“Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” ~ Plato
As teacher, I strive to foster my students’ intellectual, social, psychological, and moral development. I have long adopted the belief that I do not teach an academic subject, but rather the whole child who, if I succeed, wants to learn from me and becomes more curious to pursue learning on his/her own.
Everything in the classroom builds on the foundation of nurture. Students with whom I have established relationships of trust are more likely to follow my guidance and teaching. I encourage students to show their unique personalities in my classroom, and I invite their humor. We laugh often, and through the years, students have helped me take myself less seriously. They have also taught me understand that taking time to breathe and enjoying the moment with them is as important as the thoughtful design and delivery of the curriculum.
While the interpersonal aspect of teaching is delightful and energizing, I know that effective formal instruction depends on solid instructional strategies and planning. “Good discipline comes with good instruction,” my first principal pointed out quite accurately when I came to her in despair over student discipline. I cannot say that I much appreciated the advice at the time, but I never forgot the underlying message. Discipline often is not the issue, good instruction is. I learned quickly that good discipline is only a fringe benefit of what needs to be the main focus in the classroom – engaged and validated students.
I have been, therefore, on an ongoing quest to find new ways to engage students. Along with conventional strategies, I am committed to teaching the “digital natives” with the tools they know and enjoy. I embrace the opportunities technology offers, whether it is writing collaboratively on a Google Doc or for an audience on a blog, nurturing students’ creativity with multi-media projects, or simply using technology for productivity and communication purposes. To name a few:
- Out with the old index card; in with multi-media flashcards that can easily be accessed on smart phones, iPods, and iPads.
- Out with outdated textbooks and workbooks; in with teacher and student produced content and authentic research on the web.
- Out with geographic maps that provide little enthusiasm; in with Street View in Google Maps for an exciting “ride” on the Champs Elysées.
I design my curriculum and instructional strategies based on three questions:
- What do I want my students to know or know how to do?
- What are my instructional objectives?
- Knowing my students and the task at hand, which instructional strategies can I employ to reach my objectives?
Technology and globalization are quickly changing our reality. If the long term goal of education is to help students develop the essential skills they need to become successful adult members of society and its workforce, we have to keep a constant eye on what and how we are teaching, evaluate it through the lens of 21st century skills, and continuously adapt to changes. Textbooks of the past are not able to keep up with these changes quickly and economically enough. Electronic textbooks can be edited whenever content becomes dated. I take advantage of the richness of web resources and add multi-media materials as well as web 2.0 tools to provide a more authentic and engaging learning experience for students.
The role of the teacher in the 21st century has been transformed. Formerly bearing and delivering knowledge, my role today is that of a facilitator who helps students become self-reliant, critical and creative thinkers. I group students in project-based assignments where they may be asked to develop new content as they consult online resources for reference. Along the way, rather than answering student questions directly, I try to respond in ways that lead to further inquiry on their part. Through project work, my students learn to communicate and collaborate while I subtly guide the process. This affords me opportunities to interact with them one-on-one thus getting to know them better - as students and as individuals.
Teachers of the 21st century can no longer operate in the isolation of their own classrooms. We need to be engaged in learning communities which foster our professional growth and advance the science and art of teaching. I eagerly participate in collaborative opportunities. While collaborating with my peers, I learn and grow professionally, whether it is as Instructional Technology Facilitator, Department Chair, or committee member. The ideas collaborative groups are able to produce energize and motivate me to stretch to do just a little more.
If we, as educators, uphold our responsibility to embrace the promises of 21st century teaching pedagogies and commit to teach children, not subjects, we may indeed discover many peculiar bents of genius along our way.