Philosophy Taking Shape

Everyone has a purpose. Everyone has a vision. Everyone has a dream.

But do we really think about them? Do we really consider where those dreams and visions come from? Do we make plans to grow and improve in our purpose?

Odds are, for the majority of the population, the answer to these questions is no. That is because we often fail to take the time to reflect and consider our thoughts and the opinions of those around us. As future teachers though, this reflection process is key to successful teaching, and the continued process of moulding one’s vision is part of this.

Creating a philosophy of education, while certainly practical for applying for positions, is also a very good practice for the soul. It causes one to stop and really look at what you believe and where those beliefs are coming from. Are you influenced by fellow teachers (or student-teachers)? Perhaps by friends and family? The media? Government? Maybe by educational philosophers and theorists?

While I often consider how my thinking is changing, I don’t always take the time to write it down into concrete statements of my own philosophies. Back in the fall, I did take on this challenge and began to create my educational philosophy, which you can read here. Looking at it now, many of those same ideas remain, but I also now have new additions to my outlook on the teaching profession.

I still believe that learning is a never-ending process and that all students have the potential to be great learners throughout their lives. This drive for learning can be cultivated through creating a positive classroom environment and respectful and cooperative relationships. I also think that cross-curriculum integration is key to learning about the world around us, because things in the “real-world” do not exist in isolation, nor should they inside the classroom. By integrating a variety of subjects through the use of different modalities I hope that students will ask questions about the world, and seek to create their own opinions and beliefs.

Since I last wrote about my teaching philosophy, I have also expanded upon my teaching philosophy.

Some of my newly added views on education include:

  • Inclusivity – I believe that this encompasses so many things! It can mean including all students in the classroom (which, I had included before), but also different cultures, different teaching modalities, a variety of tools and techniques for learning and creating, and, of course cross-curricular approaches.
  • Creativity – Being the creative person that I am, I’m not sure why this didn’t make the list the first time! I think that creativity is not just about art expression though, and includes exploration of a variety of subjects, and trying out new ways of teaching, learning, and doing projects. I also believe that through being creative, you can help foster a sense of curiosity, which is integral to exploring new learning.
  • Relationships – While I spoke a bit to the idea of positive relationships in my previous educational philosophy, I wanted to reiterate just how important this aspect is in my teaching philosophy. I believe that teachers can be one of the best types of role models in a student’s life, and that being a positive leader in a child’s life can really influence how they learn and how they interpret the world. By modelling positive inquiry, respect, and honesty, I hope that students will pick up on these ideas and begin to incorporate them into their own lives.

Photo Credit: david_topolewski via Compfight cc

  • World-view Approach – In our ever-changing society that continues to grow and change in diversity, it is crucial to teach children to think from multiple perspectives and move away from the traditional mono-cultural ways of education. Multiculturalism should be taught from an honest and authentic perspective so that students can really begin to create a sense of the world they live in, and truly see what is going on. By doing this, I hope to be able to incorporate models of social justice, and questioning those in positions of power.
  • Truth – I believe that by encouraging student to question the world around them that I can help them discover the truth that is so often hidden from students in schools. I think that students deserve to know about the world around them, and that teachers should be honest in their teaching methods. Incorporating truth into my teaching pedagogy I hope will encourage my students to seek truth in the world and learn skills in critical thinking.

Photo Credit: P@trocle via Compfight cc

  • Holistic education – While I feel that in some ways this has always been part of my teaching philosophy, the concepts of holistic education have really come to the forefront of my mind over the last few months. I have really begun to embrace the idea that curriculum is everything that happens in our world, and therefore should also include the development of a child not just in academics, but also in emotional, personal, and spiritual growth. By culminating all of my ideas together I feel that I can help students become more confident in their own identities, and encourage positive growth in much more than just school subjects.

Also important to me is continued learning, development and connections within the field. Social media is key to doing this! For some this is a challenge, but I think that connecting with others is so great and such a vital part of learning. For tips on how to get started, here’s a good article to read!

Photo Credit: Free 2 Be via Compfight cc

So where have all these new ideas come from?

