Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 10: The Freedom to Teach

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This chapter opens with the voices of alumni, looking back on their experiences as students of Mission Hill and distilling the wisdom they gained from it. A short collection of the alumni voices below:

I learned how to be a critical thinker. I learned how to play off my strengths. . .

I had teachers who were here to care for me, to make sure I was able to take of myself and to learn.

When you feel respected and you respect them, it is so much harder to not try and to just think that something is not important . . .

. . . constantly putting myself in somebody else’s shoes. Questioning things.

Deborah Meier, founder of Mission Hill, shares her perspective on issues shaping education today,

I think what we are facing in America today and around the world is not a crisis of education, but a crisis of faith, respect for democracy, which rests on having respect for the judgement of ordinary people.

In response to this, Mission Hill gives respect to the process, not just the product — discourse, listening, communicating, and providing students and teachers an authentic and empowered voice in the school.

Challenging this actualization of their mission in action? Race to the Top and the race to test, test, test students. This process limits the flexibility of teachers to attend and respond to the nuanced needs, interests, strengths of the individual students.

Again, Deborah Meier,

The whole point of an education is to help you learn to exercise judgement, and you can’t do that if the expert adults in your school are not allowed to exercise theirs.

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 9: Seeing the Learning

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“How do we know what students are learning?” So opens the narration of chapter 9, “Seeing the Learning.”

Rather than simply reply on summative test scores to communicate whether or not students have “achieved,” the educators at Mission Hill create exhibitions in which students must present and defend their learning to a committee of teachers and peers. The complexity of learning necessary to pull of such a feat is no small matter. But more importantly, look at the students as they go through this process — they have worked hard, they know it, and you can practically savor the satisfaction they will feel on the other side of the experience.

This is assessment AS learning, a process that is immensely valuable to the most important person in education — the student. Check it out. You’ll be moved.

Year at Mission Hill Chapter 8: The World of Work

missionhillThis chapter, “The World of Work,” offers a look at applying a school-wide theme through integrated projects. Teachers organize opportunities for authentic experiences based on the ideas and recommendations of the kids in an effort to allow students to “see their ideas actualized.” This practice for building student agency works because it helps them develop confidence in the value of their own ideas.

Designing and implementing such learning experiences also changes the relationship of the educator with her/his own work. Rather than simply attending to the scope and sequence of a curriculum, she/he must first and foremost attend to the needs, interests, and passions of the students. By finding ways of connecting those with activities and experiences that build the learners’ skills and understandings about the world, the “work” of the educator is more dynamic, responsive, and professional.

(Make sure you see the final product of the project the older students are working on!)

5 Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching

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Maryellen Weimer (whose bio includes: Penn State Professor Emeritus of Teaching and Learning and Editor-in-chief of Teaching Professor) addresses the wide spread use of the term “learner-centered” in her post, “Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching” on The Teaching Professor Blog at Faculty Focus. At the heart of her concern is this: “With widespread use comes a certain definitional looseness.”

To help tighten up the definition, she offers five clarifying characteristics, quoted below with a single descriptor pulled from her explanations. For more fully fleshed out descriptions, visit her original post, or better yet, check out her book, “Learner-Centered Teaching.”

1. Learner-centered teaching engages students in the hard, messy work of learning.

On any given day, in most classes teachers are working much harder than students.

2. Learner-centered teaching includes explicit skill instruction.

Learner-centered teachers teach students how to think, solve problems, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments, generate hypotheses—all those learning skills essential to mastering material in the discipline.

3. Learner-centered teaching encourages students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it. 

They challenge student assumptions about learning and encourage them to accept responsibility for decisions they make about learning; like how they study for exams, when they do assigned reading, whether they revise their writing or check their answers.

4. Learner-centered teaching motivates students by giving them some control over learning processes.

Learner-centered teachers search out ethically responsible ways to share power with students.

5. Learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration.

Learner-centered teachers work to develop structures that promote shared commitments to learning.

It is pretty easy to see how these core characteristics can apply to any age learner — be they kindergarteners or faculty in a school system. If we want our educators to be learning models for students, we would do well to employ some of these characteristics at all levels of learning.

Photo Credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

Gaming to re-engage boys in school

“If a child can’t learn the way we  teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

-Ignacio Estrada

The disengagement of boys in our education system has become such old news that — yawn — we barely register it anymore. Rather, we diagnose their need for stimulation as a hyperactive disorder and medicate it. We diagnose their disinterest in our recommended texts as a disability and track them into special classes designed to focus on their shortcomings. The unending focus on deficits leaves them even more disenfranchised than they were and the vicious cycle continues.

But what if we are getting it wrong? What if we are forcing them to learn the way we teach, rather than teaching the way they learn? In the below TEDtalk, Ali Carr-Chellman, “an instructional designer and author who studies the most effective ways to teach kids and to make changes at school,” shares her ideas for re-engaging boys. The deceptively simple technique she recommends is — low and behold — proving effective for a wide range of disengaged learners: “Bring their culture into the classroom.”

In the case of boys, she recommends a bit of gaming. Check it out:

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 7: Behind the Scenes

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Chapter 7 of this fantastic series delves into the fuel that keeps the fire going — questioning everything in relation to the whole child:

  • Asking for help.
  • Inquiry to inspire students’ voice.
  • Shared inquiry about students.

Building a community of curiosity, which changes teachers’ perspectives on teaching, learning, and their own empowerment as educators, empowerment they then pass on to students.

Such a paradigm shift or “mindset switch” is vitally important to sustaining transformational learning.

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18 Myths of Education (Infographic)

Below is a provocative infographic from Open Colleges, an online university in Australia.

What do you think about these? Agree? Disagree? Little bit of both? Share your thoughts in the comments.

<img alt="" src="http://informed.s3.amazonaws.com/informed/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/600px_final the original source.jpg” />

An Infographic by Open Colleges

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11 Characteristics of Meaningful Work

Note from the Editor: While this piece by Shawn Murphy is related to business practices and targeted to managers and business leaders, the parallels to education and student learning are striking. Teachers, curricula developers, and education leaders can find plenty herein to ponder, reflect on, and apply in practice.  It was originally posted at Switch and Shift and is reposted here with the permission of the author.

Meaning_People_700x300Managers cannot make work meaningful for employees. Managers, however, can shape the workplace environment to let meaningful work become possible for employees. With a context set to let meaning be experienced, employees can leverage the environment to derive meaning from their work.

Meaningful work is vague. What exactly is it? Assuredly it begins quite selfishly. But this is out of necessity. For work to be meaningful, it is the employee who must label it so. This requires a belief that meaningful work is a desired outcome from managements’ actions. And employees believe managements’ intentions and see actions aimed to let meaning emerge.

To explain what meaningful work is, let’s look at its characteristics. In short, however, meaningful work is employees’ perceived positive value of what they are doing. It’s a source of joy in their overall life. In the words of Max Depree, “[it’s] maturing, enriching, and fulfilling, healing, and joyful.”

Basic needs are met

Think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Employees physiological and safety needs must be met. It’s a base requirement for meaningful work to emerge.

Strengths are leveraged

Don’t confuse strengths with competency. Strengths are what energize you. Employees must experience work that energizes them. Otherwise all work is draining and meaning is absent.

Pull personal satisfaction from work

Employees’ perceive their work to be fulfilling.

Being in on things

Employees believe they are trusted with important, inside knowledge. This includes knowing that there is important information but it must be kept confidential from employees for the benefit of the organization.

Treated with respect by peers and managers

This doesn’t say liked, but respected. There is a difference. At its core is employees’ believe they can speak their ideas and be in action to achieve the best possible outcomes.

