I am just about finished marking my final projects and exams for the term…my brain feels like mush! It’s amazing how tiring it is to read and mark the results of someone else’s work; perhaps it has something to do with the connection between how successful we have been as teachers and how much our learners are walking away from the term having learned.
The end of term is certainly bitter sweet. Having spent 4 months with various groups of students, I finally feel like I’ve have gotten to know them…then my time with them is done. One particular class so inspired me with their final projects that I want to keep them for another term!
As teachers we so much want to inspire our students to expand their learning, their worldview. We want to help them catch a glimpse of the exciting adventures ahead of them, and prepare them for that journey. We can set the stage for that learning, we can create the thirst for that learning, but as Maryellen Weimer reminds us in her book, Learner Centered Teaching, we can’t make them drink. http://www.facultyfocus.com/topic/articles/teaching-professor-blog/
So what can we do? Well, I think the first thing we can do is to stay thirsty ourselves, and continually work towards quenching that thirst. School’s out, but that doesn’t mean it’s time for our brains to vacate. True, we need to take time to relax, but we also need to be refreshed and rejuvenated…we need to be inspired so that we can be an inspiration. (The 3 ‘Rs’)
Summer session starts for me right away in May and goes until the end of June…not quite time to close the books. However, the full workload is greatly reduced allowing time to slow down, and fill up. This also means that I have time once again to contribute on a more regular basis to my blog. I continue to probe and ponder topics, issues and concepts, but for the next 4 months the focus will be on ‘How do I relax, refresh and rejuvenate’, so that when September hits, I’m ready to hit the ground running.
I invite you to journey along with me, add your own experiences, and then learn together.
What’s your favorite question to ask? For me it’s why? That’s it. It’s been the same question just about all of my life.
I find that it brings the greatest critical thinking challenges to me as I continue to work in the field of training and development. For most of my growing up years people told me what to do, I’m sure your experience was similar… we get an education and are advised what to take, then we start a career and learn the job with new rules and processes…sadly, asking why isn’t always encouraged!
This was the case until I was finally asked the question WHY DO YOU DO YOU WHAT YOU DO? What’s your purpose on this earth? Someone finally turned the table on me!
Let me ask you, have you ever written a personal mission statement? It asks the why of your life. I was at a leadership staff retreat a number of years ago when I was asked what my personal mission was …not only had no one ever asked me such a big why question…I had no answer for them. Thus started a grueling exercise of discover…and decision! The end result was…
I want to be about equipping and encouraging others to realize their full potential.
This guided my thinking and actions in every leadership role I took on.
Over the past while I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between being a leader and being a teacher. I tend to believe that not only are they connected, but being one compels us to also be the other. So if this is true…we need to consider what kind of leader-teachers we should be.
Take a few minutes to consider this connection and perhaps open the door to look at teaching…and our post-secondary classrooms, from another perspective.
John Kotters describes leadership this way…
“Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen, despite the obstacles.”
Can we see a connection to teaching?
Learner centred teaching is all about putting the focus on what the learner needs in order for them to be successful. Consider how similar this is to servant leadership:
“Putting the needs, interests and goals of others above your own and using your personal gifts to help others achieve their potential.”
Is there a connection here to teaching?
Our purpose should be to do all we can to help our students be successful.
Let’s assume that we are on the right track here. We all know that learning looks different for each student…the variables are endless.
So flashing back to leadership, what we are discussing is the type of leadership made popular by Blanchard and Hersey…Situational leadership. We know that this is a contingency approach that basically means IT DEPENDS. It depends on the readiness of the follower…the leader adapts his/her leadership style based on the needs of the person being lead.
- Telling– Leaders tell their people what to do and how to do it.
- Selling– Leaders provide information and direction, but there’s more communication with followers.
- Participating – Leaders focus more on the relationship and less on direction. Decision making is shared with followers.
- Delegating – Leaders pass most of the responsibility onto the follower or group. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_44.htm
Can we connect these styles or stages to teaching?
Let me ask one final question…Can you view yourself as a leader in the classroom? If so, what kind of leader do you want to be?
In preparing to teach a leadership class recently, I came across this question:
If it is immoral to prevent those around you from growing to their fullest potential, are you being moral?
In other words, as a leader/teacher, am I doing all I can to help those around me to grow to their fullest potential? Hmmm!
I spent one week this summer facilitating workshops that focused on learner centered instruction. The audience was a group of 22 professors visiting from China who wanted to learn more about what the post secondary classroom looks like in Canada…specifically the learner centered approach. This was an amazing opportunity for which I am so grateful, and hope to do again!
I’ve done a great deal of curriculum designing. As I go through the process, I am always conscious of the fact that the audience represents a variety of knowledge levels and therefore the need to include some form of prior learning assessment is vital. However, the preparation and delivery of this material to our Chinese visitors required that I take all my concepts and explain them in ways that would translate across language. No buzz words, no acronyms, no idioms, and no making assumptions about their frame of reference.
Unfortunately, the reality of this didn’t fully hit until I was in the midst of presenting and realized that the confused looks were not only caused by a language barrier, but also by conceptual differences in how we approach education. For example, discussing the challenges of having young learners (18-22 yrs) and mature learners in the same class made no sense to them…they would never have the ages mixed to start with! I also learned that it was fully acceptable to put your head down and have a nap if you were tired…nothing personal!
I was so thankful that one of the professors was quite fluent in English, so together we navigated the murky waters using all of our senses, including a lot of laughter, to catch a glimpse of what learner centredness is all about. In fact, the whole process became a living example of how we, as facilitators of learning, must focus on the needs of the learner if we are to develop individuals who can think critically, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and be the creative innovators our institutions and organizations need.
