I’ve returned to the classroom after nearly ten years as an administrator. While in the administrative mode I preached, to whomever would listen, the importance of transforming the classroom from the traditional “set and get” atmosphere into a place where learning is collaborative, active, natural, and a reflection of the world in which our students will live and one day work.
This came fairly natural to me as a former STEM teacher (Though it didn’t have that acronym in those day!). Science is active and if done right, is relevant and interesting. It reconnects students to the natural curiosity that they had as a child. Somewhere in the educational system that natural curiosity gets squashed underneath traditional ways of delivering information to students. Many of our current classrooms still reflect the needs of the industrial revolution!
“I know they can do it, I can let go.
I know they can do it, I will let go.
I see they can do it . . .
I have let go.”
In working with teachers it was always a matter of convincing them to “let go”. Many do not believe that students will learn on their own, or rather, they don’t WANT to learn on their own. This has not been my experience. It’s often when I throw a problem out there and let them wrestle with it that I get the greatest results. Real learning is found in that struggle. It’s found in not bailing them out, but finding a balance of support without removing the struggle from them. As teachers many of us are rescuers, we can’t stand watching the struggle. I’ve seen new teachers fall victim to that student who is so used to being bailed out that he/she refused to dive in. They say things like, “You’re the teacher, you’re supposed to tell us how to do this!” This can make teachers attempting to change their style from stage on the stage to guide on the side, feel that they are failing or doing it wrong. They aren’t. It’s a matter of being able to let go and allow learning to take place.
I tell my students that they are going to struggle. That I’m going to let them. I tell them that is where the learning is, but they are not alone. I allow them to collaborate, work together and problem solve. Technology puts endless resources in their hands. In an Project Lead the Way engineering classroom, that’s critical!
I currently have a very “brainiac” group of students who are willing to collaborate with one another, problem solve, and ask really intelligent questions when they get stumped. I rarely get the cope out statements like,
Student: “I just don’t get it.”
Teacher: “Don’t get what?”
Student: “Any of it.”
If you’ve been a teacher for any amount of time at all, that conversation is something that has made you want to pull your hair out.
One of my biggest struggles has been not feeling needed. I’m often wandering the classroom just waiting for someone to “need” me. Often they don’t. So I’ve learned to wander and question. I ask questions that that make them think and require them to communicate their reasoning or thought process behind a particular solution. I’ve learned SO much from listening to them. Why did I ever think learning was only happening when all they were doing was listen to me?
I also question my teaching methods. Would something else be more successful? Is there something I should have covered more thoroughly or done a better job of modeling? What misconceptions do I need to address. The list is endless.
Learning to be a facilitator has come pretty natural to me, I think because science just naturally lends itself to that kind of classroom. There are still areas where I need to let go, or require students to be more responsible for their own learning. It’s a work in progress, even after 29 year in education.