See how one’s work fits into the bigger picture

Really, what hasn’t been said or written about this. Enough said.

Personal sense of independence and interdependence

Autonomy in completing one’s work has always been important. Collaboration is vital in the 21st century given the internet and globalization. These raise the importance of interdependence in today’s workplaces.

Employees believe they are valued by the organization, by management

To be viewed as a replaceable cog in the proverbial wheel is antiquated management. Organizations thrive or die based on human actions. To that end, meaningful work is marked by the belief that employees are the means to a profitable end.

Opportunities to know self

Let’s look back to Max Depree’s words. For work to be meaningful, there must be a maturing nature of work. Such an evolving awareness of the nature of work is best met by an evolving, deepening awareness of one’s self. Coaching, feedback and awareness of one’s place in the universe are vital to make sense of meaningful work. Such opportunities are humbling.

Promotion of other’s satisfaction

Immanuel Kant, philosopher, placed our ability to be concerned for other’s wellbeing and humanity as important to meaningful work. Such a belief places an emphasis on a strong, united team supporting others’ ability to flourish.

Recognized, give recognition for good work

For meaningful work to emerge, employees’ efforts are recognized in manners important to the person. Furthermore, giving recognition is believed to matter, creating a cycle of reciprocity that is genuine.

In today’s workplace, meaningful work is radical. For some managers, to influence a meaningful workplace environment is heretical. This is precisely what our workplaces need.

Image: Shawn Murphy

The Importance of Student Voice

The following is a guest post by Mark R. Boyer, Assistant Superintendent for Learning, Singapore American School

Student Voice

I was recently approached by a high school student who asked, “In order for student voices to be heard, should student evaluations of teachers be mandatory and used in the teacher’s performance review? Furthermore, is there a way to make sure that student feedback is fair and valid?”

If we truly believe in the value of students to be co-designers in learning and empowered in their learning, shouldn’t we also value their important feedback? If we do value student feedback, then how can we make this meaningful and constructive?

Many schools in the U.S. and internationally are addressing this “controversial issue” with no consensus on a particular approach to pursue. Some schools advocate for student feedback as a “weighted component” on teacher evaluation with other components, some schools provide opportunity for student feedback that is exclusively reviewed by the teacher, and some schools provide opportunity for the teacher to verbally reflect on “themes” within student feedback with one’s supervisor. Many schools simply ignore student feedback as too complicated and untrustworthy.

The most significant recent research on teacher evaluation was initiated in 2009 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and resulted in a 2011 report known as Measures of Effective Teaching (MET). One of the five variables valued by the MET report was “student perceptions of the classroom instructional environment” in which a field-tested instrument (i.e., Tripod Survey) was used.  A finding of the MET report was that there is a significant interdependent relationship among student achievement, classroom observations and feedback by supervisors, and student feedback.

The challenge in all of this, however, is to be clear about the purpose of teacher evaluation so as to guide appropriate selection of tools and processes, and to also understand that contextual needs in one system may be very different for another system. Finally, quality implementation of the right tools and processes is everything. Anything less than quality implementation can have confusing and damaging results.

The downside of ineffective implementation of student feedback can lead to the following:

* students may not appreciate demanding teachers until years later, and may provide premature responses

* students may not be “trained” in how to provide constructive feedback, whereupon responses can be personally and professionally hurtful

* teachers may feel that popularity is most important, and consequently adjust teaching to “win” students

* students may use their own grades to determine how they view their teachers, and perhaps not always take personal responsibility

* a culture of evaluation and judgment may become more prevalent than a culture of mutual respect, trust, and support

Having said this, the quality of the student-teacher relationship is essential to quality teaching and learning. I believe quality feedback is key to growth and improved performance, whether the feedback is as a student, teacher, or administrator. Rather than a “weighted” component on teacher evaluation, I would suggest the following approach for student feedback:

Allow all students throughout the school to provide anonymous survey responses using a few standard questions for their teachers (with appropriate accommodations for elementary students) and perhaps a few questions of particular interest to the teacher, which then becomes a conversation between the teacher and supervisor. This conversation would not be about specific comments, but rather about any predominant themes:

    • What pleased you most from your students’ responses?
    • What surprised you?
    • Are there any changes or adjustments you intend to make as a result of this feedback?

