Most of all, model the rules as a human being as well as how to handle our vulnerabilities as a human being.

6. "The elephant in the room is waiting for you to call on him"
This one takes guts. I think it requires the pre-requisites of knowing your students really well and knowing your facilitation abilities also really well. This is similar to the "diving board" approach, but a planned dive. Challenging students to discuss, debate, or question concepts or habits that they might have taken for granted, misconceived since birth, or rooted in their culture require expertise to help students also to summarize, reflect, and transfer their experience of one activity to the next.

7. "Boomerang: Throw it out...and watch it come right back."
Yes, we are a mirror in the classroom, in the hallway, in our office hours. Students will see themselves through us. If we don't have confidence in our students, don't treat them as equal, don't work hard, don't start our class on time, don't keep our words, etc. , students will see all that and become impatient with themselves, with us, hand in sloppy work, not punctual, etc. Team spirit or class spirit is really a result of good boomerangs. Of course sometimes no matter how hard I tried to model, there will always some UFOs.

8. "The keys you already have are the ones that open the door"
This is the best lesson among all in my opinion. We go to workshops, read books, look for "the top 10 things to do in classroom", "the three golden rules", etc. just to look for the key for how to be a better teacher. Actually we already have the main attributes: caring for and about our students. This is something, in my opinion, that can't be taught. So it is good to practice all the seven lessons so you are a student-centered, fair, courageous, truthful, and insightful teacher who will walk-the-walk. But most importantly is to be yourself, the self that is tireless to reach out to students, to prioritize their success over yours, to empower and inspire them in areas that are new to them.

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