Education is a profession that requires nurturing relationships: with students, families, colleagues, and communities.
Developing those relationships takes time and intentionality. It is about more than knowing how a student performs academically, what is on an Individual Education Plan (IEP), or another formal and informal accommodation plan set up on behalf of a student.
Relationships are about knowing a student’s interests, what motivates them, what frightens them, what helps them feel safe, valued, and motivated.
I am reading the book What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do (2016, NBPTS), also referred to as “The What Book.” It has been a while since I taught a pre-candidacy class, so I have not been in this book for a couple of years. I have read it several times, but something new always jumps out every time I go through it again.
As I read through each sub-heading in Core Proposition 1, I was struck by how what I know as accomplished teaching as outlined in this book and the policies that direct our classrooms are in opposition to each other.
Teachers recognize individual differences in their students and adjust their practice accordingly.
We are the experts on who is in our classroom. We spend time with our students daily and we know their idiosyncrasies. We know our content and multiple strategies of presenting, practicing, and assessing the skills we teach.
Nevertheless, I have noticed a strong trend toward strict pacing guides. Dictating to teachers exactly how many days to spend on a specific skill. No more, no less.
The same novels are required year after year in English Language Arts classes.
The same experiments are performed in science labs.
Rigid high stakes standardized tests are used to measure student learning and teacher effectiveness. The same test given to every student in a grade or subject across the state.
Policies assume that all students, regardless of context or prior experience, have the same needs. As educators, we know that is not reality. However, we work within these tightening constraints to provide for individual differences and adjust our practice to the needs of our students.
Teachers understand how students develop and learn.
We have taken psychology, child development, and neuroscience courses to understand how students develop and learn. We know what signs to look for to know if a student can grasp abstract concepts or if they have not completely crossed the bridge from concrete reasoning. We know when they are on that bridge that they need different types of support to grasp abstract concepts.
Teachers know that when a student is struggling to have their basic needs met, academic concepts are very difficult, sometimes impossible, to grasp or master. The national child nutrition program came into existence because we realized that students who are hungry cannot learn. The federal McKinney-Vento Act that addresses families in transition (FIT) provides supports to keep the school environment consistent when the home is not “fixed and regular.” Students who are experiencing divorce, abuse, significant illness in a family member, and any number of other situations that make their foundation seem unsteady are unable to fully concentrate on mastering reading, math, geography, and other academic skills. Their brains cannot carry that much load.
Teachers know this and make adjustments to accommodate these students. I am seeing more policies that restrict what a school or teachers can do to support students.
Teachers treat students equitably.
Equity is an area that I have spent a significant amount of time learning about over the past four years. It is complex and multifaceted. I cannot even begin to go in to all that it encompasses. Here is a scenario that I have used with my students to help them understand equity:
Everyone in the room thinks of something that would require first aid or medical attention. I have each student tell me what their situation is (splinter, broken bone, bloody nose, skinned knee, strep throat etc.), then I hand each one a bandaid. At the end of this exercise, I ask them if they all got what they needed.
This gives me the opportunity to explain that sometimes one person needs more time or a different strategy to learn a skill. It does not mean that I am giving preference to one person over the rest, it simply means that I am helping them learn in a way that works for them. Equity is about meeting the needs of students.
Teachers know their mission transcends the cognitive development of their students.
This part is all about keeping the end goal in mind. When my students leave me, what do I want them to look back and say about me or my class? Ultimately, I want them to say that I believed in them and helped them to learn things they thought they could not learn.
Students need to know critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration skills when they leave us. I have a saying posted in my classroom: I don’t just teach kids to make great music, I use music to make great kids.
How are you investing in your students?
What are some strategies you use to get to know your students?
How are local, state and federal policies impacting your practice?