The importance of meeting on common ground
,Steve Jobs once said that he never listened to experts as all they did was offer opinions. And opinions are just that....opinions. Some are more worthy of consideration and others aren't. Ultimately it's up to people to make their own choices in regards to the action that they take in their lives both personally and professionally.
Though I've been teaching and coaching almost two decades now, there are times I feel like I'm back at square one as everything changes so quickly. Despite running workshops and consulting, I make it very clear that I am not a guru of anything nor an expert when it comes to education. However, what I do well is to get educators thinking about what they do and why they do it. I consider myself a lifelong learner who consistently tries to tackle each day, making sense of my profession and sharing my passion for learning with both teachers who I work with and students who I am lucky enough to teach. As far as I'm concerned, life is a blessing and being able to make a difference to others even more so.
The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with important observations that I've made over the years as a teacher, but also as a workshop facilitator and consultant. Take it for what it's worth to you. Dismiss it entirely or reflect on whether or not anything resonates with you. It's as much for me as it is for you and is a mere collection of my thoughts when it comes to schools and the educators that work within the walls of those institutions.
I'm all about schools moving forward and believe so strongly in the vision that many of these institutions of learning hold in regards to creating an environment where all stakeholders can thrive and strive for personal and professional excellence.
As you read my observations and ideas below, think about the perspectives and stances that you currently hold within your role as an educator, whatever that may be.
Here we go.......
I believe with all of my heart that both teachers and administrators have the noblest of intentions when it comes to student learning and moving schools forward. Collectively, there is a powerful vision there that is all about making a difference. Although everyone wants to do their best, often times it’s split opinions and stances that can impede the path forward. Yes, differing opinions help to bring value and perspective, but if there is not a climate and culture of healthily challenging one another, massive obstacles lie in place which impede progress and growth.
It is imperative to assume that everyone has the best of intentions and to agree to meet on common ground with these intentions, viewpoints, and differing ideas. We must be willing to shift the stances that we hold and truly listen to one another’s perspectives with empathetic ears and focused eyes. Only then can we better understand one another and the skills, talents, abilities, and prior experiences that we all bring to the table.
Showing a willingness to shift our stances and getting ourselves unstuck from potentially entrenched ideas and beliefs that we’ve held models the core values that all great learning institutions wrap themselves in. It's living and breathing the following values that truly helps to springboard schools forward. It’s not just talking the talk, it’s pounding the pavement in an effort to walk the walk and to demonstrate these values as part of daily living.
Regardless of the roles that we play in education, it is critical to evaluate our own stances and to continually reflect on our actions. Do our actions, words, and thoughts help to move our schools forward and empower all those within its walls? Even in the most frustrating of situations lies tremendous opportunity to learn, to grow, and to deepen our understanding about what it means to be an educator and about life in general.
I think that every great school has respectful relationships that operate inside of it. Relationships built and nurtured on the foundation of trust, open-mindedness, acceptance of candor, warmth, support, and mentoring. When I think of leaders, I don’t think of administrators or teachers, I think of both. Every single person within a learning institution has the ability to step up and lead by example.
To me the picture below represents just that. I didn't create the visual, someone else did, but whoever did was spot on about what leadership really means. An ability to inspire others around you to take action and contribute equally to push forward the shared vision of excellence that all schools should represent.
And ultimately who are the greatest winners in it all? YES indeed, you guessed it............ the students who pass through our hallways.
Thanks for reading.
I'm thankful that Mike Graham took me up on my invitation to write a Good Teaching is L.I.F.E reflection for my blog. Mike is a respected teacher within our physical education network and has loads of experience that he brings to the table. Although I have never met Mike personally, I know that he is a hard worker and is extremely dedicated to pushing our subject area forward.
In his reflection he shares his personal thoughts related to the 4 cornerstones of my Good Teaching is L.I.F.E model. I'd like to thank Mike for taking the time to write up his reflection and share it with me. I meant to get it up sooner! Enjoy this guest post, I think that you will find a lot of take away value.
A Bit About Mike Graham
Mike Graham is a passionate physical education teacher from Geneva, Illinois. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sport & Wellness Management from Trinity International University and has his Physical Education K-12 teaching certification. He also holds two Master’s degrees from Aurora University - one in Teaching & Education and the other in Educational Administration. Mike has been teaching since 1996 and currently serves on his state’s (IAHPERD) social media committee.
You can connect with Mike and find out more about his physical education program on his website: www.pe4everykid.weebly.com or on social media via Twitter: @pe4everykid or on Voxer at: mikegraham
Mike's Good Teaching is L.I.F.E Reflection
To what extent do you use an inquiry-based approach in your teaching?
As a boy, I was fascinated by the idea that space goes on forever. At times it was so incredibly difficult to get my head around this fact that I had no choice but to construct my own meaning about the universe. I would imagine venturing off into space in my own rocket only to reach the outer limits of the universe which in my mind’s eye was a brick wall. I determined that there absolutely had to be an outer boundary to space. End of story, right? Not quite!
