I was well prepared…
The seven kids were sitting patiently in a circle on the floor beside me. They were eyeing the stuff I had brought. I was well prepared for circle time. I had my educational goals defined, my materials beside me and my step by step plan. Today’s theme was going to be “spring time.” Nature was waiting to burst forth around us as soon as the snow melted. My plan was to tell them about “spring time”; then, let them see, hear, taste, smell and touch “spring time”; and then tell them what I have just taught them about “spring time.” A good plan! A great plan! Repetition enhanced learning…right? That was what my golf game was about…right?
“Arrogance, pedantry, and dogmatism … the occupational diseases of those who spend their lives directing the intellects of the young.” Henry S. Canby
I began with some pictures of snow melting, the ground thawing and buds appearing. The group of three, four and five year olds were polite at first, waiting for me to remark about the raging snow storm outside the window beside us. But I had my agenda and soldered on ignoring the frequent glances by the kids to the window, at the snow swirls, and at the wind gusts rattling the old window casing.
Then a big yellow monster…
Then a big yellow monster (better known as a snowplow) went by the window with a big “Shush!” pushing the snow from the roadway to the sidewalk. Now this wasn’t just another snowplow; this was a bright, new, yellow snow plow. Kids notice stuff we don’t, like a rainbow on the wall from a hanging piece of cut glass … or a snowplow going by on its regular route, and this was a plow the kids had never seen before. Pandemonium broke out as everyone, except me … of course, rushed to the window. So my spring agenda was over and we were on to their winter … which of course, was our reality.
My big learning …
I already knew you need to go where the children are rather than where you are to teach them. I also knew flexibility is the key to working with children in any setting, but what was unique for me that day was the instant insight I had. It dawned on me I did not control what the kids were going to learn at that moment or any moment. I could learn to encourage their learning but never control it. I realized at that second, when I saw “the big yellow monster,” I could only encourage learning in others. I would never really control what we refer to as “teaching.”
“When one teaches, two learn.” Robert Half
Remember those boring conference banquets…
Later when I was explaining my “Ah Ha!” to a colleague, it took me to an older conversation I had had over dinner with a professional presenter. He was someone who got paid big bucks by the corporate community to help adults learn quickly and efficiently. We were sitting at one of those round conference banquet tables drinking our coffee waiting for the next speaker to start. Anticipating the speaker’s challenge, the table conversation was focusing on who was the toughest audience. There were several people at the table who made a substantial part of their living either through public speaking or delivering seminars.
The toughest audience …
There was a quick consensus around the table that teachers were the toughest audience you can get. The discussion moved to why this was so. Then things got nasty with comments like, “They act like know it alls!”; “They think their degrees make them smart!” and “They’re all control freaks!” This of course generated the retort, “We are all control freaks…what else is new?”
“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” John Cotton Dana
Then someone else said something I thought was quite profound, “Teachers are paid to control not just the kids’ behavior but their learning as well.” This brought the discussion to a quiet lull as the table digested the dessert and this comment. But what did this have to do with them being a demanding audience?
Teachers are paid to do two impossible jobs simultaneously…
Then someone nailed it. From a quiet part of the table’s circumference came the statement, “They have an impossible job of trying to control not just a group of people’s behavior but also their learning … both impossible expectations in the real world.”
I said, “So are you saying that because they have this impossible task, they don’t suffer fools easily, and especially experts like us, who offer simplistic answers to complex situations like a classroom?”
“That’s about it!” was the response I got.
“The true aim of everyone who aspires to be a teacher should be, not to impart his own opinions, but to kindle minds.” Frederick W. Robertson
They aren’t teachers …
Then someone else contributed, “So their title is actually inaccurate, they aren’t teachers, in fact nobody is. They are, more accurately, learning encouragers, learning facilitators or learning managers.”
The consensus was that these titles were more accurate, more truthful and more realistic.
