Posts Tagged Flat Classroom Conference
“Student achievement flows from great teaching,” states Vicki Phillips, Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
We believe great teachers know how to create meaningful, engaging learning environments that challenge students to do their best. Unfortunately, the majority of time that’s spent on developing teachers is too focused on the “what” and the “why” but not the “how” of creating successful learning environments.
Teachers know what they want their classrooms to look like and how they want their students to be, yet often they don’t know how to make it happen. Over our 20 years of experience working with schools on professional staff development, we’ve seen many good teachers become great — once they learn how to change the dynamics of their classroom.
Specifically, great teachers know how to:
- Connect with students
- Make content meaningful and relevant
- Orchestrate positive interactions
- Build a classroom environment of respect and high expectations
- Inspire students to do their best
- Stimulate positive student behavior
- Teach to all types of learners
- Engage students in learning from bell to bell
- Great teachers know how to create a community of learners who are engaged and excited to learn!
When teachers are empowered and know how to make this happen in the classroom — when they have practical, transferable skills and techniques to create a learning environment that works — the desired outcomes follow: improved behavior, attendance, grades, test scores and graduation rates.
Vicki Phillips continues to say, “Great teaching is advanced by great professional development.” Effective teacher training takes time and commitment. Success in the classroom is not achieved with drive-by workshops that lecture teachers on the what without the how. Effective programs put the “how” first and ensure that teachers can successfully apply it in their classrooms.
When teachers acquire the necessary “how” skills and practice and personalize them in their classrooms, the result is a highly effective learning environment that produces positive outcomes for their students.
Teachers need techniques. There is no shame in a new teacher adopting a great lesson plan from a generous master teacher. The sharing of “best practices” is a common activity at staff meetings. As so many veteran teachers will admit, some of their best ideas were “borrowed” from colleagues. It’s what teachers do – brag about a great unit they just taught, helpfully hint at a classroom management strategy that a colleague might need, and refresh their dwindling enthusiasm at the pool of shared experience and creativity.
In San Diego County, educators, schools, and students have the good fortune to be located near the home office of a dynamic education company that offers its own well of energetic, inspired ideas: Quantum Learning. This is not an advertisement; this is a testimony. Quantum Learning uses brain research to inform its instructional methodology. They also offer brain-based methods for learners via summer camps. But that sounds so dry. Really, the impact of what Quantum Learning delivers in its teacher workshops and camps can best be conveyed by a description of a Quantum Learning-infused classroom.
Imagine a classroom filled with color and light – a cozy lamp, a bright tablecloth – and posters displaying positive messages such as “Today became great when YOU arrived.” Listen – there is music playing, upbeat as you enter the room and soothing as you work. There’s a teacher who gets the class up and moving at frequent intervals, using body motions, choral response, and visual cues to engage kids and help them remember concepts. Notes are taken in color with picture drawing encouraged, and students whose brains don’t work in a linear mode are taught mind-mapping instead of traditional notes. Life skills are imparted along with academics – keys such as “Failure leads to success” encourage kids to see their efforts as building blocks towards success when they struggle. Kids start class charged up and ready for learning and leave class with concrete knowledge about what they know and don’t know and how to move forward.
It is difficult to share the techniques with a colleague who has never “been to the well” – to outsiders, it seems gimmicky, perhaps even cultish. But teachers who have attended a Quantum Learning workshop and tried the strategies in their own classroom know how powerful they can be. These days, with tight budgets limiting the acquisition of expensive toys like smart boards and individual student laptops, our schools are more in need than ever of good strategies that help kids learn, make school a positive, energetic, attractive place, and infuse joy back into the teachers’ efforts.
It’s about teacher competence. It’s always been about teacher competence. Although teachers attend and graduate from a teacher program, for the most part they are inadequately equipped to facilitate learning with today’s kids in today’s world; a world of technology, graphics, multi-tasking, quick information “sound bites”, and relationships. Kids are immersed in a world of instant connectivity, instant gratification and advanced visual stimulation. These characteristics impact students’ attention spans requiring teachers to rethink and redesign the learning environment and the way students learn the content.
With the growing implementation of value-added analysis, the statistics are undeniably clear– teacher competence is a significant contributor to the quality of student learning. This is not a new belief. We’ve intuitively known this for decades. The analyses now prove it. It’s about teacher competence. How to fix that? Implement teacher residency programs modeled after the medical profession. Teacher competence is enhanced by consistent and frequent interactions with master teachers. These master teachers impart best educational practices and partner with the teacher-in-residence to ensure competence.
It’s about student competence. The unfortunate and disproportional emphasis on standardized tests as the sole determinant of student achievement has misguided our educational efforts. Tests on standards are important to show content mastery. The missing ingredient is the teaching of critical thinking to boost students’ competence in approaching, analyzing and finding solutions to real-life problems. The direct orchestration of business, political, social and scientific experiences that immerse students in the complexity of today’s problems creates milieu in which critical thinking and collaboration grows.
It’s about character. There is an undeniable connection between character and content mastery. Teachers spend a considerable amount of time addressing character–effort, choices, and responsibility–for they know that the development of our character is the foundation to achievement. Character development is a conscious and deliberate act. It is not left to chance. Building the culture of the classroom upon character traits sets a strong foundation for a healthy learning environment. Kids feel safe and respected as they improve the quality of who they are. Additionally, character traits can be developed as they emerge within content–literature, social science, science, and/or math. Through the lens of character traits, students see the connection character has on other people’s as well as their own attitudes, choices and actions.
It’s a daunting endeavor to “fix” our schools. No one solution is the answer. The passion and commitment of educators to do what is effective for their students is a great place to start.
“Teachers cannot and will not be replaced by technology — but teachers who don’t use technology will be replaced by teachers who do. It will be far more productive and far less frustrating if we as educators change our attitudes toward technology rather than try to change our students’ attitudes toward it. Information technologies are here to stay.”
I just got that quote from a conversation between me and a few other educators in the back of a room full of students.
OK, actually, the quote is from a conversation I am having online with dozens of educators from around the world, the classroom we are in is actually a live video feed of a session in Doha, Quatar at the 2009 Flat Classroom Conference, and the students in front of the camera are watching/listening/interacting with Thomas Friedman, who is being video-conferenced in for the students from Washington, D.C.
I? I am in my bathrobe, in my house, in California. Compared to how I grew up learning, one word comes to my mind:
I mean, what?! This all blows my mind in such an exciting, revolutionary, so-right-for-the-times kind of way.
I know, I know, this tech has been in use for years. And I have used webcams and instant messaging and seen conferences online before, but something this morning about seeing these kids get excited and involved in this dynamic – it was like watching what we need to be doing with our schools. Compared to how I grew up learning in the classrooms in which I was a student, this is, um… modern? Current? What matters to kids now?
It just really brands in my brain the fact that we educators must go to where they are – the “they” that are the reason we got into education in the first place. We must fully embrace their daily experience, one of which is technology. We want the future to be positive so we work with kids to prepare them to be their best in it, but when we do that and do not use and learn about the tools of the present and future, we are throwing a big fat parking brake on their education, their rate of learning, and the future because we are teaching them in the context that we are familiar with, not them.