As I reflected on this amazing opportunity my mind wandered down the path of ‘so what?’…so what did this experience teach me that was new, and what actions/attitudes did it reinforce in my own practice? As I probed, here are some of the ponders that emerged…
- Do I sometimes use terminology that is commonplace for me, but far from common to my learners? (This reminded me of words we used growing up in Ireland that weren’t so acceptable to my grade 7 teacher in Canada…think ‘donkey’!)
- Does what I think my learners need to learn match what they want/need to learn for their situation? (Granted, some skills are non-negotiatble & need to be taught.)
- Do I take enough time to gain a clear enough understanding of their context/culture? (A simple thing like properly receiving a business card can build or break a relationship.)
- Am I presenting the material in such a way that they are active participants in their own learning? (…and is the activity appropriate for the learner and desired outcomes?)
- Am I as focused on encouraging self-directed learning, as I am on simply delivering content? (Do we simply give them a fish, or actually teach them how to fish?)
These questions apply whether I am teaching my business students, or facilitating training and development for a group of business professionals.
What are some of your ponderings around this topic?
Right now I am designing a series of workshops that will be presented to a group of 23 professors visiting from China. The purpose of their visit is to learn how we ‘do things’ in the Canadian post-secondary classroom…how is our approach different from theirs. Great question! I think the answer to this goes beyond the ‘how’ to the ‘why’; I know that my focus is to be as learner-centred as possible, but why is that important? Let me share a bit of my teaching philosophy.
I believe that teaching has not happened until learning has taken place. That being said, learning is primarily the responsibility of the student; however, as a facilitator, my role is to present material in a manner that is in line with the needs of the learner, doing all within my capacity to remove barriers to learning. In other words, my aim is to be learner centred in the approach I take. In doing so, I need to transition my approach from that of pedagogy to andragogy, being careful to provide support for the students as they move from recipients of knowledge, to participants of and contributors to new learning.
Growing in my own ability to do this effectively has become a driving force in my own learning journey. My mission is to embrace various learning styles, engage student curiosity and invite them to explore new information. The new learning needs to be applied, and if appropriate, it should re-frame their existing knowledge.
As a teacher I must also be a continuous learner. I need to know my material in such a manner that enables me to help the students understand; I need to be comfortable and well informed in the subject matter in order to encourage inquiring minds that may challenge new concepts and theories. I need to be open to learn from my students, recognizing the wisdom that comes from their own life experiences. To do this I need to be committed to listening well.
Learning happens best when students feel safe, accepted, and enjoy the environment in which they are learning. I believe that the classroom should be a place where humour is welcomed, new ideas embraced, questions encouraged, various teaching techniques utilized, and where a passion for learning is cultivated.
It is important for me as a teacher to get to know my students, and for them to know that my primary goal is their success.
In my last blog I finished with… “With my current class, it will start with a one on one conversation…” In those conversations I wanted to learn what success looked like for each student, but what I came away with was so much more. Once again I am humbled by the life experiences these individuals bring to the learning environment; yes, I have much to teach them, but so much more to learn from them.
Learner autonomy, taking responsibility for their own learning success, looks different for each person. For some it’s a high grade, for others it’s a sense of accomplishment, for others it’s content mastery, and for others it’s the first step toward a better future…and I get to be part of their learning journey!
I really love teaching! Not just being in the classroom, but also preparing for the class. I love thinking and working through creative ways to present concepts; I can totally get lost in developing activities that will engage every part of the learner’s brains and pull on past experiences to give context to new learning. It’s one of the few things that will make me forget about having lunch…until I discover that putting two thoughts together is becoming a bit of a challenge!
Take today for example…I have spent the better part of the day at my computer designing a power point presentation on The Anatomy of a Lesson Plan. But that’s not where the creation ended…I then imported it to Explain Everything, recorded a voice over, and am now ready to upload it to Moodle for use in an on-line course for instructors. It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty proud of my first attempt using a new application!
I haven’t always been this excited about learning new things…especially during my elementary years in Ireland, and then on to junior and high in Canada. Going to school was something that I had to do, and any learning was an unexpected by-product of being there…except for music classes, those I loved, and really didn’t think much about learning, I simply enjoyed the music! But then there was history and geography…neither a favourite. Memorizing dates and places was beyond me, and grasping why I needed to know anything about anything that happened hundreds of years ago seemed like a royal waste of my time. Fast forward many years; walking the cobbled streets of Ancient Greece and Turkey suddenly gave the relevance I needed to study both geography and history!
Now the tables are turned and I am most concerned about the success of my learners. What can I do to help them engage in a way that invites excitement about learning…how does external motivation get transformed into intrinsic motivation? I have a couple of ideas formulating in my brain as a result of reflecting on my own learning journey.
A few words come to mind: purpose, relevancy, ownership, autonomy.
I know that most learners have a difficult time engaging if they don’t see the relevancy in the material content, which makes them question the purpose of extending their mental
energies. As a facilitator I need to make sure that content is linked to desired outcomes, and delivered in a learner-centred way. I also believe that part of facilitating learning is to help move my students from a consumer mentality to an ownership mentality.
We identify adult learners as those being 18 years and over, but how do we help transition young people from a pedagogical model into the world of androgogical learning autonomy? With my current class, it will start with a one on one conversation…
More about this next time…then we’ll talk about autonomy in the workplace!