Beginning the school year - 'keeping the end in mind'.
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Business philosopher Stephen Covey, in his book 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', writes that it is important to ' keep the end in mind'. It is too easy to get bogged down in the present just trying to get through and in the process lose sight of the 'end in mind'.If this happens you can easily end up losing your way. As the saying goes, 'it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you're up to your backside in crocodiles!'
So what is the end in mind for a teacher beginning the school year?
This ought to be defined by the agreed vision,values ( agreed behaviours) and teaching beliefs of the school. And if this is important, and not just rhetoric, then success ought to measured by achieving this vision. Of course this is rarely the case - schools are all too often concerned with the 'crocodiles' of day to day hassles. Tradition, or past unquestioned habits, seem to rule the minds of most schools. Just look how they apportion their time - it would seem few have escaped from the Victorian emphasis on the 'three Rs'.
So what would be the end in mind to keep in mind?
A good place to start would be the vision pages of the revised New Zealand Curriculum 2007.
Nothing should get in the way of NZC Vision of ensuring all students become 'confident life long learners' - or life long questioners and inquirers.
This means really focusing all teaching interactions on developing the 'key competencies' of the curriculum; learning to think, work with others, persevere and use every means to communicate effectively. Some call these 'habits of mind' (Art Costa) and others 'learning power ' ( Guy Claxton). Once it was just called 'learning to learn'!
To achieve 'confidence' and 'learning power' requires teachers make certain that what is studied is seen as real and relevant by learners.
Good advice is for teachers to to do fewer things well and to continually diagnose what each individual can do and, where there are gaps in skills or understanding, teaching the missing information.Positive attitudes for, or 'feelings for', the particular learning experience are the key to successful learning.
One key phrase in the NZC ( on the vision page and in the thinking competency) is for each student to be a 'seeker, user and creator of their own knowledge'. The teachers role is to ensure all students have the skills and attitudes to achieve such personal knowledge creation. The challenge for the teacher is to ensure all students develop 'feeling for' whatever they are learning. Successful teachers really care about what their students think and feel particularly those who have lost confidence in the ability to complete any task. Valuing each learner's 'voice', questions, and ideas is vital.
Such a vision is student or learning centred one in contrast to students simply asked to do what teachers expect of them. This doesn't mean letting students do what they like ; the teacher role is a very creative one.
Teachers need to negotiate with students to ensure empowerment or a sense of ownership and to hold students to completing what they have agreed to do.
This requires firmness and teacher artistry to assess what it is each learner is capable of and then ensuring students gain the skills to continually improve their personal best. As educationalist Jerome Bruner says, 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'.
Thankfully students are easily trapped by their innate curiosity if what is put in front of them appeals. The challenge for teachers is to think up ways to tap into this sense of curiosity in all learning areas.
With such a vision in mind teachers can slowly , as students develop skill, pass greater responsibility to their students..
When it seems difficult to negotiate learning then it is honest to say 'we just have to do this so lets do it'. With maths it is possible to develop relevant studies but when practice is required then just call it that, practice. Remind students that to do anything well you need to have the skills in place and that sometimes skill practice is important , but only to be able to get back to the real learning. Literacy blocks ( and maths where possible) ought to focus on providing the research skills necessary to undertake in depth inquiry studies.
The vision of the revised curriculum's is a personalised approach to learning - helping each learner at their point of need. Students will see the point of practicing learning missing skill if it helps then achieve the 'end they have in mind'.The whole purpose of education is to develop in every learner a powerful learning identity, a strong sense of self, of being a valued and worthwhile person. This involves the teacher really listening to their students and validating them.
A good idea is to start the year with a discussion with your class of what makes a powerful learner. Work through the introductory pages of the NZC with them and develop an image of a great class - a true learning community of inquirers 'hunting' for meaning in their tasks. Such a community requires rights and obligations (agreed behaviours) for both the teacher and the class members to hold themselves to.
'Their' powerful learning attributes ( 'merged' with the NZC 'key competencies') can then be referred to, as required, to ensure students keep the 'end in mind' and do not get lost in pointless ( to them) activities.
Keeping the 'end in mind' is valuable advice for both teacher and learners