1 STRUCTURED, BUT FLEXIBLE
To me teaching is facilitating learning, not driving students and teachers toward an outcome I’ve set without their input. Nor is it “covering” content at the expense of the group’s needs. Don’t get me wrong--I enjoy planning lessons down to the minute, and I relish thinking creatively about how best to meet the needs of the group in a way that accounts for many kinds of learners. However, I also realize that many variables cannot be foreseen. When implementing a plan, I constantly read the room and change approaches as necessary, I check in with the group and keep the overall purpose in mind. Finally, I always, ALWAYS seek feedback, and make changes to plans based on patterns from the group.
I never underestimate the power of the five senses in learning and in memory. When working with groups, I use a variety of formats: pairs, small group, whole class; speaking, listening, reading, writing, graphing, drawing. Movement is embedded in every lesson or session, and when I can use manipulative objects I do: a fur hat from Russia is passed around and predictions are made about a Napoleon's downfall; magnetic pieces on a tray are arranged to show phonemes in the word “spat;” teachers stroll through a “gallery walk” to analyze vertical alignment; teachers stand and step left or right during “Paseo,” to examine issues of identity, diversity, beliefs and values.
I read somewhere once that if a person doesn’t speak in the first 5 minutes of class or a meeting, they are unlikely to speak at all. I make a point of having participants speak to each other at the get-go, allowing me to step back and observe. But there is more to voice than speaking. Writing, think time, varied group structures, and frequent feedback are other strategies I use to incorporate voice. And I teach listening--in this noisy world of ours, it is not always easy for students or for teachers to stop and hear each other out. But listening is key to learning from one another. Finally, humor is a great way to increase voice!
I make relationship-building integral to teaching and learning. With both children and adults, I pay attention to body language, who’s speaking and who is not, to reactions between group members, and to judgemental comments. I vary seating and grouping. I surface controversy and dissonance rather than let it fester. It certainly can be messy, but it builds the community necessary for learning. It is deeply satisfying to help a group come together to improve instruction, to focus on issues of equity, and to increase student achievement, or simply to learn from each other.
To be reflective is to be a learner. Thinking about what works, what doesn’t, and why, and then sharing these reflections builds the knowledge base of individuals and groups--for both children and adults. And I cannot stress enough the importance of explaining--and asking--WHY. It’s a great way to get buy-in or clarify expectations. If I goof up, I say so. If I struggle, I say so. And in so modeling, my groups learn to do the same reflective, transparent learning.