Eighth Shift: You Can’t Always Get What You Want, But Shouldn’t You Get What You Need?
What’s your story of school?
I was asked to write a lengthy response to this question when I was in graduate school at NYU studying English Education. After we drafted our response, our professor asked us to then write a philosophy of education. We put both documents side by side. She asked us to use a highlighter and look for patterns. I used yellow to indicate similarities, and then highlighted contrasts and contradictions in blue.
There was a whole lot of blue, and very little yellow.
It was a powerful moment for me. The way I was taught, and my experience of school was disconnected from my beliefs and values around teaching.
Do you teach the way that you were taught?
This was the next question. Our professor asked us to take a lesson plan we recently used during student teaching. With a partner, we looked at our lesson plan and compared it to our story of school and our teaching philosophies. We used yellow to highlight the parts of the lesson plan that matched our story of school, and blue to highlight the parts of the lesson plan that matched our teaching philosophy.
There was a whole lot of yellow, and very little blue.
Do you plan lessons with yourself in mind?
This was the third question she asked us. We looked at our lesson plans and used Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences to identify what learning styles and preferences were in our lessons. ( I should add that in a previous class we explored different learning styles and preferences and identified what ours were). She asked us to tally up the learning styles and preferences.
There was a lot of auditory learning in my lesson plan. I am an auditory learner…
There was a disconnect between what I thought I was teaching and how I was teaching it, and what I was actually doing. I was planning lessons with myself in mind, and I was teaching the way that I was taught.
I was giving my students what I wanted, not what they needed.
I still remember these questions, and I share them often with teachers I coach.
When I work with a teacher and I see that there are contrasts and contradictions between how the teacher thinks she teachers, and what she is actually doing in the classroom, I look to these questions to bring self-awareness to her practice.
For anyone who has studied education, reflection is at the center of the curriculum. However, when we begin to teach in our own classrooms, there is often little time to reflect. We are busy teaching.
The same can be applied to our daily lives. We are busy. We are so busy that we don’t often take the time to reflect. I believe that when people say they feel unbalanced that what they really mean is that their values and beliefs aren’t aligned with their actions. For example, I value family. My time with my husband and our kids is sacred. However, just like everyone else I am busy. Last year I found myself doing a lot of multitasking. I’d have my computer out during breakfast so I could check emails. I’d fold laundry, and take phone calls while playing Go Fish.
My son even commented that I was always doing two things at once. I felt stressed all the time. It was as though I was playing and endless game of Tug of War: my family on one side, and my work on the other and me somewhere in the middle trying desparetly to keep the balance.
A small shift for me came when I realized that all this multitasking was making me less productive and compromising my values. Now, my family time is family time. No cell phone, no work. When I take my son to soccer, I sit and watch him play. This allows me to be fully present, and I am modeling my values for him. He matters. Family matters. He has my full attention.
Once I made this shift, I felt much more balanced. I no longer felt the pull between family and work. I accepted that when I am working, I am working, but once my children are home, the work stops. I don’t get my computer back out after the kids go to sleep. I spend that time with my husband. We read books together. We talk. That time is sacred. Family matters. He has my full attention.
It is hard to realize when there is a disconnect between your values and beliefs and your actions. In order to see it, you have to pause and reflect.
As a teacher it is so important that your instructional approach and your teaching aligns with your educational beliefs and values. While it may feel like you don’t have the time, I want to encourage you to go through the process my professor shared with me, and answer these critical questions:
What’s your story of school?
Do you teach the way that you were taught?
Do you plan lessons with yourself in mind?
You will need your teaching philosophy and a recent lesson plan.
If you see a disconnect what do you do next?
First, don’t beat yourself up. You are human. Regardless of how you have been teaching and what you have been teaching, you have been doing the best that you can and that is enough. However, if you want to make a shift so your values and beliefs align with your actions in the classroom, here is a place to start.
If you are planning lessons with your learning preference and style in mind, try using these four quadrants to shift your lesson so it provides learning pathways for different learning styles and preferences.
I like to write down a specific student’s name in each of the boxes. This helps me plan with my students in mind and shifts the focus from how I prefer to learn to how I think my students will learn the skill best.
I found this approach helpful in shifting my lesson planning away from myself. This approach also ensures that you are providing student choice and a variety of learning pathways for practicing the same skill(s).
