Teacher, and Proud of It

Ever since I saw this tweet, I’ve been mulling over what I think about changing the name of teacher to learning engineer.

In short? I think it’s lame.

In education, so many buzzwords come and go, with little to show for it. And I think “updating the job title” is a waste of time.

What I know for a fact (because I am a classroom teacher, and I’ve been doing this job for 24 years) is that teachers wear a lot of hats. A lot. We have always been more than what the title teacher suggests. We not only impart knowledge; we guide our students to their own discoveries. We encourage students when they struggle; we hug them when they are sad. We are the morning greeters, and the ones who wave to them as they leave campus at the end of the day. We have snacks for those who are hungry, and money for those who need the occasional bus fare. We provide food, gift cards, and items for families in need, and we provide a sympathetic ear when parents are up to their wits end with their child. We are designers, planners, assessors, and participants. We come early in the morning, stay late after school, and, more often than not, we are fielding emails from students in the evenings and on the weekends. We decorate our classrooms to give students a warm and welcome place to learn; we spend time putting together our thoughts for student awards. We prepare our classrooms for Back to School Night; we put on a happy face during Open House (even though we’ve been up since 5AM in the morning). We attend workshops and conferences to help us grow as practitioners, with many of us taking the next step by earning an advanced degree. A degree, mind you, that is paid for by our own hard-earned money and earned while also working full-time in the classroom and balancing a busy family life.

I don’t need nor want accolades for what I do. I didn’t write that long list so that people would feel sorry for me or think that I’m some kind of hero.

I’m not a hero.

I do all of that because I am a teacher.

Not sure how the title learning engineer even comes close.

Writing with a Purpose

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I am a voracious reader. In fact, I’m most happy when I have anywhere between three to five books that I’m reading at the same time. I mean, doesn’t everyone leave a book in strategic places around their house?!?!

Having said that, I just finished rereading Vygotsky’s (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. I chose to read this book again because one of the theoretical frameworks that guided the development of my dissertation study is sociocultural learning theory.

It was a quick read, and one that reminded me of some key takeaways that I need to remember come fall when a new group of middle schoolers walk through my door.

“Teaching should be organized in such a way that reading and writing are necessary for something”

(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 117)

In this case, I’m reminded to make sure that the tasks and activities that I design for my students should be authentic and meaningful. Sure, students need to know proper writing conventions; but why not make the practice of writing more meaningful to what interests middle schoolers?

I teach medieval world history (500 – 1500 C.E.), and most students come to my class hating history. I mean hating it. I think that may be due in large part to the fact that in previous grades they were forced to memorize people, places, and dates which were far removed from any context that connects to them personally. As someone who suffered through that as a student, I empathize with their plight, which is why I go out of my way to make sure that they know that memorizing people, places, and dates are not a high priority in my class. Yes, they need to know people and the general time frame but that’s a topic for another blog post.

“Writing should be incorporated into a task that is necessary and relevant for life”

(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 118)

Many of my students are on social media. Not all of them, but most of them. But even if they aren’t, being able to effectively communicate through the written word is necessary. Working with a large population of English language learners dictates that I must pay particular attention to helping them navigate the speaking and writing conventions of another language.

What this means is that the writing tasks that I give to my students need to help them practice the English language while also evoking a sense of purpose. One idea is to incorporate blogging or journaling for my students. I’ve been wanting to introduce blogging to my students for years, but I’ve yet to wrap my head around how to introduce that concept so that it’s part of the learning process instead of an add-on.

“Writing should be cultivated rather than imposed”

(Vygotsky, 1978, p. 118)

For this takeaway, I see that writing should be something that naturally occurs during the learning process. My students should want to use writing if that medium is the best form for communicating their ideas. This is where differentiation comes into play. For some students, the written word is preferable, whether it’s because it’s easier, faster, or more convenient. But the same could be said for students who choose to use visuals to convey their thoughts. So when it comes to students sharing or reflecting on their learning, I believe that this year will be the one in which I finally incorporate blogging. But I’m going to give students a choice in how they share their learning: public vs. private and blog vs. journal.

I don’t want to think too much on the logistics because I might overlook what would make this learning process meaningful for students. For now, I’m going to give them the task–reflect on their learning–but I’m going to leave the how up to them.

Reference

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

It Takes a Village

I am on Round 2 of edits for my Chapter 5 (findings from my intervention). While waiting on feedback from my advisor, I decided to begin putting together the presentation for my dissertation defense. I like to use quotes in my presentations (even in my classroom with middle schoolers). When reflecting on books, videos, etc. which have resonated with me as an educator, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros is a solid read. I find myself going back to his book time and time again for inspiration, so it comes as no surprise that I found a quote from his book that I plan to use in the opening for my dissertation defense.

“If we want people to take risks, they have to know we are there to catch them and support them” (Couros, 2015, p. 7)

This quote serves aptly sums up the reason for my intervention design: a peer-to-peer coaching model.

My intervention (conducted during the 2018-2019 school year) focused on peer-to-peer coaching supports in helping teachers to design lessons that reflected meaningful learning with technology for students (Jonassen, Marra, Howland, & Crismond, 2008). My passion for technology stems from my love of trying new things with my students. I am not afraid to jump in with both feet. However, I know that many of my colleagues are not at that point (yet or maybe ever, and that’s ok). While they understand the role that technology can plan in helping students to acquire important skills, the learning curve both on a personal and professional level can be quite daunting.

Cue the needs assessment I conducted in spring 2017. Although I knew that my colleagues relied on each other for support, what I didn’t realize was the extent to which they provided support for each other. When questioned about external versus internal support structures, all of the teachers interviewed mentioned that they relied on peers. Proximity (location) and real-time support were two crucial features that teachers mentioned which helped them feel more comfortable with trying to integrate technology into their instructional practices.

It wasn’t hard to make the jump from an informal network of support to a more formalized support structure (i.e., quarterly release days with afterschool follow-up sessions), which formed the basis of my 8-month research study.

The findings from my study showed that teachers appreciated having a group with whom they could rely on for help. Real-time support occurred in-between classes (during passing period), before school, at lunch, and even calls or texts during class time. Data from the focus group revealed that teachers were more open to trying something new because they (1) were given time to explore and plan during the release days, (2) knew they could receive real-time support, and (3) knew they weren’t alone.

Would the teachers at my school have tried to integrate technology to support student learning outcomes in their classes without my intervention? Sure. Many of us were already doing that. But by gathering an interdisciplinary group of teachers (i.e., English, history, mathematics, science, special and general education) and giving them time to learn about technology, they were exposed to different ways of using technology to support the acquisition of important skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. They took risks, built relationships, and forged bonds over shared successes and failures. Teachers were willing to go outside of their comfort zones…and I believe it’s because they knew that their village would be there every step of the way.

References

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R. M., & Crismond, D. (2008). Meaningful learning with technology (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.