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Are we teaching the “love of” the the, or just the “the”?

In my office, on a small desk covered with Star Wars minifigures, a rubics cube and some Hot Wheels cars you will also find my 4th grade class photo. I’m the smallish blonde boy in the middle row, fourth from the left. At the other end of the row is Mrs Paterson. She is the reason the photo sits on my desk thirty-six years later.

I don’t really remember much about what I learned in fourth grade. As an elementary teacher of many years myself I can guess what was covered, and while it might be interesting, it’s not important. What I can remember is the way Mrs Paterson made me feel about being in her class.

She had high standards. She challenged me. She believed that I could do it.

At a recent conference I sat and listened to Sir John Jones talk about the way schools should be. Amongst his humour were some truisms that all educators need to be thinking deeply about. One was, “Google can teach you history. Only teachers can teach you the LOVE of history!”

Like most other schools around the world, I urge my teachers to “address the standards” when they teach. “Follow UbD when you plan,” I say. “Start with the standards. Design the assessment. Build the plan.”

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But in my fifteen years of co-planning with teachers, I have never come across a standard addressing teaching the “love” of something. I’ve never asked a teacher to add a row in a rubric to read,”demonstrates a love of calculus”, or writing, or painting or long division. And as I ponder this, I am wondering how to address this absence.

If the role of a teacher is to teach a “love of” something, be it physics or reading or history or simply (but not so simply) learning, where do we start? Where do we put all the effort in and how to we know if we’ve accomplished it? Can we use the final grade as a measure? Or is it less quantitative and more qualitative? Is it the number of students who choose to follow that subject as a career path? Is it the number of smiles on faces I see in classrooms as I walk through the building? Or is it the waiting list of students eager to get into a particular class with a particular teacher?

Mrs Paterson was my fourth-grade teacher and she is the one who taught me a “love of” something. She did it by challenging me, expecting I was able and caring for me as I made my attempts and failed.

Maybe it is that simple. Maybe it is that and a bit more. Maybe what was right for Mrs Paterson is different for you and I. Who knows?

As a school administrator, I don’t have the answer. I know when a teacher has it and I can see when a teacher doesn’t. I can give examples of it. I can attest to the importance of it. I can urge those without it to develop it.

If you are a teacher, how are you developing in students the “Love Of” your subject?

 

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Change the practice by changing the words!

George Couros is a thought provoking educator whose blog is a daily read for me. His post of today titled, “5 Terms We Need To Rethink In Education” has inspired me to write (which is one of the main reasons I read blogs!).

In his post, George asks us to rethink the terms we use in education, to unpack the perception of their meaning and the possibility of what they SHOULD mean. I agree completely, and write to extend the thinking.

My proposition is that our educational reality is strongly shaped by the words we choose to use. Let me illustrate.

A few years ago I was tasked with leading a K-12 school, which had not previously considered itself a “K-12” school. It had always had a Kindergarten program, elementary grade levels, middle school classes and a high school. It was lead by a Director, an Elementary Principal and a Secondary Principal. But they had been “Divisional” principals. The culture had never been K-12.

So upon my arrival, with the leadership structure changing to include a K-12 Principal, I changed the words.

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We began to use the word “sub-school” instead of “division”. There was no longer an elementary division, or a middle school division or a high school division. We deliberately chose words to reinforce the thinking required to build a K-12 culture. We referred to the elementary sub-school, the middle school subschool, and the high school sub-school. A little bit wordy, but important. Now in year three of making that seemingly simple change, we are almost at the point where the word “division” is no longer used. Almost!

We also discussed the idea of banning the word “homework”! Not banning the activity of homework, but banning the word “homework” to describe the activity of doing school work at home. Instead, I was suggesting the terms “preview” and “review” be used. The ensuing discussion was one of the most animated, charged, emotional, informative, full-participation discussions I have ever experienced in a faculty meeting! Just to change a word!!!

A school-wide blanket ban of the word “homework” was a bridge too far for the present faculty, but a number of faculty members DID rename their school-work-at-home and reflected that it did result in some changes in their practice.

As George prompts us to reimagine or rethink what the words we use in education mean, I am prompting you to be very critical when choosing which ones you will use. Words are very powerful influencers of practice.

What practices in your school or classroom can you change by changing the words you use to describe them?

 

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