Learner Focused

We are into the second year of the “Learning Leader” project, and I have constructed the program differently this year as I continue to reflect on my practice.  There have been some great posts from the participants (which is a component of the program) and there have been ones that have been the equivalent of a tweet.  What I am impressed about is the vulnerability of teachers to be willing to put themselves out there and learn openly.  I started off the sessions telling them that I am not going to give them a bunch of teaching strategies to work with their students.  What I am going to do is help them focus on themselves as learners, which will give them the opportunity to find whatever they need.  Teaching to fish, right?

As I read one of the posts, it struck a chord on how I have shifted my “teaching”:

When I first left the Central office after our first session of Learning Leader Yesterday, I was a little disappointed, and felt it was a little unstructured. But after a day of reflection, what George did with us yesterday was exactly what I did to my students when I got back. He made us curious and encouraged us to discover.

A few years ago, if you would have asked me what I would be doing in the classroom at 2:25 of that day, I could have pretty accurately told you where I would be at with students.  In fact, if you would have asked me in September what I would be working on with students in February, I could have also told you that.  Teachers would expected to have a course outline of where the classroom would be in the curriculum at what time of the year.  If kids didn’t really understand, well, you would have to move on.  Getting through the curriculum seemed more important than the kids actually learning.

I don’t do that anymore.

Learning should take on a life of it’s own and my focus is to push people to learn about what they are interested in and help guide them in the process.  The process of learning, to me, is much more important than the product of learning.  My workshops usually have 2-3 things that we are going to focus on in a day, but I don’t set times anymore because I don’t know where we will be.  How could I accurately determine the learning of people if I have never met them?  I am not totally there as a teacher, but I am growing and hopefully getting better.

The interesting thing is that many educators are still not comfortable with the seemingly unstructured setting of this type of work.  It is often that they have to be fed the information because they have become accustomed to this.  I remember starting in a very progressive school and trying to focus more on helping the students to “learn” as opposed to focusing on simply teaching them.  They were in grade 7 and it was a struggle because they were so comfortable with “the old way”.  It felt like they were saying, “just tell me what I need to know.”  To be honest, on somedays that was the easier thing to do.  But easy is not always right.  It may feel right at this very moment, but later on, it will catch up, and the creativity, curiosity, and yearning to learn will be sucked right out of kids.  I don’t want to be responsible for that. In fact, I want them to ask more questions and start figuring out how they can find answers and build their own connections.  The connections THEY create in their learning will give them a stickiness factor, not the connections I create for them.

This video from Dan Brown, entitled “An Open Letter to Educators”, he shares some powerful thoughts:

Education isn’t about teaching facts. It is about stoking creativity and new ideas. It is not about teaching students to conform to the world as it is. It is about empowering students to change the world for the better.

If we are unable to experience that learning as teachers, how would we ever do that for our students? Hopefully I can continue to spark this with others as I experience it myself.

  • gbondi

    What a great learning leader project you’ve set up, George.
    Really like the link to the PSD70 sessions you’ve shared.

    Being “learning focused” in a classroom allows, as should always be the case, student learning to inform teachers in their practice. If Moses was a teacher and he was coming down Mount Sinai with his Ten Educational Commandments this would be number one!

    The tact you are taking, one that places an emphasis on the “process” rather than the “product” of learning, is so important in that we need to move away from a model of ‘content retention’ schooling to one that promotes transferable skill acquisition. As it is for your leadership sessions, so too the classroom: The learning ‘topic’ is only a starting point – where we go (as workshop leaders or classroom teachers) is dependent on the context and dynamic of the individuals/group driving the learning.

    The difficulty in all of this, you’re right, is the level of discomfort this “unseeingly unstructured type of work” can create for educators. For most, educational planning, historically, has focused on incorporating a whole bunch of new tools into content-driven curriculum: “I can teach this and here’s the ‘wow’ factor as my hook.
    However, if we want to promote “creativity, curiosity and yearning” in our students, as educators we need to move from the known to the unknown (that ultimate reckoning of the human condition!) and as leaders, as you are dong, we need to provide the scaffolded steps that help guide and support those new ways of learning that serve as the “move towards the light at the end of the tunnel.”

    A colleague here in BC, @terryainge, is fond of saying that “the teachers of tomorrow are in our classrooms today.” And tomorrow’s learner focused educators will:

    1.Be excited about learning “stuff” and be passionate about inviting others along as equal partners on a path of inquiry based learning;
    2.Be excited about the opportunity to collaborate and create new product;
    3.Be excited about engaging in digital implementation;
    4.Display a calmness around entering into the unknown and making the necessary happen;

    Thanks for sharing – will start a lot of conversations in the office on Monday!

  • SPatras

    George,

    I continue to hear great feedback from my staff who have recently attended your session. A really simplified way to measure your success in supporting teacher learning and professional growth… last year I had one volunteer for the learning leader project… this year 6 people adamantly telling me why they need to be a part of this project. You are distributing the technological leadership capacity throughout our division!

    Shaye

    • georgecouros

      You have no idea how much that comment meant to me Shaye…thank you so much.Also, that is the first time you have not called me “Georgie” in about 5 years :)

  • http://bit.ly/temperedradical Bill Ferriter

    Hey Pal,

    I couldn't agree more — the knowing/doing balance is WAY out of whack in education today. Marching kids through a curriculum is pretty darn pointless for everyone involved.

    Don't you think half the battle, though, is convincing the general public that teaching kids to be learners — instead of forcing kids to learn what we want them to learn?

    Parents in our community would push back against the types of learning environments you're suggesting simply because they'd worry about whether or not their kids were going to get the grades that they need in order to get into college.

    That tension — between what we know is right and what parents think is right — handcuffs teachers here in the States.

    Anyway…hope you're well,
    Bill

  • Andria Byfield

    I know from my experience in the 1st session, I liked that you gave us a 'taste' of a concept then moved onwards because now I am sitting here on a Sunday expanding my professional development because I want to tinker and figure things out. When I come to the next session I'll be equipped with questions and ideas that are far more leading and exploratory (and relevant to me and my needs as an educator) than if you had a checklist of things we should 'know' at the end of the session, which perhaps without intending, would limit the boundaries of where I was willing to explore to meet my needs and those of my students.

  • Saint Jefferson

    Unstructuredness is hard to evaluate. Until educators, administrators, parents and students get used to this, there will be further movement towards accountability via standardized test scores.

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