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“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
Over the course of my career it has become clear to me from both extensive research and practice that absolutely every child and adult can learn at high levels if they are given the right amount of time and support. As a teacher, it is not simply my job to deliver content, but instead my focus is on ensuring that those around me are both growing and reaching high levels of proficiency. In order to achieve these goals, I believe that educators must subscribe to what Carol Dweck refers to as the “growth mindset” and the following elements must be present in our work:
- Clearly defined and stated learning outcomes at various levels of complexity
For the last seven years, I have worked closed with Jay McTigue, author or Understanding by Design and the Marzano Research Laboratory to develop a system of clearly stated learning outcomes for all of the programs and courses within our schools. According to Robert Marzano, effective learning goals provide both the student and teacher with a clear understanding of the target knowledge. Effective learning requires that we are transparent about the learning goals, how we define proficiency and how we will measure growth. When a student knows where they are headed as well as their current level of functioning, they can work with their teacher to develop a meaningful plan to reach their goals. I also believe it is imperative to scaffold learning outcomes in a manner thatincreases complexity over time. I start with ensuring acquisition of content knowledge and then create opportunities for analysis and application of that knowledge to unique real-world problems.
- Engaging and innovative research based instructional strategies
Students must be actively engaged with material in order to achieve high levels of learning. Students should find the information and activities challenging and yet engaging. Lectures that provide information that can be found in a text or with a simple Google search are ineffective. Although I employ a variety of strategies depending on the needs of my students, I have found particular success with a project or problem based approach. According to the Buck Institute for Education, Project Based Learningis ateaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Unlike the older methods of “doing projects” at the end of a unit, Project and Problem Based Learning as we know it now, allows teachers to work in a collaborative manner with students who are engaged in deep learning.I view myself as a collaborator with students and a facilitator rather than a lecturer.
- Effective use of formative assessment and feedback to personalize the learning process
The research of John Hattie has allowed educators to demystify the learning process and his simple statement of “know thy impact” should be the driver for teaching. Hattie’s synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses of educational researchtells us that we should focus on the strategies and practices with the highest impact. Providing feedback and effective use of formative assessment are among the highest leverage strategies that a teacher can employ. Feedback must be honest, accurate and delivered in a caring manner intended to convey essential information about the learner’s current level of functioning and progress. Similarly, using a variety of methods to gather formative data allows me to tailor instruction to the needs of the group as well as individuals.
- Trusting relationship between teacher and learners that fosters perseverance
The very act of teaching implies that there is a respectful and trusting relationship between the instructor and the learner. As a teacher, I must create an environment where every student feels valued and appreciated. The environment needs to encourage risk taking, and an understanding that failure is part of the learning process. It is only from these failures that we understand our misconceptions and are able to engage in a process of deep learning. Allowing our students multiple opportunities and methods to show proficiency, taking the time to get to know students personally, and working individually with students when possible are methods that build trust.
Education has been my passion for my entire life. I care deeply about improving outcomes for all learners and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity for success, no matter their level of background knowledge when they begin. I have taught a wide variety of adults in a number of venues over the years. When I taught at the university level, I was successful with both inner-city teachers as well as teachers from affluent suburbs by having high expectations for all, respecting their backgrounds and experience, being available for extra assistance and working tirelessly to ensure their success. Similarly, I have worked as a practitioner in public schools with thousands of teachers over the last 25 years. I have worked with my leadership team to develop ongoing professional development for new teachers as well as experienced teachers. I am proud that our teachers are truly 21st century instructors who are innovative, effective users of technology and truly embrace a problem solving approach and that our data shows steady improvement in student achievement over time.