Tuesday, January 04, 2005

An inspirational teacher!

It's tough being in the rhinoceros group! Posted by Hello

I have just listened to a repeat interview with Welby Ings on national Radio. Welby is currently an Associate Professor in Design at Auckland Institute of Technology and last year had been given an award for being an inspirational teacher.

It was a fascinating interview. Rather than being an inspiring teacher Welby believes that his role is to ‘uncover’ what students bring with them and then to help all students develop their ideas. In the process students inspire themselves. Welby believes all students enter school with the hope that they will learn but this desire is lost by a fear of looking stupid. An ‘inspirational’ teacher listens to students and helps them tap into their talents, passions and dreams. Learning, Welby says, is just not a ‘cognitive’ experience but an emotional one as well. Students ‘love’ teachers who are interested in their world

All students need a safe environment to try out their ideas and the support of an adult to provide encouragement and support. Schools, Selby said, send out too many students who can’t do this and who can’t do that. Schools too often teach students what you can’t do!

Students ‘love’ teachers who listen to them, who value their ideas and who help them create worthwhile learning. Too much traditional schooling is too focused on performance and assessment and not on learning. Welby believes it is not the assessment you get that counts but rather students knowing what they have learnt and how they learn. Too much schooling is assessment driven and student life choices are being decided by literacy and numeracy scores, and obedience! Too much measuring the wrong things rather than growing!

Welby himself had a checkered career at school being what he called a c minus student at primary school. His life choices were determined by being placed in the rhinoceros group! Once a rhinoceros always a rhinoceros! Too many students, he feels, accept the schools judgment and begin to conform to school expectations and settle for less. His secondary and training college careers were marked by conflict with authority! Currently he is completing his PHD!

Inspirational teachers and students are, it seems, subversive.

Creative teachers help students learn to take ‘failure’ in their stride as a growth experience to learn from rather than a life sentence. According to Welby, far too many students never get a second chance – a chance to get out of the ‘rhinoceros group’. As well many students who gain ‘success' in a narrow education system never learn how to handle the setbacks they will inevitably face in later life.

Welby believes in ‘slowing things down’, in doing things fewer things well so as to learn in depth. In the process students are given the time to reflect on what they have learnt and what they might need to do next time. And this means, in Welby’s words, ‘not accepting crap work’. Too many teachers praise work when it is not up to an excellent personal standard. Students need teachers to tell the truth. Honest feedback is vital. Welby teaches his students that they are ‘only as good as their work’. It is all about mutual respect and integrity.

Large classes sizes, Welby agreed, are a problem but expert teachers understand the need to work in family sized groups so students can think and discuss in small communities. Streaming, he believes, is just too simplistic and misses the point that all students learn differently.

We need to focus not on reforming curriculum (which anyway creative teachers, according to Welby, subvert to suit their students) and instead focus on ‘growing teachers’ who in turn can ‘grow’ people. Students need to be helped to handle conflict and dissent in a positive way. School should be a place to develop self and social understanding. Too much about schooling is ‘fixed’ and too many teachers are trapped in this formality.

Good teachers like Welby are inspirational and subversive - they have to be if we really want to help all students tap into their passions, dreams and talents.

There are inspirational teachers lie Welby in every area – hunt then out and learn from them. And throw way those curriculum guides and start ‘growing’ people!

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