Tuesday, 17 April 2018

What is our job?

Over the last few weeks I have been mulling a question over and over in my head...as a teacher what is our role...what is our most important work? 

For many teachers buried under a pile of paperwork it would seem that our most important work would be planning and preparing lessons, setting learning intentions and success criteria and then measuring their students against this.  If you have ever read any of my blog posts, you will absolutely know that this is an answer that would not wash with me. 

To answer this question for myself I have been delving back into my memories of school, Primary and Secondary, what is it from this time in my life that I actually learned.

Now this is going to sound harsh, but there is little learning wise I can remember from school, however I do remember a lot socially and emotionally, good and bad.

For the most part I enjoyed primary school.  I was an 'average' child academically...probably because I was never encouraged or given the learning experiences that encouraged me to step out of that average.  I was not a risk taker in learning, I liked to be right.  However I do think that I had the ability to do more, if mistakes had been cherished and the importance of struggle made clear to us.  Maths was not my strong point back then, or at least I was never given proof otherwise.  I was in the 'bottom' group with the other children that struggled, together we accepted that this was just our lot. 

Maths was also quite competitive back then....and competing in a subject that I 'struggled' with was just not something I was ever willing to do, I was happy to shrink back into the background... to be that child that was always labelled in end of year reporting as quietly confident. 

What rubbish that was!  Confidence was one thing I could have really done with.  I seemed confident perhaps, because I've always had a talent for acting.  I knew just to put my head down and enjoyed working from textbooks for maths, not because I LOVED this way of learning, because they were safe, the thinking was narrow, there was always one right answer, and best of all, the answers were in the back of the book.

I was lucky at primary school really, in a small school I was known, and had great relationships with my teachers (for the most part) so even if I lacked confidence academically, I still got what I needed emotionally.  High school was a different matter altogether, little miss average doesn't really get a look in at High School.  Not needing extra help, not needing extension, really not a priority.  So what does Miss average do, when attention is lacking, becomes the class clown of course, and when that doesn't work, gets suspended...hmmm who would have ever predicted my future career.  I was much more of a follower back then. 

My absolute passions were the outdoors and animals, I was an excellent athlete and I always shone in this area of learning...what my teachers didn't know is that for every activity that I mastered and 'won' there were just as many activities that I simply didn't take part in for fear I would not be the best.

 I guess perfectionist comes to mind here...I would slowly make my way to the back of the line for anything I felt I would mess up, because the teachers had this vision of me as this incredible athlete, I just didn't feel I could show them anything other than this competence.  I was praised over and over for this ability, for being the best, how an earth could I bring myself to shatter this illusion.

What a difference the power of yet would have done for me...a culture based on embracing mistakes may have completely changed my path in this area.   Perhaps I would have actually gone on with athletics...but sadly for me, as soon as I hit high school and there were others as competent as me and I didn't win each and every event, I gave up.

So this brings me back to the point of my post, what is our core role? 

Can you relate to any of my comments above, are there any children like me in your classes?  I bet there are, the safe sitters of the world can be found in every classroom, these safe sitters are our target audience, because if we get it right for them, if we can encourage them to take risks and embrace challenge, I believe we can get it right for all children.

I am going to offer up a contentious point of view here, you may or may not agree with me, obviously that is the beauty of having our own minds, but after much mulling, much arguing with myself I believe the one most important part of our job, our key role is not the teaching of content, or curriculum, but the development of character, the fostering of strong relationships and the building of emotional connections. 

Each child has such huge potential and it is our job to build strong, connected relationships that allow us to push children out of their comfort zones, to cherish the value of persistence, to embrace mistakes, to think deeply, to appreciate the process of learning and to understand that we do not always have to be right.  In doing this, we allow children to come to understand themselves, to appreciate not only their strengths, but also their weak points and how they can use struggle and challenge to overcome these.

Our ultimate role is therefore not to get swamped by paperwork, to write the perfect learning intention, to integrate an inquiry perfectly, or to spend hours marking work, our ultimate role is to spend time getting to know children, to know them well enough that we are able to find that learning switch inside of each one of them, that shows them just how much they can achieve and how much potential they have.

I am not saying to stop planning, to stop reflecting (I may be saying to stop writing learning intentions­čśť and success criteria, because children should have more ownership over the direction of their learning, and how an earth do we know where something is going until we get there) or to stop having a fantastic understanding of the curriculum and competencies. 

What I am asking you to reflect on is how much you remember of what you learned in school, or how much of your learning happens just in time, when you need it? 

Who was your favourite teacher and why...I believe most of us would pick a teacher who saw us, understood us, who fought in our corner it won't be the teacher that was so busy trying to cover everything that they never had time to stop and just see us.

Every child has a learning switch...it is our job to find it.  This switch is usually located close to their heart, therefore it is this that we need to connect with if we are to help them become successful, resilient learners who understand that learning is not confined to the inside of the classroom walls and only limited by their own vision of themselves as a learner. 

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