Monday, March 31, 2008

Teaching with passion

It is all about, 'building relationships, fostering creativity and standing up for students' Johnathon Kozol

Passionate teachers do not care about curriculums or school 'targets', they only care about developing each students growing sense of self identity and worth.

Passionate teaching, according to Johnathon Kozol is about, 'establishing a chemistry between the children and ourselves'. This 'chemistry' is far more important than whatever knowledge teachers think worth imparting. 'Entrap them first in fascination,' he continues,'entrap them in a sense of merriment and hopeful expectation.'

Johnathon Kozol has been writing about creative education since the 1960s. He is a sharp critic of the 'status quo' and a longtime critic of the accountability driven culture that currently pervades and distorts western education systems. He also dismisses the 'reliance on so called 'experts' dispensing professional development, and 'scripted curricula, from the outside.'

It is not as bad in our own country but all is not well.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum now provides an opportunity for teachers to become central players in developing a creative education system if only they weren't so exhausted from complying to the endless debilitating demands imposed on them the past decades. Today teachers are under so much pressure to perform to outside expectations to find the time to really focus on the creative needs of their students.

Kozol's advice is, that if you are going to inject some, 'healthy irreverent merriment... you have to deliver the goods some have to have high expectations of them'.

Going against the grain is not easy , requiring great courage, but creative teachers can win immunity by helping their students achieve well beyond any ones expectation, including the students.

Creative education and personalised learning go hand in hand and Kozol suggests that teachers need , 'a big dose of mischievous irrelevance if (they) want to survive with their soul intact'.

Teachers, he writes, need to pay attention to both the joy and rigour involved in high achievement and, to appreciate this, they need to observe enlightened creative teachers in action. Only such first hand observation will expose them to the possibilities of a better way to teach.

Creative teaching is 'tough love' teaching, and is well summed up in a quote by Dan Rather a US broadcaster, 'The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called the truth'.

Too soft teachers are often reluctant to challenge the learners for fear of pushing too hard. The truly creative teacher establishes rapport and senses unspoken needs, all the time respecting learners autonomy. The true teacher acts as a catalyst, asks probing questions, observes and listens ,allowing students time for to gather their thoughts, and, in the process, making students aware of possible choices they need to make.

Students learn to trust teacher who give them appropriate stress, pain, or practice, when needed, and resent those teachers who push them for their own ends, or don't push them enough.

'Too soft a teachers' reinforce the learners natural wish to retreat and stay safe. Teachers need to learn when to, leave students to struggle and when to assist. Risk-taking, and trusting one intuition, brings its own rewards. These are attributes students will need in the 21stC.

Teaching, in this respect, is more an art than a science.

As the poet Apollinaire put it,

'Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid,
Come to the edge, he said,
They came.
He pushed them...and they flew.'

Those who love us well push us when we are ready to fly.


Anonymous said...

LOVE that poem! Thank you for your continued inspiring posts. I look forward to reading, mulling over and thinking on your words.
My school is one of those trialling the one hour after lunch and I must admit I love it. But then again I do not spend the rest of the day doing 'literacy and numeracy' .... just learning.

Anonymous said...

Just what I needed today !


Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Jody and Tom.

As for this hour after lunch thing, when schools place literacy and numeracy ( or reading and maths) in the afernoon that will be innovative.

The important time of the day ought to be for really learning ( 'learnacy'); teach necessary skills in the afternoon for the next day.

The 'energy' for learning should come from whatever current study is exciting students.

Sometimes when you enter classrooms you can't even tell what they are studying. All you can see is literacy and numeracy and some average art.

I guess I am biased - I always was an 'afternoon person' and had to colonise the morning to find time to teach class studies well.

Anonymous said...

But that what is good about the 1 hour .... we have been asked to start 'inquiry/topic/unit studies' in the before lunch time .... so my 'literacy' really is skills in the context of what we are learning about... BRILLIANT!

Bruce Hammonds said...

That sounds great Jody.

Schools I have heard doing it say that it is language for the first part of the morning and maths the second.

In the past too many schools never integrated their language and inquiry topic.