It has been a while since my last post. I have undertaken a number of additional responsibilities, and crazy projects. Such as beginning my Doctoral degree. And deciding to home-school our two youngest children. As a result, while many ideas for posts have come to mind, I simply have not been able to sit and record them all – due in part to ‘idea overload’.
How my brain looks at present…..
I wanted to share a personal journey I feel I am on regarding my philosophy as a educator. I am only slowly accepting that this is somewhat of a journey…..although I suspect this journey started long before I realised I was on it. As a primary trained teacher, I have long been a supporter of the importance a good education has in the future success and happiness of our children and the part school plays in this. As a specialist teacher of behaviour, I am a strong supporter of a behaviourist approach in understanding and managing children in the classroom (and as a parent). I worked in classrooms where I adopted evidence-based behaviour management approaches to ensure my students were on-task, engaged and productive during the school day. Wherever possible, I connected with my students on a personal level, promoting a sense of belonging in my classroom. This, I believe, helped me to have engaged and positive learners – despite the varying home backgrounds they left each school morning.
As a teacher now working to support my fellow colleagues with their behaviour management skills, I am now beginning to find myself in somewhat of a transition. In the early days of this part of my career, I would support a teacher to put in place systems that would address a child’s lack of engagement. A child was deemed a ‘reluctant writer’, and so, rather than looking at the task required (other than to determine if it matched ability), strategies were employed to coerce the child into completing the tasks required. This was for their own good – as they ultimately had to develop sound literacy skills in order to be a productive member of the school/adult community.
If children didn’t sit still on the mat……if children didn’t line up quietly….if children called out. These were all areas of concern for teachers in order to be seen to be managing their classrooms effectively, so that they could ‘get on’ with delivering the curriculum.
And now, in my philosophical ‘transition’ – I find I do an awful lot of asking ‘why’. Why do we expect children to be able to manage themselves by sitting quietly on the mat? Why is it so important for children to line up compliantly and quietly? Why is it so prevalent that children call out? Why do we expect children to all do the same as every other child in our room?
These questions almost make it sound like I don’t approve of having children learn to follow rules and expectations in a classroom setting!! They almost sound like I don’t see compliant behaviour as important. And yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is, children, just like adults, need to comply at certain times and in certain ways. This is an important feature of modern society – knowing when and how to follow the rules.
What I am struggling with though, within an educational context, is asking our students to do things that appear to have little purpose to them. Doing things for doing’s sake. Doing things to look like we’re teaching right. Doing things because that’s how they’ve always been done. The questions that seems to be lost amongst many classroom and school activities I see is why and how will this encourage new learning with my students? What is the purpose of this activity?
Once we, as educators, begin to have ‘why’ infiltrate our thoughts and challenge every decision we make for our students, our classroom programs should start be reflective of a more meaningful process in learning. When we race to photocopy that worksheet needed as a ‘follow-up’ activity for our reading group……ask why do they need this? What purpose does it have? Who is being served by the use of this? Much of our planning revolves around ensuring we know the children are learning. That we have a firm handle on where our children are at, and the amount of knowledge they are accumulating. Much more of our program is around keeping our students busy while we can get to the kids that need our attention the most. Filling-time up during those ‘independent learning moments’. Often, these moments are where most of the lack-of-purpose activities lie.
What if, we were able to establish a program of learning in our classrooms that enabled us to be freed-up from the ‘lead position’ in the room? If we were merely the facilitator, the resource provider and the scaffolder – the injector of extended knowledge as and when it arose? We would not only enable ourselves to truly have time to observe the learning that our children are doing, but we would also enable our students to direct their own learning. Students would begin to experience learning that is meaningful to them. As a result, there would be little reason to be off-task and disengaged.
No longer would we need to coerce students into completing a task that they are ‘reluctant’ to do. When learning conditions are right, children are natural learners. They have a natural desire to create meaning from the world around them. Yes, even those from the most horrific of backgrounds. These students may take longer (they have enough to deal with)….and they may need more support…..but as human beings, they too have an innate desire to learn. As teachers, it is simply about us providing the right conditions for this to occur. These conditions do not include activities that to a child have no purpose to them. Rather than fighting the very nature of childhood – that is, the world revolves around the child – lets work with it. Let’s encapsulate those natural learning desires and work with these passions……rather than putting them to one side so that we can get on with the job of teaching to our students.