A teacher friend was explaining a new tool she’d incorporated into her classroom. Designed around classroom management, the tool allows points to be awarded to a virtual environment when the teacher notes positive behaviors valued by the community. Likewise, points can be deducted when behaviors contrary to the community’s goals are noted in students.
Listening, it was difficult not to question how this system of merits and demerits aligned with my philosophy of teaching and learning. While I understood the reduction my friend had seen around misbehaviors and disruptions of learning since implementing the system, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the kind of classroom she was wanting to foster.
We must constantly ask ourselves what we believe and how what we believe aligns with what we are doing.
Most teachers, whether they come to the classroom by traditional schools of education or through alternative programs, are asked at some point to write their philosophy of education. It is the document that asks a teacher to sit down and finish the education version of the answer to “What truths do you hold to be self-evident?”
For many, this document is written for a class, discussed throughout the semester its written, dusted off for review prior to job interviews, and then rarely seen or heard from again.
While there are likely several contributing factors – little time to reflect, less focus on theory once a teacher is in the classroom, little discussion of theory in the teacher’s lounge – the most likely is that we believe we are enacting our philosphy as we laid it out simply by teaching.
If we said what we believe about education, then it seems likely that espoused belief would be embedded in our lesson plans, in our communications with students, in the tools we adopt in our practice.
And yet, it isn’t the case.
Strong, reflective, learning-based teaching requires a constant holding up the mirror of what we believe about teaching and learning to the things we do on a daily basis to and for students.
This is made all the more important by the ease with which those practices completely misaligned with our beliefs can be adopted because we are moving at the speed of life required of adults charged with the intellectual, social and civil growth of a roomful of children. The thing that looks like it will get us to our goals the easiest can become the thing we adopt because we haven’t the time to ask, “Is this the kind of teacher I want to be, and does this join with what I believe teaching should be?” Rather, we haven’t taken the time.
After considering how this new classroom management tool rubbed against my philosophy of education, I asked my friend how she saw this system as aligned with her own thinking. After some conversation that included reiterating its positive results in student focus, I asked what her plan was for moving from the extrinsic motivation fostered by the system to a more intrisically-motivated positive classroom culture.
She admitted she’d not thought that far ahead and that she would think on it more.
I was clear that I wasn’t trying to argue against her system. That was a conversation for another day. In that moment, I was curious as to how this new practice embodied the kind of teacher she wanted to be for her students.
I am convinced that many of the things we see teachers enacting in their practice that we find contemptable and dubious are not the acts of contemptable and dubious teachers, but are the ad hoc habits gathered up in the day-to-day act of doing the work in the limited time and with the limited resources available.
I am equally convinced that given the time and space, teachers would change many of these practices if asked to consider how what they are doing aligns with what they believe to be of core importance in teaching and learning.