My passion is studying outliers in education. Through the years of watching amazing teachers and leaders, I have noticed the best of the best educators are willing to allow people to struggle with problems, wrestle to find answers, and even argue through issues to find unique solutions. Process and thinking are critical goals rather than only a right or wrong answer.
This week as I was teaching my undergraduate class, my initial desire was to make the road smooth for them, but then I remembered the power of struggle. It was one of those days when the content was rich, but difficult. The weekly class is three hours long. They all completed the first element smoothly and effectively. Then came the second part and the struggle began immediately. After four semesters of teaching this course and reflecting, I have come to realize this element offers a great opportunity to struggle. The element is applied to their individual projects, thus requiring students make critical individual choices. The choices require sound reasoning as to why certain pieces fit in certain places. Each one is different and each person's justification is unique.
What I noticed is most students want a right or wrong answer. They want me to confirm "yes" or "no" to each element. What I am more interested in is why they made the choices they made and what was their thinking behind the choices. I want them to think. I want them to reflect and decided if they need to make changes, because when we send them out into their classrooms, they, and they alone, will have to make instant decisions about children's learning. If they have never struggled to make choices and justify those choices, how can it become second nature as required to be an effective teacher?
In our schools and in our classrooms across this country, more and more children sit through daily lessons focused on passing standardized tests. I am not advocating the elimination of accountability, but I am advocating for opportunities where students are pushed to think beyond the application level. Students need daily opportunities to struggle and wrestle with content. Struggling teaches students to think.
We also must allow teachers to struggle to solve problems and teach them the reflective process. Many professional learning programs offer rote steps in data analysis, finding and applying strategies, and adjusting, but few allow teachers to struggle through the messy process of reflective teaching. The struggle combined with powerful questions and discussions can lead to teachers who are powerful and highly effective.
This should process occur in every lesson throughout every unit. There are small daily pieces where an expert teacher will quickly see where and for whom the lesson is breaking down. The teacher may adjust by adding a strategy individual students or facilitate through questioning. This type of teaching will never fit a scripted model or specific linear process, because the process is messy and unpredictable.
Similarly, improving schools/districts is a similar process. There are no quick-fix answers. The real answer is recruiting, developing, and retaining quality talent at every level.
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.