Teaching is an opportunity to inspire and enable students. My goal as a teacher is to empower learners to see, engage, think and dare to grow in new ways. I use Yeats’ quote “Learning is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire” with older children to start discussion about authentic learning, its value and power. I want them to increase their awareness of the difference between facts and thinking processes and to help them recognize how they learn best. Ultimately I want my students to readily view and understand themselves as lifelong learners.
In my teaching approach, my core values are integrity, flexibility, and imagination. Students will engage with learning if: 1/ the content is perceived as valuable or directly relevant to them, 2/ the program involves active learning and 3/ the assessment process is authentic and appropriate. While my teaching objectives will vary with age groups and topics, the key to enhancing engagement is always that of understanding and planning for individual differences in learning styles and experiences.
Learning is a complex dynamic between a person, the content and the learning environment/climate. As a teacher, I am mindful of this dynamic and work to adapt my teaching to suit. While students must ultimately become responsible for their learning experiences; my responsibility is to provide the keys and to create the desire. In my teaching experience I have found this is best done by building positive relationships with students, fostering a sense of mutual respect and listening to their experiences. This helps me to find ways of developing lessons and activities relevant to their needs and pertinent to the curriculum.
For example, in collaboration with the classroom teacher, I recently formed a literature circle for a year 5/6 extension group based on their interest in an upcoming movie adaptation of a John Marsden book. The teacher and I chose another of Marsden’s books for the literature circle, one suitable for the age-group. Assessment of learning included a podcast recording of the circle’s final ‘big question’ discussion. Students also discussed and wrote personal reflections about other questions arising from the novel. The students valued this literature circle because the author and the topic of identity in the book were relevant to them, and the podcast as assessment tool was an authentic product of their learning. They negotiated and took responsibility for timetabling meetings and deadlines for completion of tasks.
Whatever my teaching context, I work to develop learning partnerships with my students. I believe this is crucial in order to engender accountability and responsibility. When I begin a new class, I ask every student to reflect on and share how they will contribute to the group to create a positive learning climate and we discuss expected participation and responsibilities for both students and teacher. In the past I have worked with students to develop class learning charters to formalize our commitments to one another. Such charters can be useful tools for measuring effectiveness of approaches and as a way of eliciting feedback.
Teaching is a profession to which there is attached an amount of inherent authority. Therefore it is crucial that teachers exercise their role with care and respect. In my teaching I am mindful of this position and the importance of modelling the type of learning and actions I promote to students and classes. I strive to improve my teaching by seeking feedback from students and peers as well as reflecting and acting on information from performance reviews. Additionally I have cultivated a broad and supportive professional learning network. From these sources I continue to refine my practices, experiment with new ideas and strive for professional excellence.
Developing learning partnerships implies a reciprocal as well as collaborative process – one that can reward teachers and empower students. I know I am successfully achieving my teaching goals when students tell me that they ‘get it’ or that they’ve thought about something or thought in a way that they’d never thought before. They are communicating to me that their learning has changed them, that they have developed new understandings that will better prepare them to take advantage of future learning opportunities and to face the challenges of our information society with confidence.