As I review my blog entries of the last year or so, most of the topics have been about me learning more about myself and how I intend to bring those changes into the classroom to become a better teacher. Last year, I was not in the classroom, but still wanted to add to this blog as I thought about how my “real life” experiences find their way into my teaching style.
My earliest topics here were about apps I used, why I liked certain programs, how I incorporated technology into my classes. Slowly, I’m realizing that my topics have become more about connecting to my students than tools I use as part of the learning process. Then I started to wonder if I’m becoming a more reflective practitioner. What does that even mean? Is this still beneficial in my role? How does this help students?
A comment about my last entry really started me thinking about this. (Thanks, Doug) So while I am not judging what type of teacher is better or worse, I’m beginning to see how some of my learning is helping me be a better teacher. Don’t they always say, If you want to be a better writer, become a better reader? So, if I want to become a better teacher, should I also not become a better student to understand what I am doing?
I am certainly drawn to reading of how an app, extension, or program is utilized in a classroom. I’ve never heard of some of the programs and clearly need the introduction to tools that both help make the lives of both students and teachers easier. What I’m just talking about today, however, is how I’ve grown as a person makes me a better teacher.
I don’t have a new google extension to tell you about today. I don’t have a nifty trick to help you record marks. I’m not debating why certain things need to be eliminated or made compulsory in the class. I’m here to talk about how me being engaged in learning makes my students engaged in learning.
Wait! Stop the presses! Of course, this is nothing new. But maybe it’s something I’d forgotten in recent years. With the push to get us all online, being digital, monitoring how to do this, move move move, fast fast fast, technology, tools, citizenship, maybe remembering the basics of teaching and connecting get pushed to the side as we have to meet more and more needs.
As I was in a fervor to get myself understanding how best to use technology in the classroom, I may have been neglecting the l0-fi basics of connecting to my students. Granted, my last entry openly said, the more I teach online, the more I practice my online skills. However, I did notice that the more excited I get about learning and finding things, the more engaged I am, the more my students were engaged with me.
Last year’s topics had me remember what is was like to be fearful, to not understand something, to feel alone, to need a back up, to depend upon others. I was put in many new situations I wasn’t sure how to handle, but had to deal with circumstances whether I liked it or not. I tried to remember that my students may feel this way everyday in the class.
Now, upon my return to the class, I have to nudge my students just enough to face some fear, I create options, I give examples of me in that situation, I teach how to back up your ideas, we learn about camaraderie. We are not always an island unto ourselves. My favourite moments in the class don’t always come from “book” learning, but about human understanding.
My favourite moment this semester? We are reading a play. We have to choose parts and read out loud. The dreaded “out loud” for many of my students. Students who would rather fail or skip class than show up on a day when we had to read. Well, surprise, today we are reading out loud. Sign up for a part and get ready to go. This is my example of nudging just enough to face your fear, but see the very large safety net underneath you.
The safety net? My options? My example of me in that situation? Yep, all covered. You can sit in your place and read. No one has to see you. You have a partner beside you that can help if you stumble a little bit. I have pronounced many words wrong myself in the class, most notably “enveloped” and “Massachusetts”. Oops. We all have made mistakes and guess what, it might happen today.
So, off we went. Reading. Out loud. No one threw up, no one passed out, the ceiling did not crumble. AND we understood the play. It was so much better hearing different voices than just silent reading or listening to me try to do it all myself. We discussed themes, questioned motives, wondered about what comes next. And since everyone had a vested interest, everyone could join in conversation because they read a part, they became their character. YES!
I had students who had previously never said a word raise a hand. I had students come up and ask if they could read again. I had a student tell me, “It wasn’t that bad”. (believe me, that is a compliment from this kid!) This was a break through moment for a number of students in my class. It gave permission to be real, to have faults, to be yourself, and to have your teacher so excited about you, just because you tried!
This was low tech for sure. Reading. Teaching 101. Yes, we’ve all read in class before. But I set this up in a renewed way from the past. I’m connecting with my students. My last entry said how happy I was they are asking questions, reading my supplemental materials, seeking out options, asking for help. They are. We’ve connected, they trust me, I brought them to their fear and walked with them through it. I’m backing up my statements.
I’ve been doing this for most of my career, but revisiting what it’s like to be a student, maybe I had that extra patience for the push back? Maybe I had more encouraging words for that reluctant student? When I’m too distracted making sure I get all MY “t’s crossed and i’s dotted” I may overlook the fact that I’m also a teacher, not just a technology consuming droid.
The sad fact for me is that many of my students can take a technology lesson, or tool, or app I introduce and know more about it after one night fiddling around than I might after fumbling through. I can introduce a lot of tools but it seems this generation is already innately attuned to this type of learning . What they can’t always learn alone is facing fear, showing empathy, understanding how to connect, and appreciating a different point of view. You can’t replace the human connection with the clicks of a keyboard.