Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What Do Our Students Need Us to Learn?

During this morning's skim of Twitter (part of my regular routine), this tweet by @jasonflom caught my eye:

What do our students need us to learn?

This such a great question and one that apparently Jason and his colleagues are exploring today. In Florida. That's right. Over the last few years social media has allowed an educator from Florida to share his thoughts, 140 characters at a time with the world. What Jason likely does not know is that his words resonated with an educator in rural Saskatchewan on a Wednesday morning. (I still get excited thinking about the ways in which Twitter allows for the connecting of ideas from across the globe!)

So what exactly do our students need us to learn?  Given the changes in education in terms of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and technology, there is potential for this list to be overwhelming to not only the new teacher, but the veteran as well. Here's what I mean ...

 In my first years as a middle level teacher, I was asked to teach Grade 7 and 8 Science. My English/History background did not prepare me for leading a group of students through the world of plate tectonics, mixtures and solutions, resources and their environmental impact, and so on. You get the idea. I needed to have some background knowledge of the content in my curriculum. And fast! So I spent much my summer months reading science books so that I could be familiar with the concepts my students would be learning. Basic understanding of content? Check.

I also was tossed into a Math classroom where constructivist learning was part of the package. Again, I didn't have a sniff about teaching math in this manner (or teaching and/or doing math at all in fact). I was born of an era where the teacher showed me how to do the work and I practiced over and over again. Until I got it. Now, as the teacher, I needed to learn how the exploration and reflection sections of each lesson were intended to support learning. I needed to figure out how to help students who were struggling find new ways to think about math. And then, there were the math manipulatives ... Yikes! And so I watched the video tutorials that accompanied my math teacher's guide and read books about how to teach math with this "new approach". I learned the theory behind the instruction in order to prepare myself for helping my students. Basic understanding of teaching strategies? Check.

Somewhere amid those opening years, I also received a SmartBoard in my classroom. It was a Friday morning when the board was installed and my students and I spent the day exploring the tool. I remember handing the Google Earth controls over to a Grade 7 student because the whole spinning world made me slightly nauseous. I was excited about the potential that this new tool had for engaging my students, so I spent countless hours searching for resources I could show my students. The first animation I ever showed was about glacier movement - advancing, retreating, stationary. The kids were enthralled. But I didn't really know how to use the tool for much other than showing "stuff". My limited time was spent searching for resources. Basic understanding of SmartBoard and internet searching? Check.

But what about developing sound assessments? And incorporating differentiation strategies? What about the whole new world of online navigation and digital citizenship? How could I also learn to meet the needs of my students who were on support plans, each with a different diagnosis and different ways to support them? And don't forget the valuable time spent participating in the volunteer activities in my school which help create a sense of community, of belonging.

There was so much to learn. Frankly, it had the potential to be overwhelming. And in many ways, after 20+ years in this profession, it still could be. I often feel like a new teacher with the multitude of educational ideas available to me every morning through my Twitter skim.

But I choose not to be overwhelmed, but  instead, I choose to be inspired. It's a small thing, I know, but for me, it is an effective strategy for dealing with educational change.

I have realized there is no "TOP 10 LIST OF THINGS TEACHERS NEED TO LEARN". I am sure that Jason and his colleagues are going to talk about that today too. Instead, there is a learning journey that we all need to embrace, individually, based on our own needs, our student's needs. Just as there is no "one size fits all" learning for the students in our classrooms, the same holds true for us as educators.

So, let's change the question slightly and ask, "What do our students need to know about our learning?" 

  • Students, know that as teachers, we are always growing, changing, improving, enhancing what we do in our classrooms. It's part of what it means to be an educator.
  • We are also learners. I invite you to learn with us. After all, we're in this learning business together and discovery is much more rewarding if it is shared.
  • Just like you, there is a lot for us to learn. All of this takes time. This might mean we take small steps at times, but as long as we are moving forward, that's okay.
  • Neither of us is always going to get it right the first time. But, like you, we are going to do our best to make it better next time. Be patient with us as we are with you. Improvement is our goal too. Just as my first years teaching Science and Math and using my SmartBoard showed me, there were always ways to be better. And those improvements came gradually, over time, and with experience. While I wanted to be great right away, it simply does not work that way.
  • With so many expectations placed on both of us, we can feel overwhelmed. But together, let's choose to let our learning inspire us rather than bring us down.

Teachers, whatever is on your Top 10 list, I hope that you will also approach this with enthusiasm, with energy, with inspiration.


  1. Jade: I love this post especially "what do our students need to know about learning?" Together in #DCMOOC we can choose to let our learning inspire us and in turn model digital citizenship for the students we serve.
    Congrats on publishing!!!!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. It seemed so much easier to blog when I was doing my Master's - specific, academic, all that stuff.
    But the writing AND publishing does take a bit of a leap of faith :)
    Thanks for commenting as well and giving me the "boost" I needed!
    Yay #DCMOOC! For inspiring us to do that which we ask of our learners!!!

  3. Jade you are an inspirational leader. Last year I was questioning whether I wanted to teach anymore after 22 years. I was overwhelmed with the changes that were happening in education and I felt like I was always behind the eight ball. Then the 21st Century Educator role was offered to me. I was reluctant to take it but nobody else really wanted to do it at our school. When this year started I was doubting myself that I could succeed at this role. You were patient and kind and allowed me to work at my own pace. As time went on and as I worked through the modules I began to feel more confident. I never would have thought that I would be using the tools that I am using now to engage students and to foster learning. I never would have thought that I would have the courage to video tape my class and share it with colleagues to gain feedback in order to become a better teacher. I have a long ways to go on this journey but I am inspired and energized. Thank you for being a great leader and for helping me "get on the bus" to the rest of my career.

  4. Shari -
    Thank you so much for this lovely compliment! I am so fortunate to be in a role where I can work with educators and be part of their learning journey. I am excited for you and your students as you explore wikis and am so grateful that you have rekindled your love of teaching! Glad we are "on the bus" together!

  5. Jade once again you have been able to take your own experience and turn it into an example that benefits all of us. Changing the question ever so slightly makes it easier to grasp the concept. I see learning together as a key aspect of what you share in this post.