Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Inspiring Learners

A day or two before the Thanksgiving holiday I paid a brief visit to each one of the elementary classrooms to extend best wishes to each classroom teacher and say hello to the students. I am always impressed but never surprised at the level of excitement and engagement in these classes!

These and my other classroom visits remind me of the skill, wisdom, and competence of our teaching staff here in Needham. I regularly observe students tuned in and turned on to any number of tasks, projects, and discussions. Whether the students are working alone, in small groups, or in pairs there is a joyful sense of purpose and self-discovery evident in our schools, and it’s led by talented and committed teachers. Students are clearly in charge of their learning, and they take pride and ownership in their individual achievement, creativity, and growth.

Of course, it is a skilled and mature instructor who can step to the side and guide the learning rather than stand in front and command the students. And that takes time, persistence, and patience. There are no quick routes or easy paths to become the kind of teacher who connects closely to students and can assess their personal needs and potential with efficacy and compassion. I like what Carol Steele, writing in December’s (2010) Educational Leadership, says about the stages successful teachers go through in their career: “I believe teachers progress through four stages: unaware, aware, capable, inspired.” She observes that teachers work through these stages as they develop experience, competence, and the flexibility to respond to a variety of situations and divergent thinkers and learners.

Within a collaborative structure and provided with a reasonable amount of training and support (versus a well-intentioned but overwhelming amount of professional development), our teachers can move through these stages and develop a sense of accomplishment that comes with doing something meaningful and purposeful in a classroom full of students.

We simply must give teachers the support, time, and latitude to try new ideas and even make mistakes as they grow and develop into inspired teachers who excite children. So what else does it take? Steele concludes that “desire, a curious mind, and a thirst for continuous learning” are the links in a chain of teacher growth and improvement.

In Needham’s classrooms, I am proud to say that our teachers have these prerequisite skills and attitudes, and wherever they are on Steele’s continuum, they are working hard each day to empower and inspire young minds.

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