Some days go along smoothly and stay that way. Others, not so much. One of the interesting things about working in a school is that there is seldom a dull moment. That may sound like things often go wrong, but that’s not the case. Things just go “differently.” A child who navigates assignments and social relationships nicely may hit a snag and need support. A teacher who is reliable and always on top of things may encounter a challenge that requires her to further develop her skills to best address the needs of one particular student, though these skills may eventually serve many. A well-designed schedule may be interrupted by a fire drill or an unexpected visitor. Things change, and we need to be ready to embrace the changes.Continue reading
Most of us think working harder will produce better, different and desired outcomes. This may work when trying to learn to ride a bike or clean a room, but it may not. There is something to be said for hard work. It is the stuff the American dream is made of. However, it can also be said that some things that are easy for one person may be quite challenging for another. If you pay attention, you will notice this everywhere you look.
Most adults drive a car, typically learning it as a rite of passage of their teenage years. Some people are better at it than others. There is much more to driving than learning how to turn the car on, put it in gear and operate the various switches. For instance, figuring out where to look, how to make sharp turns, and how often to monitor the mirrors and cars around you matters… a lot. These skills may be intuitive or not. They may require lots of practice, which may or may not lead to substantive improvement. We all know those drivers who just aren’t as attentive, careful or skilled when we see them on the road. Continue reading
At a recent staff meeting, we conducted a survey of sorts. People were asked to line up along a wall according to their preferences about a variety of things: introvert/extrovert, lots of light/minimal lighting, quiet/background noise, math/language, spare/busy environments, etc. The goal wasn’t to solve a problem or change anyone’s mind about their preferences. It was simply to bring the preferences to light.
In our homes, offices and classrooms, our surroundings tend to reflect what makes us most comfortable or productive. For example, I prefer a very well-lit space at work because it keeps me alert and engaged. However, at home I don’t turn a lot of lights on, using only those for the task I am doing. As teachers we need to have an environment that is comfortable for us, but first and foremost, the environment needs to be conducive to learning for the students we are serving.
The environment serves as a teacher in a Montessori classroom. Through a well-prepared environment, students are able to have great success. They can easily move throughout the space independently, needing a teacher as a guide not a facilitator. They don’t need to ask where to locate materials or how to use them. Once a lesson is given, the children move independently throughout the space, gathering the materials needed to perform a task. The classrooms allow students to experience the same independence adults have; the materials are accessible to all.
In order to allow each child to succeed, teachers need to create an environment that is suitable for their needs. How many teachers have asked their students what they prefer or have experimented to see what leads to greater productivity and learning? Have we observed how children interact with the environment and remedied any glitches that are noticed? Classroom environments must allow for independence and access. They serve their occupants – students and teachers alike. Everyone needs to be comfortable and capable of navigating the space. How do your surroundings reflect your preferences? How do they meet the needs of the students who spend much of their days in them?
During the past few days, I’ve had several different educators outside of my school reach out and ask a question or two about something they are working to figure out. The topics have ranged from policy and procedure questions to challenging employee situations and “How did you handle this?” questions. None of the people expected a solution to their particular problem. Instead, what they were seeking was a listening ear and more information to help them as they work to solve their particular version of a problem that I may have struggled with.
This week I was also struck by the fact that we also ask students to help us as we try to accomplish our goals. Our school has a team of students who are working toward making the school a greener, more environmentally friendly school. Those students met for the first time this November and are buzzing with ideas, excited about the changes they will make to impact our school. Middle school students have been asked to run assemblies, create an admissions video and support other students in various ways. They’re invested in making a difference and making contributions to the community.
We do not stand alone. We are all part of groups, small and large. At times we lead, at others we follow. Sometimes we are the helper, and often we are being helped. The common thread is that we seek information and support from others, counting on them to help us learn and grow, not to do our jobs for us. As adults we recognize the need for this and seek information that helps us to make decisions or do a particular job. Schools must replicate these experiences for their students. Children need to see us asking for and receiving help, refining our thinking based on new information, and leaning on each other to do the best job possible. They need to know that doing “their own work” often relies on information and a helping hand from others. Schools, workplaces and all of life depend on our interactions with each other and conversation and questioning that leads to greater understanding, learning and action.
