Friday, 7 April 2017

Teaching, managing and learning with the heart and mind

I have been reflecting on this concept a lot lately.  Particularly in terms of play-based learning, but also in terms of teaching in general.

We expect so much of our children.  We want them to be engaged and motivated.  We want them to be forming emotional connections.  We want them to be growing and developing a growth mindset.  We want them to develop effective social relationships, to listen to each other and have empathy.

We expect so much of our children, but do we expect these things of ourselves?

I think we should expect these things of ourselves, of course we can't be 'perfect' all of the time (and neither can our kids.) but we can strive to be all of these things, most of the time.  Because ultimately that is our job and for most of us...our passion.

That led me to thinking about conditions that allow us to do this.  I've explored the conditions that allow children to do this and believe that play-based learning and the theories and rationale behind it go a long way to supporting this.  That approaches like Mantle of the Expert allow us to truly connect and engage children in their learning.  That relationships go a long way to motivating.

 But what conditions allow us to do this?  Because ultimately if we are not allowed to manage, teach and learn in the right conditions how do we use our heart and mind to the best of our abilities.

Well  ultimately it comes down to the team around us.  Firstly from the Board, to the Principal, through other management positions to teachers and teacher aides.  If the whole culture does not support innovation, reflection, becomes difficult for all the cogs to turn together.

Let's think about my situation for a moment.  It is quite unique.  I choose to teach.  Our school has a roll of around 200, and I could be a walking principal if I wanted.  It isn't what I want.  I am a teacher, first and foremost, that is where my heart lies.  I am also a new entrant teacher.  I see on a day to day basis how children are coming into school, I see how they thrive in different situations.  I know what works and most of all I know what does not work.  I have travelled the path myself, my teaching has evolved and changed and the reason it has done this is because I am allowed to trust my gut.  My Board trusts my instincts, they allow me to try new things, they believe in me.  My team listens to me, they challenge me, they use what I have learned and try it out and develop their own way of working.  I trust their instincts and they trust mine.  It comes back to trust and respect.  If we decide to make changes to how we do things, we all take the leap...we give ourselves three years, we base our inquiries around it and we go for it!  We share, we talk, we moan, we groan, we are in it together.  The wonderful thing is that by the end of it, we have often produced a massive transformation for our children.  Mantle of the Expert is one example of this, our whole school teaches this way, not because they are prescribed to, but because throughout three years we discovered it was something awesome we could do for our learners.

Currently we are working on eliminating stress.  Backing off assessment.  Developing an emotionally robust environment for our children, both in the classroom and outside the classroom (KiVa anti-bullying programme is awesome.)  Appreciating and using student voice.  Using growth mindset ideas.  Working on kindness first.  Sounds a little non-specific, but all comes back to making everyone's experience of school as wonderful as possible.  We don't do these things because we believe our environment wasn't emotionally robust, because it was pretty darn good...but because it can always be better, we can always be better.  As an example of this, we had our first staff meeting for the year last week, we want to do all we can to lower stress for ourselves and children.

The major road block I can see to allowing the heart and mind to be used in classrooms is sadly management.  I hear so many horrible stories of management that is so far out of touch with what actually works that they hold onto what they believe has always worked for them.  They insist on assessment that makes no difference.  They want direct teaching and shy away from anything student led.  They are still stuck on getting everything written down and reflected on.  Learning intentions and success criteria are still drivers of learning.  In fact some still have even and odd year inquiry or good old inquiry topics that have no relevance to the children at all and should have gone out with the ark,

Sadly they don't allow teachers to go with their gut.  They are so far removed from the classroom that they are now not aware of what works.  They are not active researchers or reflectors.  They don't challenge their own thinking and are not open to change.  They hide behind the requirements of 'ERO' and yet I have never found ERO to be an issue.

I don't prescribe planning, we don't tick boxes, we don't constantly assess.  We are on a four to five year cycle as of this year, so this can not be an issue for ERO.

ERO is a comfortable excuse.

Leaders need to lead, they need to be brave, they need to be willing to be disobedient to the status quo for the benefit of our children.  They need to form a culture of trust and in fact find leadership in those that are in the classroom.

Now don't get me wrong.  There are some amazing management teams out there, but the key word I use is team.  We expect our children to be a team, but often don't hold ourselves to these same expectations.

My challenge to management everywhere is this.  If you have a member of your staff absolutely passionate about something because they are teaching with their heart and mind and want something to change, trust them, allow them to the space to discover, believe in them, give them time (at least three years.)  build a team around them, you may be pleasantly surprised at what comes out of it.

To all those teachers struggling against a system that isn't working for our children, raise your voices, be brave, be courageous, our children deserve it!

Kia Kaha - teach with your heart and mind.

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