Focus on learning, not teaching
I mentioned I had the privilege, for over fifteen years, of holding down an instructional position in a “competency based” community college with the title of “learning manager.” I pointed out, its founder Dr. Don Glendenning, insisted his educational staff focus on learning, not teaching and ensured their job title reflected this approach.
Competency based education (CBE) models assumed every student could learn. The challenge was for the educator to assist students to acquire the knowledge and practice to be able to demonstrate the skills of a chosen profession. At one point this college, called Holland College, had over 60 separate programs using this model. It became a world leader in this approach and shared its uses widely around the globe.
“How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid? It must be education that does it.” Alexandre Dumas
Holland College moved away from the model to some degree, after Dr. Glendenning retired, to secure more stable funding sources. However, many of its hallmarks including more experiential learning, supervised student practicums, and performance based assessments have been adopted by many traditional institutions as a way to add more quality to their programs.
It is all about respecting every child…
It is all about respect really. It is about recognizing and respecting every child as an innate learner. To suggest we teach children to learn is an absurdity. Without their innate ability to learn they would not have survived our primitive efforts to teach them. To call our educators teachers is, in many ways, to sabotage their energy, creativity and dedication to our children.
Their real job is to create respectful and enticing learning environments that encourage children to buy into today’s topic … to explore it, integrate information and skills useful to their future. It is a tough job.
“A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.” George Santayana
Dr. William Glasser, world renowned psychiatrist, speaker and educator; considered by many as one of the last surviving “Fathers of Modern Psychology”, has said educators’ have a tougher job than brain surgeons. He points out brain surgeons have one voluntary, comatose and cooperative patient with which to work while an educator has the opposite … an alert, curious, demanding genius … a much greater challenge … and usually twenty or more of them at one time!
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Mark Twain
Let’s put the idea of learning instead of teaching to a little test in your own life. Think for a moment about some person you feel inspired you in some way. There was something about the way they lived that impacted you in a special way. It could be a parent, grandparent, sibling, educator, boss, or public figure … whomever comes to your mind.
class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-2236″ alt=”inspire” src=”http://mental-health-center.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/inspire.jpg” width=”239″ height=”223″ />Write down what you learned from this person that affected you. Now, for the question; Did this person teach it to you, tell it to you or read it to you? My best guess it was none of these. Instead it was how they respected you, your genius to figure out what is important for you and the way they lived their own life. So you know you learned something important, but it wasn’t taught to you directly.
I recall reading years ago it was estimated only about 15% of human learning was conscious, so 85% was unconscious. When you think about it I don’t ever recall taking classes in shoveling snow, frying an egg or buying roses. No one taught me to hold an infant, comb my hair or buy a car. So maybe there is some truth to most of learning being unconscious.
Imagine for a moment if every parent of every child in every classroom went up to their child’s teacher and said, “You don’t have to teach my child anything, but I would love for you to help my child learn whatever you have to offer … and thank you for just doing that.”
“Focusing on learning instead of teaching liberates the minds of all concerned!” Ken Pierce
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
1. Teaching is a misnomer since education is really about learning, not teaching.
2. Teachers are given two impossible tasks, both trying to control children’s behavior and teach them.
3. Focusing on learning instead of teaching uncovers the genius in children rather than their ability to conform.
4. Every child can learn when the staff to child ratio is optimal or perfect for them, i.e. one to one.
5. There are educational models available which focus on learning more than teaching, such as Competency Based Education (CBE).
6. Many of the latest innovations in education come from CBE principles.
7. Most learning does not happen in schools but rather in life.
YOUR TAKE AWAY TOOL:
Your Greatest Piece of Knowledge or Skill!
• Step 1 – Identify the most important thing or skill you have learned so far in life. (e.g., to persist in spite of opposition)
• Step 2 – Identify what it is about this knowledge or skill which makes it so important to you. (e.g., it reminds me believe in myself.)
• Step 3 – Identify how this specific learning benefits you in each of the seven areas of your life. (e.g., strengths my spirit, builds my self confidence, motivates me at work, helps me take financial risks, connects me to others, draws me closer to family and drives me to act in a healthy way.)