Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Do we treat academic mistakes differently from behavioural failures?

Recently I came across a Tweet that caught my attention, stating that we treat academic mistakes differently from behavioural issues? My initial reaction was to question the premise and refute its credibility outrightly. None of us educators want to think that we aren't being equitable in the classroom and not treating every student the same. But the reality is often disconnected from what we preach. We call ourselves student-centred in our pedagogy, but are we sudent-centred when it comes to discipline? The next Tweet I read outlined examples of inequity in how we treat mistakes in the classroom. I was hit with the reality that exists in many classrooms and schools across the country. 

I don't know about you, but has this been your experience? We go to great lengths to ensure students have second chances to relearn learning outcomes, fix mistakes, and retake tests or exams. All which are the right thing to do for students. We will reteach a concept until the students get it, but how different the story is when it comes to negative behaviour from students. We often assume that when a student misbehaves, they are willful and deliberate in their lack of respect for us. Students are then removed from the learning environment with little hope of being given an opportunity to relearn the expected behaviour; even though studies show how long it takes for students to unlearn and relearn attitudes. I love the quote by John Maxwell, who said "once our minds are 'tattooed' with negative thinking, our chances for long-term success diminish.  

It's so easy to forget about where many of these kids are coming from. Sadly, so many of the students with behavioural challenges come from broken homes, neglected home lives, uncommunicative parents, stressed out and even depressed personal battles. And all we can do is look past their hurts and fears to see the anger, defiance, and bad attitudes. It's so easy to pass judgment on these students when we have no idea what they are going through. I realize not everyone is like this, but it happens enough times to tell me we have a problem that we need to address and fix. I see students sent out of the classrooms to sit in the school hallways  too many times to think that these are isolated incidents.  

I was speaking to an elementary administrator recently, who recounted arguing with a teacher who wanted a student suspended because they were being defiant and refused to get their homework done and turned in on time. The principal was arguing that the teacher needed to take into consideration what the student was going through. He had recently been removed from his home because his parents were going through some marital issues, and he was living with a non-relative without any idea when he would be able to return home. And somehow his homework was the most important thing that mattered.

We have a dual mission as educators: 1) to teach these students the curricular outcomes, and 2) to guide and inform them in the virtues of life that form their character as the future citizens. That means we cannot be so detached in our role as teacher to only be concerned with teaching the curriculum. Yes, it's important, but how do you teach a child whose life is a mess when the last thing they want to do or can do is think about learning.

We need to think about whether we treat academic mistakes differently from behavioural failures? I think we do, but what do you think?  Maybe the better question is, "Would I want to be a student in my own classroom?"

Sunday, April 10, 2016

I Have my Opinions, But I'm Still Very Open-Minded!

I've never been one to shy away from controversy.  Some might say that I can be quite opinionated. I would have to agree. I do hold some strong opinions about things. Lately, though, I find that I am less willing to share my opinions because I'm so tired of the intolerance. I may be opinionated but I am very tolerant of others opinions as well. In fact, I want to hear others express their ideas and opinions, because I believe that helps me learn as well. Many of the opinions I have held have been tweaked and modified because someone else made a good point that I hadn't taken into consideration.

While I'm opinionated, I have also noticed people being intimidated by another person with an opinion. That's the last thing I want people to feel around me. I want to hear what they have to say. Then there are those people who use their strongly worded opinions as a form of intimidation to keep people quiet and not oppose them. They use words like "That's stupid or crazy," because it shuts people up. This tactic is simply a means to shut down any further dialogue and indicate they are not interested in hearing another perspective. 

Maybe it's because of my college days studying philosophy cross-legged on the floor in a circle in the professor's office that I learned the value of debating ideas, asking the right questions, and utilizing the Socratic method.

We were taught that the Socratic method was one of the oldest teaching tactics for fostering critical thinking. Using the Socratic method we focus on giving students questions, not answers. We inquire and probe a subject with questions. As a result, we explore elements of reasoning in a disciplined and self-assessing way that heightens learning. Yet, recently, I saw this quote sourced from John Hattie on Twitter that said "Some teachers ask between 200-300 questions a day. Most students ask 2 questions a day."  I don't know about you, but there's something critically wrong with this picture. If students are engaged in the learning process, they will ask the questions. Our role as teachers is to engage in such a way that students are drawn into dialogue and discourse that causes them to dig deeper for their own understanding. So why doesn't that happen.

In a recent Gallup Poll, a couple of things were highlighted regarding engagement levels in schools:

Student engagement in school drops precipitously from fifth grade through 12th grade. About three quarters of elementary school kids (76%) are engaged in school, while only 44% of high school kids are engaged. The longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become. If we were doing this right, the trend would be going in the opposite direction.

About seven in 10 K-12 teachers are not engaged in their work (69%). And teachers are dead last among all professions Gallup studied in saying their opinions count at work and their supervisors create an open and trusting environment. We also found that teacher engagement is the most important driver of student engagement. We'll never improve student engagement until we boost teachers' workplace engagement first.

This falls completely in line with the quote from Ken Robinson, who said, " There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of the schools." While as a teacher and administrator, I wholeheartedly agree. However, there is some onus on teachers to first and foremost possess a positive outlook about students. Sadly, that's not always the case.  I have worked in some extremely challenging school environments where teacher opinion or ideas was never listened to or considered. Yet, despite the difficult and hostile work environment, it was my love for students and their learning that kept me coming back day after day because I wanted to instill hope in the kids' lives. I didn't get into teaching for the paycheque or for a job. No. I became a teacher because it was my mission in life to give to students what I never received going to school. I had some horrible experiences as a student in school. I could hardly wait to get out of school. What awaited me in college clearly demonstrated how unprepared I was by high school. 

Today, I love learning, and I am learning something new everyday I go to school to teach. I look around me and see families suffering from the loss of employment in this present economy, and I am grateful to be employed. I don't take it for granted. I don't worry too much about work conditions and how alone I feel in my role sometimes. It's not easy to lead, but I hope that I am modelling a hope and a care that I have for students, their learning, and their future. As teachers, sometimes we have to be extremely selfless and humble We make mistakes and fail miserably at times, but that's how we learn. So, yes, teachers are the lifeblood of a school, but they need to possess the ability to breathe that life into their students. Sometimes that means we need to change the way we are doing things, or have done for 20 years. Inherent in the word, "change" is the idea to transform, adjust, adapt, amend, modify, revise, or refine. We don't change for the sake of change or just to be different, but to improve something. That means we need to be open-minded despite our opinions and beliefs and consider the possibilities of improvement. So I've come full circle to where I started. Teachers have lots of opinions, and I love to hear what they have to say, but what I take exception to is; "That won't work," or "That's a stupid or crazy idea," or "I hate change." All which I have heard in the recent years. When educators discount any other thought or opinion in other adults immediately without any discourse, I have to ask, "is that how students feel in the classroom?" Discounted and dismissed? 

How many times do students feel that way with me? I hope they don't, but I know I have messed up lots of times over the years. I still make mistakes. But I'm all about the growth mindset for myself and my students. And most importantly, I hope that students are engaged and learning in my classroom.