As an educator for almost fifteen years, I think about what I used to do and shake my head at some of my thinking. Many of the practices that I had adopted were things that I had learned as a teacher and few had challenged at the time, or at least I did not have access to a different kind of thinking. When we ask others to try and move forward in their practice, it is important to not only share our stories of success, but also our stories of growth. Vulnerability is crucial to leadership and building trust.Here are five things that I used to do that I would never to do today.1. The rule is the rule is the rule.
I remember walking into a teacher’s classroom and early in the morning, students were eating in her class while they were working. I became irate at her because the rule in the school was, no food in class, and it was hard when different teachers had different expectations for students. The problem was that the kids were hungry, and I know that I have trouble concentrating when I am hungry; kids would be no different.
What I know now is that when a rule is detrimental to kids, it’s often a stupid rule. In fact, the less rules we have in our schools, the more often we are able to treat kids as individuals. If the expectation is to do whatever you need to in the pursuit of helping kids, it is important to use wisdom and common sense to achieve this, as opposed to having a rule for every possible situation. This is not only respectful to students, but also to staff. I know that I am frustrated when employees in an organization are bound by a “rule” when common sense should prevail; schools should be no different.
2. “The bell doesn’t dismiss you. I dismiss you.”
I have been guilty of saying this far too often early on my career, and to be honest, I would love to see schools have no bells at all. It creates a Pavlov’s dog scenario where we are conditioned by a bell to get up and go to the next space. This is not conducive to learning. One student I saw on Vine said, “That’s such a stupid saying since the whole point of the bell is to signify the end of the class.” They are right.
So if you do work in a school that still has bells, how do you create learning where the bell rings that students are so deep in their learning, they don’t think to move? If a kid is engaged or empowered in their learning, the bell should be disappointing, not a relief.
3. “If you don’t get this done, you will not be able to go to phys. ed.”
With health and obesity rates on the rise all over the world, this is a terrible thing to hold over a student’s head. It says that healthy living and physical activity are not as important as other subjects in the school.
Here are a couple of issues I have with this looking back. If a kid loved going to physical education, I used that against them. Instead of building on their strengths, I used that against them. The other problem that it created was the student that hated doing physical activity, learned quickly that if they didn’t get their work done, I would hold them back. They used this to their advantage. Some of my best thinking has come during a workout or a run, and I am disappointed that I didn’t realize that movement was crucial to clearing our minds and growth not only physically, but also intellectually.
4. Asking students for feedback only at the end of the school year.
Feedback is crucial to growth, but if you use that growth only for the next group of students, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. There has been a lot of evidence that immediate and constant feedback is crucial for learning, so as a teacher, it is crucial to do this often throughout the year, to help the kids and staff that you are serving right now, not only next year. If this type of assessment is beneficial to kids, it would also be beneficial to our own professional growth.
5. Think my grading system was perfect.
If I look back at my own gradebooks, they make no sense to me now. Why is something worth 25% and something else worth 15%? Where do these magical numbers come from? Why would a test on one day be worth 50% of a grade, and a project done over weeks be worth 10%? Ugh. No sense at all.
What I am glad to see now is that more and more people are moving away from “grading” and moving towards competencies and written feedback. I am sure that in the world, people are still rated and numbered, but I doubt it is a powerful practice. Kids that are ranked and reduced to a number, often become adults who do the same thing.
Meaningful feedback takes time, but as teachers, it is essential for learning and growth. Believing that a number system for grades is somehow “scientific” and not actually totally subjective, was naive. It is also not effective if the conversation is led by the evaluator, as opposed to the learner. If we started the conversation by simply asking, where are you strong and where do you need to grow, the ownership of learning actually goes to the learner, not the teacher. Having students on the outside-looking-in on assessments, does not promote learning, only ranking and sorting.When I look back at these practices, most of them are not things that I learned at university, but were things I experienced. As an adult, many of these things that I used to do to kids, I would hate being done to me. That is why I believe experience is crucial to growth in our organizations.
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