Saturday, October 10, 2015

#WhyITeach #WhyILearn Reflective Thinking for Teachers, Students and Parents

At NJPAECET2 a photobooth area was set up where participants filled out speech bubbles to thank a teacher and answer the question, "Why do I teach?"  Pictures were taken, tweeted out with the hashtag #WhyITeach or #ThankATeacher, and all the speech bubbles were taped to the windows.

 This is a powerful visual and an easy method for triggering reflection.  Why do we teach?  What teachers am I grateful for?  In the age of assessment, it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of education and the people who matter when we are bogged down with mandates and methods of documenting accountability.  Notice, not anywhere on these speech bubbles does it say, "So, my students can get As on tests" or "Thank you to the teacher who helped me ace that exam."

Why do we teach?  Who are we grateful for?

I teach because I love learning and experiencing the world through a text.  I teach because I want to share my love of learning and cultivate the curiosity of my students. So much of what I do for students can be seen in small gestures -- creating an engaging classroom climate, awakening students' critical thinking skills, guiding the students' towards connected yet independent learning and self-sustainability. All of the small things add up over time to create a solid foundation for students as they journey towards graduation. To use another metaphor, in freshmen year I'm leading them to the path and giving them tools and resources to use, but the students are walking the path when they venture beyond my room. Through professional development opportunities, I'm sharing my strategies, engaging and collaborating with educators --which expands my reach: when I help another teacher, I am helping that teacher's students. Ultimately, I teach so I can help make the world a better place.

I'm grateful for my parents who are educators, my former teachers, and my colleagues near and far who have inspired me and shaped my teaching practices. I cannot be the teacher I am today without their influence.

With the start of the 2015-16 school year under way and having the largest cohort of freshmen Honors classes ever, the above questions also got me thinking about what would my students say if I asked them, "Why do you learn?"

Thanks to @Teacher2Teacher, who sent me a kit to replicate the #WhyITeach activity in my district, I adapted the directions to fit my students and we used the hashtag, #WhyILearn.  Students filled out their speech bubbles, and I hung them up around the classroom so that they could have a daily reminder of their responses as we get deeper in the course content.

Take a look at some of their responses...

Did you see if any of the responses had to do with testing or grades?  Me neither.

So many of the responses focus on the future and wanting to be successful.  But what is their definition of success? What does success really mean to my students?  How do we quantify success? These are important questions to answer.  The answers are also important to keep in mind as when the stress of school gets too overwhelming:  focus on the big picture; think about how this moment will lead to a better future.

Also at the beginning of the school year is Back to School Night, and the activity with my students got me thinking about what the students' parents would say if I asked them the question, "Why do you want your child to learn?"

Flipping Back to School Night, I recorded a screencast of my class expectations and procedures two weeks prior to the big night.  Students were given the assignment to watch the video WITH their parent and answer the corresponding questions using EDpuzzle before attending Back to School.

Since my parents already knew the procedures and expectations of my class, I didn't need to spend time on Back to School Night repeating the information and could do an activity in the 12 minute class period that would let them get a feel for my teaching style and how their student might feel being a member of the class.

After a quick introduction and recap of most important information, I posed questions to my parents, "Why do you want your child to learn? What is the point? What do you think is the purpose of learning?" They were tasked with writing their answers on yellow blocks of paper before running out the door to their next class.

Thinking of the parents' responses as building blocks, I taped them to the wall of my classroom.  Take a look...


Do you see any responses that include getting good grades or doing well on standardized assessments?  Me neither.

Besides being part of the decorations in the room, I wonder how else I can bring parents into the classroom so that we all keep our sights focused on the purpose of learning and how we can best meet the needs of the students. When it comes to education, everyone matters, parents, students, and teachers.

So as we venture further into the journey of this school year, continue reflecting on WHY we do what we do and how it fits into the greater scheme of our students' lives, remember the purpose of teaching and learning.

This is a panoramic shot of the walls of my classroom. In the comments here, please share why you teach and learn and how you remind parents, students, and other teachers about the purpose of education.