Earlier this year I connected with other educators who like to blog. We came together over #sunchat, a Twitter-based Sunday morning chat. We called ourselves the #Sunchatbloggers! We provide each other with feedback and encouragement. Someone in the group suggested we all post on the same topic: our “Top 5”. Some people will post about strategies, others activities, others technologies—I’ve decided to focus on “needs”.
What are my 5 “essentials” for effective teaching?
After much reflection, I’ve identified my 5 teaching must-haves:
I need Trust.
We know that the world works—quite literally—because of relationships. We also know that a primary—if not the primary—determinant of students’ academic success has to do with the relationships they cultivate in the learning environment. When I teach I strive to nurture strong, positive interpersonal relationships. When I teach I also strive to nurture pedagogical relationships; these are emotional connections between my students and the knowledge they are learning. The flourishing of both of these kinds of relationships depends on trust. I can only get to know my students if they trust me. If my students trust in my intention to support their learning process, I can challenge them. I can encourage them to take risks in their learning. I aim to push my students outside of their “comfort zone”—a pedagogy of discomfort! My students need to know I have their best interests at heart if they are going to learn and enjoy new ideas, new ways of being, unfamiliar terrain etc. They need to see me modeling my support through flexibility and diversity in my teaching plans, assessment and evaluation practices.
I need Engagement.
Effective teaching and learning require the emotional engagement of my students and me. Emotion is the mind’s rudder. Tie knowledge up with some human emotion and it becomes meaningful and memorable. So, in order to teach, I need “cognitive tools”—learning tools that engage my students’ emotions and imaginations. I employ tools of oral language, tools of written language, and tools of philosophic and ironic understandings to connect my students’ emotions and imaginations with the content of the curriculum. These tools forge pedagogical relationships based on wonder; they are long-lasting. My students are constantly engaging their imaginations in learning the content of the curriculum. (Learn more about Dr. Kieran Egan’s Imaginative Education pedagogy here.)
I committed some educational blasphemy just now…did you notice? An important piece of the engagement piece is that it starts with me. I know, this isn’t the currency in teacher talk—we must always start with the student, right? Well, I challenge that idea. Students know when their teachers are not engaged. If I want to create a learning context that maximizes my students’ engagement—and learning—I must also be engaged in the subject matter. I need to find a source of emotional significance within the topic so I can create an imagination-focused context for my students. Whatever the topic—Quadrilateral equations in Math? Haiku poetry? Educational Change in Theory and Practice?* (*what I am currently teaching)–it is essential that I approach curriculum topics with affective alertness. I seek an emotional connection—what stirs my sense of wonder? In order to emotionally engage I need to have depth of knowledge in my subject matter—and a commitment to gaining this if need be.
I need Assessment.
I cannot disconnect effective teaching from effective (caring, constructive, formative) assessment. Ongoing assessment of my students is part of my daily teaching practice. I need to know what where my students “are”: what they need, what they want, and what they can handle in order to make my pedagogical decisions. More “formal” assessment (though no less important for teaching) comes in the form of my feedback on their work. I believe my students will learn most if my feedback is ongoing, constructively critical, positive, rich, and timely. But I don’t just assess my students—I ask that they provide me with feedback as well. My teaching “plans” need to be flexible to suit the needs and interests of my students. So I plan with flexibility and maximum space for diversity in mind and then I ask for feedback. I need to be able to adapt my plans mid-stream and, always, take summative student feedback and revise entire courses as needed. I need their feedback to be an effective teacher.
I need Curiosity.
I believe love of learning stems from curiosity. It’s the disposition we need as teachers. It’s the disposition we want to see in our students. I believe the world is wonder-full. Our curricula is wonder-full. Topics that may seem on the surface to be “ordinary” are in fact richer—and more interesting–than we will ever fully understand. And here’s the contradiction: educators want to support a love of learning in their students, and yet, many don’t demonstrate a love-of-learning themselves. They look at knowledge as mundane, topics as boring, and they often teach things to students “because it’s important to know this”. Every topic can be seen in a light that shows it as unique. Every topic glimmers with wonder. (Yes, even “paragraph writing” or “punctuation”.) Curiosity brings joy to my teaching.
I need Hope.
Education matters. It’s the vehicle through which human beings not only learn to adapt but learn to thrive. Education changes people, “norms”, institutions—it is a means for social justice and a more ethical world. Effective teaching doesn’t involve passive “hoping” for a better world; teaching is hope in action.
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