While on this imaginary exploration, confusion and doubt soon crept in as I began to question what was on the other side of the brick wall. If I smashed through this wall, something had to be there and the mere thought of this deepened my curiosity about the endlessness of space and how far it actually went on for.
As my father was a space and aviation enthusiast, I would quiz him with a barrage of non-stop questions about space and the universe. He would try to explain the concept of ‘infinity’ to me which was quite difficult to comprehend and process at such a young age. I clearly remember a feeling of tension and uncertainty which was unsettling to me, but not in a negative way as it led to me wanting to figure things out. As I grappled with this understanding, there were always more questions that continually prompted me to want to know more. Nobody was there demanding that I find out the answers or commanding me to read books and encyclopedias on the topic. This boyhood curiosity sparked within me the desire to pursue a greater understanding completely on my own and you know what, I loved it!
I didn’t know it at the time of course, but there was a genuine process of inquiry in action that was taking place that pushed me to want to know more, to formulate my own questions, to test out certain understandings that I had, and to seek out help in trying to find out and clarify the answers.
“Inquiry’ has become quite a buzzword in education over the past several years with loads of different perspectives being thrown around by researchers and practitioners alike trying to figure out exactly what it means, how it works, and its impact on student learning. As for me, my own definition of inquiry has changed drastically over the years and it’s been through a whole spectrum of ups and downs in my teaching that has resulted in the constant evolution of what inquiry means within my own practice.
A few years back, I had one of those moments in my teaching that forced me to confront the fact that I had no idea what inquiry actually was. Let me provide a bit of back story here to give you some perspective. I was teaching a movement composition unit in my PE program and had just given the students a summative assessment task that required them to create a final dance routine in groups of four or five.
I had given the students the last 3 classes of the unit to create their routines, get feedback, tweak and improve, practice, and finally perform. The task seemed quite simple and I thought that I had made the final assessment criteria abundantly clear to my students. I set them off on their journeys feeling very proud of the learning environment that I had created, lots of choice and ownership on the direction to take with their final routines. A textbook example of inquiry in action....... or so I thought.
There was one group of students who seemed to be experiencing one roadblock after another and despite me stepping in several times to ask questions, get them thinking, and provide them with a bit of assistance, nothing seemed to work. I must admit that I was getting extremely frustrated and could not understand why they couldn’t get the job done. At the end of the second class, they had still not really accomplished anything which was even more frustrating and resulted in me having a go at them. At the time, I felt that they were being irresponsible and had bad attitudes. I sent them off letting them know that they only had one class left to get it together and to make something happen in order to be ready to perform their final routine the following lesson.
As I reflected on the situation, it didn’t take me long to realize that something was drastically wrong and all fingers pointed directly back to me. I had just committed the treacherous act of not know my own students and to what extent they could handle choice. In giving them blanket free choice over their learning, I was putting them in a situation that they could not handle. I felt terrible and knew that I needed to apologize to them and change up strategies right away if I was going to help them find success in the unit.
I realized that I needed to step in and take control of their learning and provide them with a specific direction which resulted in them not having much choice at all in regards to their learning. The laws of inquiry were no longer in action as I was now in control. To me this didn’t feel very good either as I was teaching in an ‘inquiry-based’ program and thought I knew what inquiry meant. I was left feeling a bit confused trying to make sense of it all.
To a very experienced teacher, it seems obvious that there are moments when teachers must step in to direct instruction, but to me at the time, I was still grappling with what inquiry was. I felt that it was blanket free choice over learning and letting them get on with things. How wrong I was.
Inquiry can be a beast at times, very tough to pin down and define. As educators we never want to crush curiosity and without question we definitely want to provide choice and ownership to our students. Creating a learning environment that is meaningful, relevant and contextual means that we must know our students and to what extent they can handle choice. We must know when to step in and take control as opposed to sit back and be a facilitator of their learning. Good teaching requires both.
“I’m a facilitator of learning!” Understanding what teachers do and what students do within student-centered physical education models.
My friend, Dean Dudley, senior lecturer at Macquarie University and a fellow researcher, Vicky Goodyear, senior lecturer from the University of Bedfordshire wrote a paper that was recently published that I highly encourage you to read. In this paper, "I'm a facilitator of learning", they dive into what teachers and student do within student-centered models of physical education. The paper examines misconceptions about the role of the facilitator and suggests a range of direct and indirect teacher behaviours and exchanges to support and extend learning. The paper challenged me to redefine what inquiry means to me and the actions that I take within the learning environment that I create for my students. Although it is written from the perspective of physical education, I believe that it is applicable straight across the curriculum in any subject area.
As you read the paper, I’d like you to think about the following questions?
Looking back on my boyhood curiosity with space and the universe, I was fascinated with wanting to know more and was engaged in figuring out the answers on my own. The joy was in the challenge of learning itself. Genuine inquiry allows students to explore, wonder, be curious, question, share, play, and extend their thinking. There is a definite place for it within every learning environment, but to deliver an inquiry-based approach effectively, we must look at and examine a multitude of factors before deciding how best to teach and respond to student learning. At least that's my take on it. What's yours? Be sure to click on the following link to read Dean and Vicky's paper. Would love to here your thoughts.