The classes I am currently taking this semester are constantly pushing my thoughts and ideas and challenging me to think beyond where I was before. I have also been learning about a variety of curriculum theorists and philosophers who have really made an impact on my thoughts, and have been guiding me to find out new things about education and my place in it. Some of the people in this list are/were educators, and others, while not “true” curriculum theorists, have some really interesting views on education.

Maxine Greene – believes in cultivating a curious imagination of inquiry

Rudolf Steiner – believes in holistic education and teachers as role models

Sonia Nieto – believes in multicultural education

Nell Noddings – believes in teaching with care

Gregory Cajete – believes in integrating First Nations and Western ways

Sir Ken Robinson – believes in challenging the current education system through passion

Richard Louv – believes in immersing children in the natural world

I know that my teaching philosophy will continue to evolve as I finish my degree, and also as I enter the classroom, and I am excited for the new challenges that will be brought my way!

To close, here is my personal teaching metaphor:

If the world is a piece of art, then the students are the artists, exploring, moulding, and adding to that work of art, and the teachers are and provide the tools they have to make their mark on the world.

Hang on, it’s going to get messy!

So what are the most important parts of your teaching philosophy? Who guides your thoughts and pushes your boundaries?

Don’t Get Sucked Into the Vortex. Look for the Light!

The world of education is a vast universe of options, pathways, ideas, tools, and opinions. Because of this, it is very easy to be swept away by the majority opinions of the day and loose sight of your personal values and beliefs about teaching. As a new teacher, I know it will be tremendously difficult not to get caught up in the politics of education, the debates surrounding pedagogy, the battles between “right” and “wrong” education, and pressures of the written curricula.

I have had many friends, both former and current teachers, and those not in the field of education, tell me time and again that I have chosen a career where I can never win. They tell me that teaching is more like being a social worker rather than being an educator, and that it is too much work for what you are paid. I’ve heard them complain that there are too many curricular and reporting expectations, and not enough time to really teach and make a difference. They also say that because there is so much difference in their classroom with students coming from so many backgrounds that it is often difficult to meet the needs of every student.

As I consider curriculum more, and how it has been reflected in my past and will be demonstrated in my future, many of these thoughts continue to swirl in my head. Every day I ask myself, what will MY curriculum be like? What really matters in education? Do I have the courage to teach what I believe?

Turning back to The New Teacher Book, and the many great stories in it, I found myself really connecting with a few stories as I started to assemble a visual representation of my idea of curriculum as lived:

  • Teaching in the Undertow: Resisting the Pull of Schooling-as-usual p. 43
  • Curriculum is Everything that Happens p. 163
  • Teaching Controversial Content p. 199

These stories speak to many challenges that many new teachers face, like getting caught in the politics of the school, and how to approach difficult subjects. They also look at the “hidden curriculum”, that is, the curriculum that exists through the actions and environment that are created in the classroom. It is out of these ideas that I came to create a visual representation of my concept of curriculum.

Curriculum hand

All of the layers make up curriculum

I see curriculum as consisting of several layers:

  • Emotional environment of the classroom, school and community: In order to really dig deep into subject material there needs to be a positive environment based on respect, compassion and kindness. Curriculum needs to include teaching the person not just the student, and introducing positive values will assist in this.
  • Connected community: The classroom should be its own community, with mutual values and understanding, but should also connect beyond the classroom to understand diversity of cultures, differences, and become part of the global community. Part of the curriculum is the idea that education reaches far beyond the walls of your classroom.
  • Open to the “tough stuff”: When you have a classroom that fosters a positive environment that appreciates connectedness, it’s easy to introduce and incorporate many of the things that some teachers and “old ways” of teaching often don’t. Curriculum can and should include First Nations, truthful history, race, sexuality, technology education and digital citizenship, and even how to be embrace multiple intelligences. First year teachers are often fearful of teaching these difficult topics, but must be encouraged to maintain their own beliefs of what’s important in order to help students grow.
  • Teacher values and skills: In order to be a good teacher one must have more than just a degree in education. Teachers must have vision and be able to balance the needs of their students with the requirements of the written curriculum. Teachers must also have so much heart, hope, and spirit in order to really connect with their students and help them sparkle in their own way.

…the photos don’t do this project justice. You must see it in person!

