The who, what, where, when, why and how of learning have changed drastically over the last decade. The students populating classrooms in the 21st century are simply wired differently from those who teach them, creating a dichotomy where the new motto as an educator is:
Evolve or die.
It’s true. Many teachers entering classrooms these days are still facing an uphill battle, as almost 50% of them will leave the profession before their 5th year. Unrealistic expectations, unbelievably long hours, terrible pay, and non-existent resources continue to plague the profession. Combine that with difficult/violent student populations, tenuous socio-economic realities, and the procrastination of most governments to improperly invest in education, and it’s no wonder that many educators choose the “flight” rather than “fight” reactionary response. Regardless of the quality of instruction offered by teacher training programs, the strategies presented by expert pedagogues, or the amount of “new age” methodology novice teachers are asked to employ, the bottom line is: you have a “calling” to teach, and the only thing you have going for you is your withitness, malleability, and touch of insanity.
A teacher today is more than just an educator – we are innovators, problem solvers, and conduits through which children are allowed to view the future world they are going to inherit. Connectivity between students (and the outside world) is growing exponentially, creating an increasingly smaller global marketplace, and it is our jobs as educators to prepare them as best we can to not only fit into such a space, but to effect change as catalysts, rewriting the rules for a world in an omnipresent state of flux. Information is accessed, processed, and applied at break-neck speeds, often changing multiple times every day.
Students have evolved too. Gone are the days when pupils view teachers as “god”, their knowledge of various subjects infallible. Today’s children are born into a society that knows no boundaries, the majority exposed to vast spheres of learning that are presented to them en masse even before they pick up their first tablet. By the time students enter adolescence, teachers must collaborate with the tweets, snapchats, instagrams, and facebook status updates that envelop them. The generation now mindset is a very real thing, and it is up to educators to be mindful of the informational baggage being brought into their classrooms if they are going to survive.
So what is it that great teachers do to facilitate learning in classrooms today? The answer is not so clear cut. In fact, teachers are required to be not only multi-disciplinary, but multi-talented and multi-faceted as well. Besides being a prognosticator of one’s subject area, a teacher must also be able to incorporate what may otherwise seem like a narrow area of expertise and be able to extrapolate its significance on a much larger scale. The result is an individual which exhibits behaviour that functions more like an algorithm than a static body, constantly developing, moderating, and enhancing the learning experience.
Most major multinational corporations focus on customer satisfaction as a moniker when it comes to monitoring, projecting and improving their financial growth. The model can easily be transferred to education. When you have a successful, consistent, and continuous string of “successful” educational experiences, overall student satisfaction is higher. Consequently, when students are engage in meaningful educational experiences, retention rates increase, as do success rates. Therefore, it is critical that teachers be able to construct and offer, on an ever increasing basis, educational opportunities that will allow for a superior learning experience. The competition for such moments is fierce, and adaptability on the part of teachers is paramount.
And where does learning happen? EVERYWHERE. Teachers are constantly “on”, never shying away from a teaching moment. In the classroom, the hallway, the parking lot, the grocery store – any and all environments have the potential to offer up the ability to learn. Often, its the knowledge acquired outside of the classroom that usually has the greatest impact, but not always. Educational opportunities offered through field trips and other travels provide for a construct that appeals to students. Unshackled from their desks, children excel at activities which are “abnormal”, fostering creativity and dialogue amongst students that sometimes cannot be recreated in the classroom. You know you’re on the right track when, even days & years later, students can clearly recollect when happened that day they visited the Great Wall of China.
Now more than ever, teachers need to harness the “x-factor” students crave when learning outside of the classroom and bring it into the classroom. Some may say that resources (or even their students) make it almost impossible to make it happen. Nonsense!
Do. Or do not. There is no try. – Yoda
Yesterday. If that’s not possible, then now. Educational reform is a political term brandied about by elected officials when looking for a way to explain how they are using taxpayer money in the realm of Education. Millions are allocated every year in budgetary rhetoric printed in a document that has about the same effect as a modern phone book – its great as a door stopper. Modern educational leaders aremore like the Steve Jobs of the field, networking in their virtual garages with other teachers to affect changes that are on the cutting edge of pedagogical development. Its happening right now – all you have to do is look.
Model teachers who are able to share their infectious desire for knowledge and learning do it because they can. Such trailblazers are a special breed, and are few and far between. Like pro athletes, they have the “withitness” to acknowledge, ascertain, and inspire. Good teachers want to make the other teachers around them just as excited about everything too. Charisma and presence can go a long way when it come to influencing people, student and teacher alike. Add a dash of humour, humility and the ability to throw caution to the wind and learn from mistakes (yours and others), and you start to believe anything is possible.
Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Steve Jobs
It can be argued that being a great teacher who inspires others is inherent in only some of us. I disagree. natural ability and talent can only get you so far. Educators understand that learning is a life-long process. From the moment we are “called” to the profession, we never stop learning. So ask questions. Ask A LOT of them. Align yourself with others who share your drive to be better, your passion to be the best you can be. Crawl, scrape and fight your way to be heard. Never take “no” for an answer, as there is always a better way. Write applications for as many grants as you can, as money really is no object. Always know that your students deserve the very best possible teacher you can be, so make every lesson count.
‘Til the next post.