July 6, 2018

New Learning Course Update #1

I am currently taking a Master's course through the University of Illinois. This is an online course, and the requirements of the course involve me contributing to the "discussion" through typing my own updates and adding them to the course's page. There are seven updates that I need to compose, and I have decided to cross post those updates on this blog.

Here is the first update, in response to the instructor's update, titled Being an Educator in Interesting Times.

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Update 1: On Being an Educator in Interesting Times: A Personal Update

Didactic Pedagogy, Authentic Education, and New Learning are fascinating ideas. I find myself utterly engrossed while listening to our instructors discussing these topics. I realize that I am reflecting on my own teaching style as I hear these methodologies expanded upon. It can be so valuable to take a step back and consider the realities of my own, and my colleagues teaching practices.

As our educational system has continued to evolve, I have found that I have evolved with it. The vast majority of the other teachers that I have had the privilege of teaching with, from Wisconsin, to Indiana, to South Carolina, to Illinois… have also been very growth-minded, child-centered educators. Teachers, for the most part, are passionate about their subject areas and work toward a rigorous curriculum, out of a natural love for their students and dedication to the importance of the knowledge area that they are teaching.  Most of them did not want to leave children behind before it was thing.

Watching these changes in education and experiencing them first-hand has made these concepts very personal. Without realizing it, or knowing the terminology, I have been involved in an educational system, that is is in a constant state of flux. Many of these changes have happened quite naturally: experienced, processed, implemented, and evaluated… simply because human beings with an innate love for other human beings that they are attempting to help, will seek and adopt new ways of doing things that they believe will be the most beneficial. A comedian once said, “Intellectuals go to study things that people do naturally.” That is the phrase that was running through my mind as I experienced these mini-lectures.

This led me to my real dilemma… As much as I see benefit in taking a step back and evaluating my teaching methods… adding the correct terminology to things I was doing naturally… adding and adopting pedagogies that might be more beneficial… rejecting or adjusting those educational practices that have shown themselves to be inadequate (at least by themselves)... As much as there is benefit in all of this… I still step back into my classroom and have students that I am unable to break through to… to motivate… to engage… to help.

I found the words of Liz Willen, and educational journalist, resounding in my ears. She writes, in an article called, “Edu-speak” is a disease that undermines efforts to improve U.S. schools

I spent several days at a conference recently with a group of fascinating educators, advocates and policy-makers, all deeply knowledgeable and committed to improving education. In one-on-one chats over a beer or breakfast, they spoke clearly about problems and solutions. And they kept the tone entirely conversational when discussing our children’s classrooms and college choices. 
But everything fell apart the minute we broke up into “enabling environments,” to revise “cluster logic models,” and “establish comprehensive assessment systems.” I decided to speak my mind. 
“Please,’’ I implored, to blank stares: “Do we have to use those words?” 
There was polite laughter, but soon we were right back to “leveraging human capital” and “inseparable imperatives.” 
More than ever, the public needs easily comprehensible information about what is going on in schools, what is working and what is not. 
Though I don’t agree with every little detail in that quote or in the remainder of the article, I did find it’s overall statement to be true.

The most interesting times for an educator, don’t happen when we get the words right or categorize our pedagogies correctly or find the perfect blend of practices. The most interesting times happen when that perfect mixture of our own identity and practices makes a connection to that autonomous human creature, we call a student, and change happens, learning occurs, and a life course is altered.