The supervisor’s evaluation of this component is then based on the teacher’s reflective ability to respond to “themes” within student feedback, and the supervisor can also serve as a prompt for any areas deserving further consideration. When effectively implemented, this approach would ensure that student feedback is purposefully heard and valued and that the professional relationship of the teacher and supervisor has further information for reflection and consideration.

In line with the MET report, I think some kind of triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data that utilizes student feedback (with teacher reflection), teacher and/or Professional Learning Community evidence of student learning and growth (with teacher reflection), and supervisor feedback from classroom observations (with teacher reflection) would help to provide a balanced and multi-dimensional approach for more intentionally and comprehensively understanding teaching and learning. There’s certainly considerable development needed in each of these areas, but can be worthy if the focus is on creating a learning-focused school in a trusting and mutually supportive environment where everyone is vested in each other’s growth and success.

Education is a lifelong calling, and it is value-added when there are meaningful processes to help all of us as educators to grow, to build on our relationships, and to continuously reflect and act on ways to improve the quality of learning and opportunities for all students.

Image: Dell’s Official Photo Page CC

The Student Quest: Choose 2 Matter

margaret mead quoteIf you ever have a chance to meet Angela Maier, you’ll know who she is immediately.While probably not the tallest person in the room, in a hall of 5,000 she may well be the most energetic. A former teacher turned consultant, author of two books, including “Classroom Habitudes” and now Chief Instigator, Angela has amassed a global, passionate network at the intersection of her enthusiasm, belief in each and every person, and unsinkable optimism.

Beginning with a TEDx Des Moines Talk, she launched her #YouMatter campaign, an effort to instill in others the simple idea that, well, they matter. Through her partnership with the International Dot Day, which ended up bringing together over 800,000 students from around the world, she recognized the demand for providing young people a way to turn their ideas for making the world a better place into a reality.

The Choose 2 Matter movement is an answer to that demand. As described on the Choose2Matter website . . .

CHOOSE2MATTER – a crowd sourced, social good community where world changers can create their own “Dream Team” to pursue solutions to global problems.

With her signature enthusiasm and network-ability, Angela has brought together a team of partners and visionaries to launch the “Quest 2 Matter,” which the Choose 2 Matter website describes as . . .

The Quest2Matter is a catalyst that challenges students:

To accept that they matter;

To tell others that they also matter;

To take action to change our world.

Students are encouraged to submit their quests — either ones they are currently embarking on or have previously engaged in — that seek to change something that “breaks their hearts.” The submission process is simple (and more thoroughly stated here):

  1. Students choose a quest that matters to them. 
  2. They register at one of Choose 2 Matters’ partners’ sites. 
  3. Students tell their story in a media of their choosing. 
  4. Students upload their story.
  5. Or, students can share their story via email or via another other social media site. 

Students have until May 31, 2013 to submit their quest if they want a chance to be recognized / highlighted at the 2013 Bammy Awards. However, Quests are on-going and the team is already hard at work to find new ways of honoring future submissions.

This is an important effort that seeks to simultaneously raise the volume on student voice, student impact, and how people view the current and future capacity of all students. Additionally, it communicates to students that not only do they matter and that their vision and action are valued, but also that they have power now to enact positive change in the world. No need to wait until they are in their college or career. The future they want for tomorrow begins with their effort today. Nice work, Angela. We at QED support you.

Want to be more involved in the Choose 2 Matter movement? You can “like” them on facebook, follow them on twitter, or contact the team via their website.

Image: RubberBoots And Elf Shoes
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