My Teaching Manifesto

My Shangri-la

My Shangri-la

Lately, I have had to venture out of my Shangri-la.  It is easy to stay in my classroom and only interact with those whom I trust.  It is harder to venture out and let my voice be heard unto the masses that don’t think the way I do.  I also know that it is only by interacting with each other that we can find our common ground for solving problems.

Teaching in schools can be difficult.  We teachers are emotionally shackled to what we do in our classrooms.  We are bound to our designed curricula much like a mother is bound to her child.   And when confronted with change we often go to that zone of our brains that tell us to fight or flee.  Our tempers flare, our alarm systems scream to alert.  We look for allies, we run and hide in the trenches, and we activate our war plans.

I’m tired of hearing that change is a bad thing.  I’m tired of other people’s fears halting my progress.  So today, I’m going to stick my neck out there in an effort to keep moving forward.

I’m sharing with you my core beliefs – My Teaching Manifesto.

IB Art students showing off their collections to the public.

IB Art students showing off their collections to the public.

I believe schools should reward those who innovate.  We cannot ask our students to innovate unless we model innovation for them.  We must nurture an environment in our schools where we feel comfortable being risk takers and supported when that risk taking fails.  And we must nurture an environment of celebration when all that trial and error pays off.  We will never learn from our failures if we are not given the opportunity to make mistakes.

I believe schools should recruit and work to retain only the best quality teachers.  Whether it is a competitive wage and benefits, a reasonable moving stipend, continued access to quality professional development, or added time for collaboration with colleagues, schools must work to create a culture of teachers who LOVE to grow as educators.  Teachers want to work at and stay at schools, not because they are high paying schools, but because they feel supported, challenged, rewarded, and valued as an expert in their field.

I believe that all schools are filled with educational gurus that I can learn from.  Like most schools, our staff has an amazing collective of expertise.  Schools should be places where teachers are empowered and given time to share their expertise not just with their students, but with their colleagues.  As Tom Whitby (#edchat founder) always says, “sharing is not bragging.”

Finding solutions to giving real time feedback.

Finding solutions to giving real time feedback.

I believe staff meetings should be places where solutions happen.  Staff meetings are all too often places where people are swept away into a whirlpool of negativity.  When all that expertise is packed into one room, we are sometimes not the best of listeners.  However, if we ever want to improve, staff meetings cannot continue to be places where we only discuss the roadblocks to positive change.  Staff meetings should be places where we work together to bring about solutions to the problems our classrooms and campuses are facing.

I believe whenever a change is proposed we must always ask “Is this what is best for our students to succeed in THEIR future?”  This isn’t about what I needed when I was going to school.  What was best for me to learn in 1983 is not necessarily what is best for my students in 2015.  I didn’t need to know how to run a computer, use a cell phone, or create an online tutorial.  We teachers need to let go of the past and start looking to the needs of our future 21st century world leaders.  Even if that makes us uncomfortable, we must strive to prepare students with the skills and mindsets for the changing world they live in.

I believe a teacher’s grading practices should be transparent.  A child (and their parent) has the right to see their data in real-time.  Grades are not crazy formulas that only experts can know and calculate.  If the grade is a mystery of bits of data that only I can decipher, then how can I expect my students to know how to achieve the grade they desire?  Students need to know their targets.  It is my job to make the process of achieving these targets clear to the child, and to the parent, so that my students can reach those targets.

Students working online doing research.

Students working online doing research.

I believe that every student should have a laptop and/or digital device available to them in every classroom.  I also believe that teachers need ongoing training and collaboration in how to better use these resources to create deep learning experiences for our students.  Just because our students are digital natives does not mean that they know how to use digital tools for learning.  Just as we teachers need to learn to better create and manage learning experiences for our students, we need to teach students to be better creators and managers of their learning.

I believe it is my job to engage my students in my subject matter.  It is my job to design learning paths for my students that will keep them awake and keep them wanting to know more.  It is my job to model time management, careful planning, and creativity in my lessons.  I have my students for 50 minutes a day.  And at the end of that 50 minutes I want my students to say, “What?!  Class is over already?”

I believe homework should be “life” work.  Giving students tasks that practice skills should be done in the classroom where students can receive instant feedback.  Outside of class time, our students should be encouraged to extend their learning by diving deep into the world to see how our studies are relevant to their world.

I believe every student should be given the freedom to learn.  Sometimes we just need to get out of their way and let them show us what they know.  We are there to give guidance, debrief a task, or to help them think out loud, however sometimes we need to let go of the classroom agenda and allow our students to make their own discoveries within our content.

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Students working in their sketchbooks

I believe that all students need time in school to follow their passions.  This might mean that they take an extra art or music course.  Or maybe this means a student has the freedom to take more sciences or languages.  Wherever our students’ passions lie, we should be able to provide space in their day for them to do the things that make them feel alive as learners.  Maybe this means diversifying our course offerings or offering online opportunities to provide the avenue for all students to explore their interests.

But most of all….

I believe that I am still learning what it means to teach, support, create with, engage, my students and colleagues in this 21st century world.  I believe that regardless of the pace of change, it is my job to model a learner on her journey.   I don’t have to have all the answers, I just need to continue to cultivate the willingness to go out and try to look for them.

What core beliefs do you practice in your classroom?  Are there key beliefs that drive you as a teacher that I have left out?

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12 replies

  1. Personally, I’m still formulating an opinion about digital devices in the classroom.

    In my district, there is a substantial push to allow students to take notes via digital devices, despite the fact every scientific study shows doing so lowers retention and understanding.

    • I think it is like anything else. You have to teach students how to take digital notes. You have to teach how to go back and revise those notes. But the digital device is good for much more than note taking. The device should not be just a replacement of paper, it should be taking students to a greater depth of learning. But you know all this.

      • Right; I was just stating at what stage our discussion is right now. I’d love to have an internet-connected classroom to view videos, conduct research, and connect with other classrooms in real-time. With that in mind, I’d almost add another item to the manifesto:
        Classrooms deserve Funding (or something like that).

      • Yes, this is true. I’m lucky to be at a private school that funds 1 to 1. But public schools aren’t always so lucky. How do we get technology to all kids in an equitable way?

  2. Well put! I especially liked your 5th point. It’s hard not to look back on our pasts and think “That’s how it should be done!” and it would be wrong not to think about how these kids’ futures involve some very different things! I think that’s a really good tip for me as a parent, too. Equipping them with the skills to learn and grow into their futures is key, even though that wasn’t part of my childhood!

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