Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Teaching Goals--Every Day

I asked him what it was like at his elite arts college. He had taken my AP chemistry class a few years before. He said college was "Less like a prison and more like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, where everyone walks around singing all the time."

It's that prison-ness, that same-ness and rote-ness and (too-often) uselessness of secondary ed that I want to get away from. And it's that Willy-Wonka-ness I'm going for.

So I needed a memory device, a tool to help keep me out of the rut of routine learning, the creativity-killing lecture-worksheet-quiz-repeat that is the path of least resistance I slip into more than I'd like to admit. I needed something to help me remember the techniques that work and the outcomes that are really important, so I can do them all every day. It is also something that will help me cover the bases in the Danielson Rubric (yes, kids, we have rubrics, too), which, it just so happens, is a pretty good guide to the kind of teacher I want to be.

So I started by asking myself, what do I really want my students to get out of school?  Then I tried to make an acrostic. GLEAMS is what I came up with. Sorry, it's a bit cheesy, but I think it kind of fits. And here's what it stands for:

Give globally - because that’s how to be happy, and so it's a great motivator. I want to encourage and help my students to make real, authentic contributions to people all over the world.

Learn to learn - because if students learn to be expert self-teachers, then they won’t need me anymore, and there will be no limit to what they can accomplish. We’ll start by training to ask 4 questions indicated by the sub-acrostic: WWHH--Why learn? What will I learn? How will I learn it? How will I use what I have learned?

Examine everything - because as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Only through constant evaluation and questioning of everything can we keep improving. This includes thinking critically about our own conceptions, our teachers' ideas, and the ideas of authority figures of all kinds. It includes honestly evaluating our own and others’ work and being open to admitting we are wrong and open to change. This is a lesson I learned too late in life from my son, who as a young teenager, refused to let me skirt around his tough questions.

Aim at (self-)actualization - because this is our highest need in life--to realize and develop our personal potential, purpose and fulfilment. This will differ for each of us, but it is within the reach of each one us. This involves setting the intermediate goals that will get us there, including learning goals for today.

Maximize your mindset - because only by having a growth mindset can we achieve self-actualization. Carol Dweck's book had a big impact on my thinking here, and I want to pass that on to my students every day. Brains can be trained and strengthened. Their growing, changing plastic, not stone. Failure is just the by-product of pushing the envelope.

Synergize socially - because only through social collaboration can we achieve all of the above. As social animals, we can't reach out true potential for achievement and happiness without others. Ideas having sex, as Matt Ridley so powerfully put it, is what drives human progress. And Hargreaves and Fullan have convinced me that  collaboration is absolutely central to effective teaching and learning.

It'll probably be a while before I can consistently work GLEAMS into every lesson, but that's the idea, and I think it is also scalable. In other words, A large scale global contribution project (G), like creating a wiki, could be spread over several days, and might include L, E, A, M, and S components, but I'm still working this out.

Nothing really new here, I know, but I need to boil things down for myself. Humans are so powerful, but so complicated, and there's so much going on in and around the classroom (and I'm so scatter-brained sometimes) that it's easy to lose track of what's really important. It's easier to allow myself to get sucked into playing prison-guard-professor than to empower future magical-chocolate-factory-designer-world-changers. But that kind of stagnation and incompetence is not where I want to be.

I know there's a better way for me to contribute globally (G).

I know how to learn these techniques (L).

I see that I am not there yet (E), but I'm aiming for self-actualization (A).

I'm not afraid of failure (M), and I can collaborate with colleagues and students to improve (S), so what am I waiting for?