I realized that I should probably sit down and collect my thoughts and compose a philosophy of teaching, as that is the professional thing to do. I was intimidated by this task at first because it seemed so formal and resume-ish. I remember writing one back when I was looking for my first teaching job, fresh out of college, but for the life of me I can’t remember what I wrote. It was probably a very generic I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-yet-but-here’s-a-lot-of-education-buzzwords-arranged-semi-eloquently-on-letterhead-about-what-I-think-teaching-is-all-about meant to impress a potential future employer.
Looking back, my first philosophy of teaching probably wasn’t very meaningful. However, one constant I’ve always believed to be true is that a teacher must be flexible. Not every student learns best in the same way, and a teacher must be flexible in the way that they present information to effectively reach every child. Not all students are at the same level nor learn to their greatest capacity in the same way. Realizing that there’s more than one way to go from point A to point B and offering a variety of ways to learn and show understanding is important to make deeper connections with students.
In the last paragraph I mentioned flexibility in the way that teachers present information, but honestly, the role of the teacher has shifted considerably since I graduated with a teaching degree. My role is no longer the keeper of all the knowledge in the front of the room behind a podium. The Internet, with its wealth of knowledge and the devices that most students have in their pockets capable of instantly accessing that information, means that students are in control of their own learning, and my role is to help facilitate that. Ask any student (or anyone, really) what they would do if they didn’t know the answer to something, and they’ll tell you – they Google it. So why wouldn’t we be teaching students how to effectively search online? That’s a real world skill and one that we not only practice, but I also model myself regularly in my tech classes. I’m not afraid to say, “I don’t know – but let’s look it up together.” I’m not the expert in everything. I cannot possibly hope to be. Not only has my role shifted, but so has the role of the student; they should be given the opportunity to shine and share their expertise. If a student can explain and teach a concept to another student in their own words, then they truly understand it.
We do a lot of “flipped” learning in my classes. I love to screencast and use videos as lessons for students that they can access anytime, anywhere. It makes a connection with students in yet another medium and helps to bridge the gap between school and home, because personalized video lessons also connects parents to our classroom and brings them up to speed on what we’re learning.
I think it’s important to give students choice because there’s more than one way to show understanding. For example, when we teach green screen in my digital video production class, I just need to see that they know how to “sell” the effect of a green screen in film. HOW they do that is up to them. Maybe they make a music video. Maybe they make a commercial. As long as they demonstrate that they are capable of using the green screen effectively, the how isn’t so important. I firmly believe that if given choice, students are much more engaged in what they’re creating and do it well because they have the authority to do it in their own way.
When it comes to grading, I try to remember that learning is a continual process. I encourage students to do re-dos any chance they get because it’s an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. I want them to succeed because I think this information is really important. I try to make everything that they do have meaning. They don’t have time for fluff, nor do I have time to grade fluff, so why would I assign fluff? Students are surprised that they are allowed to do re-dos without penalty. My thinking is that if you turned in an assignment and didn’t do well, but then you took the time to learn from the mistakes you made and fix them, why wouldn’t I give you full credit? That’s part of the learning process. We make mistakes, we learn from them. Student grades should reflect what they know, and we are all in a constant state of learning, so grades shouldn’t be set in stone.
I draw a lot of inspiration about homework and tests from Rick Wormeli, who I got the privilege to hear speak at an opening day assembly for our district previously. It made so much sense, and was in the back of my mind as I began to design the way my classrooms would operate. IF I give homework, it must be meaningful, and not busy work. I don’t give zeroes, and don’t count off for late work. I don’t like the words test or quiz because they induce stress. In everyone. Instead, they are check-ins or wrap-ups. They’re open note because I’m not trying to trick anyone. We work hard and have lots of little formative checks for understanding along the way, so I just need to see at the end of a unit that everyone got it. Students can ask questions or even Google it if they don’t know – after all, that’s a real world skill. Their jaws drop when I say that. But you know what? I can’t remember the last time I actually saw someone utilizing the ability to “Google it.” Probably because the questions aren’t things you can easily Google – they’re deeper questions that tell me the how or why of their thinking and show the connections they’ve made to the content.
I do give one test – a pre and post assessment – and these are identical. I give it the first week of class (not for a grade) and then again the last week of class, for a grade. Students are surprised that they get to see the “final test” the first week of the quarter. The assessment allows me to collect data that shows tremendous growth over the course of nine weeks. It’s also a great way for students to get a sneak peek of all the things we’re going to learn together, AND it helps me adjust my teaching to better fit their needs, so that I don’t waste two weeks teaching a concept that really only needed two days.
From 2010 – 2014 I was in the admin building working with teachers, spending most of my time creating meaningful professional development and learning about best practices in integrating technology. I learned a lot in this position, and wish I could go back to my former fourth grade students my first year or teaching and give all of us a do-over. It wasn’t that I was bad, but so many best practices and opportunities that I could have taken advantage of slipped through my fingers. I guess that’s part of being a teacher – continuing to be a lifelong learner just like I hope to inspire in my students, and continuing to grow and get better at my craft. That’s one reason why I’m so excited to be back in the classroom again. For four years I’ve offered teachers lots of ideas and suggestions of web tools and methods to effectively integrate technology in their classrooms, and now I get to put all of those ideas into practice myself. I tell students that Digital Learning is one of those classes where they’ll never ask “When will we ever need this?” … digital learning is their every minute of every day. Being a good digital citizen, protecting themselves and their computer online all while effectively navigating the web, respecting copyright, and looking at trends in technology and how it affects us is relevant here and now, but also in the future. It’s preparing students for an ever-increasing technological future, and developing crucial skill sets for the road ahead. And I couldn’t be more passionate about making a difference in this area.
P.s. – Like I would expect in my students, my philosophy will continually grow and change as I learn and grow in my field over time through experiences and future professional development.