We all know that modeling is perhaps the most powerful aspect of teaching – that we might tell students to do something 1000 times with no effect, but do it ourselves for them to see and the effect is palpable.
Yet, how often do we genuinely model the things we are constantly expecting our students to do, become competent at and comfortable with?
Speaking in public is a classic example. We expect it of our students every day… we expect them to respond to questions or contribute ideas in whole class discussions – yet how often does silence fall in staff meetings or workshops when teachers are expected to do the same? “Oh… I’m not comfortable speaking in large groups…” Hypocrisy. And what of assemblies? Putting our students in front of 100s of other students and expecting them to cope yet hiding away in fear if the same is asked of us? “I’m terrified of public speaking!” Hypocrisy.
Its the same with openly sharing our mathematical thinking… “Oh, I’m not comfortable with that, I’m terrible at maths” or drawing “Oh, I’m not doing that in front of anybody… I am so bad at Art” or publishing their writing “I’m scared about putting myself out there.”
It is an endless stream of hypocrisy that culminates in the ultimate hypocrisy – teachers who talk constantly in meetings, presentations or workshops yet lambaste their students when they do exactly the same thing in their lessons.
So, to redefine schools, we should get teachers well out of their comfort zones, or fill schools with teachers who are ready and willing to step out of their comfort zones or just remove the whole idea of comfort zones completely. Unless, of course, we’re going to respect the comfort zones of our students and allow them to be limited by them (after all, how do we know that isn’t the right thing to do?) And, maybe we should be up front and call people out on hypocrisy and remove the “do as I say not as I do” mentality permanently.
Our schools could be full of teachers who are sharing their talents, who are putting themselves out there, who are giving it a go despite not “being comfortable with it”, who are willing to recognize their shortcomings and addressing them, who are leading by example.
I dropped by Year 5 today, starting in Kate’s classroom, and found students reflecting on the presentations they have been doing for their parent audience over the last few days. The Y5 teachers were pretty “pumped up” about it and really wanted to talk about it because they felt it had been an excellent experience, and that the whole process of the unit had really empowered the students to do really effective, informal presentations that demonstrated their conceptual understandings.
The process of the unit looked like this:
- The unit started with rotations in which teachers demonstrated 5 different presentation techniques – both formal and inforaml – and 5 possible areas of inquiry
- The inquiry process helped students develop conceptual understandings, which made them able to focus their presentations instead of just listing random facts
- Research skills were taught in homeroom and in library sessions to enable them to focus on relevant and important information
- Parents were invited in to see presentations and demonstrations. They were ”converted” from passive observers to active participants by being given sample questions to ask the students
- Presentations were filmed in some classes to enable students to watch themselves sharing their work and assessing how they presented themselves.
Watch this space for more information about this!