I also think it is helpful to survey your students and seek their feedback. Do they feel that they are provided with different ways to learn? What activity helped them learn best and why? Support your students to see that curriculum is a conversation and show them that you value their voices. Here are some sentence starters you can use to support students to provide feedback:
The most challenging thing for me today was ________.
The activity that helped me learn best was __________.
I’d like to do more of __________.
Something we didn’t do that I’d like to try is _________.
This lesson was design for a blended classroom. The teacher starts the class whole group, and shares the learning objective and highlights the skills that students are practicing. She sets expectations for the work ahead. There are three stations: teacher, collaborative, and independent. The class then comes together for a final activity. This teacher has 1:1 devices and the students use iPads. The students have a choice at the independent station if they’d prefer to use Vocaroo and record their thinking or if they’d like to use Padlet and write down their thinking. For an extension, students can do both. The class ends with a Gallery Walk activity where students share their work with each other. The teacher can assess the students by looking at their written similes and metaphors during the Gallery Walk.
Another step is to write down your story of school. Identify how you were taught, and write about what kind of student you were. After you have written your response, look at a current lesson plan. Do you teach the way you were taught? Highlight your lesson plan and identify places where you’d like to shift your instructional approach.
Finally, identify your values and beliefs around education. If you haven’t revisited your philosophy of education, pull it out. I think it is important and helpful to note that your values and beliefs will shift. Pull three words or phrases from your philosophy that align with your teaching now. Write them down on a Post-It and put it on your desk. Consider sharing these words and phrases with your students and explaining why they matter to you. Look for places in your lessons where you can provide activities and learning opportunities that align with your values.
I’ll end with a story from my own classroom. One of my students raised her hand in my class and asked, “are we ever going to be quiet in here?”
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a talker. Sharing my thinking and discussing my ideas with others is how I learn best. Silence makes me uncomfortable.
My instructional moves reflected my learning preference. My students were always talking. I rarely gave them time to think or process their ideas before we jumped right into a discussion. My student needed quiet. She needed time to think and jot down her thoughts before she shared them. I started shifting my choices. When I planned lessons I thought about her question. I realized that my students’ needs aren’t my needs. My students’ learning preferences aren’t always my learning preferences. Teaching isn’t one size fits all. When I shifted my planning so that I planned with different learning styles and preferences and specific students in mind, I saw more engagement and progress. I also found myself growing. Instead of immediately talking, I embraced the three minutes of silent thinking time. I started writing down my ideas before sharing them. The shift from action to reflection has kept my actions aligned with my beliefs and values. I have my student to thank for that.
Shift Small: Small Steps For Teachers And All Of Us To Start Shifting
1. Check Your Blindspot
We can’t change what we can’t see. Make time for reflection. Even if you only have twenty minutes, block time for it. Think about your beliefs and values, and write them down. Re-visit your teaching philosophy. Look at your lesson plans. The way we teach and what we are teaching is always shifting and changing. Every year the students are different, and have different needs. What worked last year or five years ago may not work anymore. What you believed then you may not believe now. Be honest with yourself about whether or not your values and beliefs align with the actions that you take both in and out of your classroom. Make small shifts so there is more balance. I have a friend who journals in a red notebook every year. She may not journal every day, but she has documented her feelings, thoughts, and experiences year to year. When she goes back and looks at previous years she can see how she has grown and changed. A daily practice like this can help provide perspective and create space for reflection.
2. Ask Them What They Want And Give Them What They Need
Teachers can’t read minds. Yes, we learn a lot about our student through observation, but we don’t know until we ask. Make it a priority to provide your students with resources that will help them discover how they prefer to learn and work. Provide them with different pathways to learning a skill. Give them opportunity to reflect and share feedback about what was most helpful and why. The more we know about ourselves the better we are able to ask for what we need. Share how you like to learn and work with your students, and how you use this information both in and out of the classroom.
3. Find Your Tried and True
I’ve had teachers tell me they feel like an entertainer that has to find new tricks and bells and whistles in order to keep their students engaged. Identify 3-5 learning activities that your students enjoy. Use them frequently. Add in new strategies and activities as the year goes on, but don’t be afraid to rely on what works. The same applies to meeting your own needs. I know that a long run, a trip to the library, and morning coffee with my husband relax and ground me. When I am feeling unbalanced or unsure about what I need, I go to one(or all) of these to feel more grounded. There isn’t always time for all I want to do, but I have learned that I should give myself what I need.