We often hear the term “individualized learning” when referring to schools. It has been deemed to be the pinnacle of educational practice, serving students well. The assumption is that we are approaching each student as an individual and meeting his or her needs. I’ve said it myself many times. What if, instead of individualizing learning, our goal is to personalize student learning?
Attending workshops at the Learning and the Brain conference last week caused me to consider the idea of personalized learning more thoroughly. As we work in service to the children in our classrooms, we must consider their interests, abilities, passions and needs. We need to co-create their learning with them, sometimes with more teacher influence, others with more student direction and still others with a finely tuned mix of each ingredient. Personalized learning is collaborative and cooperative by its very nature. Individualized learning is meeting a child’s needs by matching them with the educational systems goals. It may be a subtle difference, but it is one that merits our attention. Continue reading
All learning occurs from a foundation of previous lessons and skill acquisition. As babies develop, they build muscles and learn from prior experiences. Children learn what they can and can’t do based on the feedback they receive from a particular action or activity. Smiles and affirmation reinforce behavior, and scolding or stern looks provide negative reinforcement. Businesses learn from their customers’ behavior. Over time, they provide more of what customers buy and less of the items that remain on the shelves. This works for just about everything if we are paying attention.
Maria Montessori did a great deal of research as she built her educational model. She observed what children were doing, created a lesson or material, and then observed how the materials were used to make sure they served the intended purpose. She learned from the children in her midst, and adapted lessons and materials accordingly. Continue reading
I do my best work in collaboration with others. Yes, some tasks, like writing this blog post, are easier done when working alone in a quiet space. Others require undivided attention or concentration. But, I am happiest, energized and motivated to push my thinking and outcomes further and further when working with others.
I realized this several years ago when working on a teaching team. It was a great team. We had the opportunity to share ideas, reject some, modify others and try new things. That process provided great instructional opportunities for us, but more importantly it served students in the best possible ways. Yes, most classrooms are one teacher’s domain. Not so in Montessori classrooms. Some have a lead teacher and an assistant or two, and others are fortunate enough to have two lead teachers. Teachers working together are bound to have more or better ideas than a person working alone. Everyone needs a sounding board. In the best partnerships that is what happens. Ideas are molded and created in direct response to student needs.
I am quite sure I could not have remained in the field of education if it were not for those who have worked with me in various capacities. I have benefited from the wisdom, humor, honesty, thoughtfulness and imaginations of more people than I could count. How do you do your best work?
We are nearing the end of the first month of the 2018-19 school year, and everyone is settling in. Many schools spend the first six weeks of school focusing on two things: establishing the classroom community and assessment of academic skills. These are perhaps two very different things, but both quite necessary to set the tone and the agenda for the year ahead. Continue reading
Most of us prefer knowing to not knowing. We derive a degree of comfort in knowing and understanding things. The unfamiliar brings about feelings of uncertainty and maybe even doubt in our ability to navigate a situation or endeavor.
Summertime means traveling for many people. Familiar destinations bring back fond memories while new places can bring a sense of discovery and anticipation along with feelings of uncertainty. You may not know what to expect or what is expected of you. In a new coffee shop, a new city or country, how do things work? How do I navigate the rules of that particular destination? Even something as simple as knowing whether you can seat yourself at a restaurant or have to wait for someone to seat you can cause confusion. Continue reading
There was a time, and maybe it’s even still true in some cases, that people envied teachers. They wanted their schedules… The holiday and summer breaks, the sweet hours – school’s over at 3! And, how hard is it to teach a bunch of little (or big) kids? If you are aware of current events in the news, you know that time may have passed.
Teachers know what most don’t. It is a tough job. To be fair, some teachers have a harder job than others. Some of us teach in schools where children come to school ready to learn and are supported by families in every possible way. Others teach in under-served areas where they are not only trying to teach, but also helping to meet children’s most basic needs. No matter where we teach, the job is one that requires great dedication, tremendous effort and hours well beyond those idealized by the general population. Continue reading