What do you believe?
What does your philosophy of learning look like and what are the best pedagogical strategies in which to make it meaningfully happen on a daily basis?
What is the ideal learning environment for students and how does a teacher design that environment?
Ultimately, when these three questions are satisfactorily answered, very little else matters. The entirety of our careers as educators should always be judged against how well we adhered to the answers to these questions whenever we worked with students or made decisions that impacted students’ lives.
However, we educators make a lot of compromises. A. Lot. Too many.
We fit our ideas into boxes like “in my spare hour when I’m not doing test prep” and “in ways that align with the common core standards.” But it’s not just exterior forces that make us compromise. We often compromise within ourselves, imagining others making potential arguments against our philosophy even if those arguments have never been raised by any other people. “I need to get through this material for their teacher next year,” or “parents are going to be wondering why I’m not teaching more of these facts,” or “the other teachers in my building do it this way; I don’t want to rock the boat,” or “this kid won’t get into college unless we go this fast and he moves up a level.”
And so we chase.
We chase after pedagogical methods we think people will be okay with. We assess and assess and assess students because we think “I know this is bad, but it’s what people want.” We avoid pushing too far, because we don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations with parents. We chase the approval of people we know don’t really understand education, because their approval makes us feel better about what we do. This also frees us up to complain about all the ways in which outsiders are hurting teaching without having to take on any responsibility ourselves. This fear of “rocking the boat” then manifests itself school- and district-wide, where otherwise forward thinking people are paralyzed by the potential pitfalls of doing things differently.
In response to this, I have one piece of advice: Stop chasing.
Have a philosophy that is not only defensible, but inspiring. Back that philosophy up with research, thoughts, and ideas from leaders in the field. Adjust that philosophy as you learn from other great educators, but NEVER because you want to placate someone who doesn’t understand education as well as you do. . Explain the nuance of it to anyone who challenges it and make it clear that this is what you believe education to be about. Go to conferences with your philosophy on your mind and always experience anything in education through that lens. Avoid bringing shiny new tech toys into your classroom unless they are being implemented in a way consistent with your philosophy. Make it the core of every learning environment you design for students and every learning experience you undertake yourself.
And, most importantly, shout that philosophy to the rafters.
This profession needs more people who talk thoughtfully about learning. We’ve had enough discussion of the “hows” of education and not enough of the “whys”. We’ve had enough of the “50 apps that make it easier to take attendance and grade scantrons” sessions at conferences. There have been more than enough platitudes, acronyms, and shortcuts to fill hundreds of volumes of books. And none of it–none of it whatsoever–fundamentally improves learning. To borrow a phrase from Good Will Hunting, “You people baffle me. You spend all your money on these ____’n fancy books. You surround yourselves with ’em. They‘re the wrong ____’n’ books.” We’re having millions of conversations about education every day and they’re the wrong conversations. Starting now, every teacher needs to root her/himself in a core philosophy that is meaningful and respectful to the way our students learn and let that guide every conversation we have in our professional lives. Our schools need to become obsessed with the study of learning and leaders in the local and national conversation about it. But first, we must stop chasing.
Unless we as a profession embolden ourselves as experts not in our disparate curriculum subjects, but in the experience of learning as a fundamental study that supersedes everything else we do, we are destined to be replaced. So stop chasing the conversation and start leading it. The future of the profession depends upon you.