 

I feel that it is only by incorporating all of these layers that you can really get an idea of all that curriculum needs to include. I think that everyone has a light inside of them, and that we need to surround ourselves with the hope and inspiration that will make us feel safe enough to share our light with the world. We just have to be brave enough to stand up for our beliefs and to let the light shine.

 

Note: I used Tagxedo to help me create my word cloud. It’s a great computer app that could have so many uses in the classroom!

 

Future Educator: Me

I often find myself thinking in fairly large, abstract, perhaps “global” ways. I don’t just think about one component, and instead think of the bigger picture. I don’t often just think about what I’m going to do on a particular day, but the look at how the entire week, or even the whole month, is going to fit together. I find it challenging to come up with a single lesson plan as I’m already looking at the entire unit and how that unit integrates with other subject areas. As a global thinker I also often pause to consider what type of teacher I am becoming, and what things I might bring to a classroom of students.

It is my hope to bring new ideas, and new ways of connecting those ideas together. I hope to integrate different styles of instruction, projects, and assessment into my classroom, creating an environment that may be quite different from what students have experienced in the past. I want to try and broach difficult subject areas and discuss tough topics like the history of First Nations people in Canada, inequality in society, the growing picture of what makes up a family, and what mental and emotional well-being looks like. All of these ideas make up my curriculum.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/idasingapore/6975542093title=ClassroomoftheFuture3.0byTheInfocommDevelopmentAuthorityofSingapore(IDA),onFlickrimgsrc=https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7186/6975542093_b05c72922e_s.jpgwidth=75height=75alt=ClassroomoftheFuture3.0

My curriculum is continuously changing, adapting and growing, and is doing so on a weekly, even daily basis it seems! This is mainly a result of my continued learning about what curriculum actually is. I no longer view curriculum as just a document that outlines what to teach, but as the entire system that I, as a teacher, will create for my students.

This new understanding of curriculum has broadened my perspective even further on the impacts that I can have as a teacher. I have realized that curriculum is not just about school, but about the community beyond the school. It is not about the subjects or outcomes, but about going beyond them and digging a little deeper. I find myself smiling now as I think about curriculum, as I feel like I have the opportunity to really connect to the content that I will teach, and hopefully inspire my students to do so also.

I seldom had opportunities like this as a student. I was always simply assigned a task and that was it; there was no room for deviation. The only exception to this was when I chose to elaborate and add my own creative spin, which usually only led to my further disconnection with my peers for “being a keener.” Teachers did not ask or expect more than what they asked, so students were not ever encouraged to look beyond the words on the page. I had many moments like this in both elementary school, high school, and even college, and I feel that these experiences will certainly shape how I present material, and thus my curriculum, to my students. As part of my curriculum, I would like to encourage students to look deeper, and investigate things that interest them. My hope will be to promote a thirst for knowledge, rather than just satisfying the minimum requirements of a government mandated criteria.

Students using Dell Latitude 2110

Of course, as a new teachers, my plethora of ideas is rather intimidating! Can I really accomplish all of my goals in the first year? The thought terrifies me! Thankfully there are a ton of resources out there, via the internet, Twitter community, my PLN (professional/personal learning network), books, and veteran teachers, available to help new teachers like me.

This week, I read a selection of stories from  The New Teacher Book, and many of them spoke to some of the dillemas I have been trying to resolve in my mind. The main piece of advice I gained from these readings is to take things slowly, and not try to do every new idea at once. Depending on the school that I work in, some of my ideas may be overwhelming even for the other teachers and administrators, and it may take some time to test things out and see what the reaction is from the school, and of course, the parents and community. But, another major piece of advice was to always keep your eye on the goals you have set for your teaching, and not get dragged down by nay-sayers and seemingly overwhelming demands of the school or the education system. As a teacher, I decide what to teach and how to do it, and if there are things that I feel are important for the students to learn, then with a lot of persistence and some support from others, I have the ability to make a difference.

While my understandings of curriculum shift and grow throughout this semester and the rest of my education degree and career I hope that I can always maintain my values as a teacher. Education can make a difference in a child’s life and how they grow in our world, and it will be my role as a teacher to help students make sense of it and use it to their best potential.

What advice would you give to a new teacher with “big ideas”? How can a new teacher bring these new ideas into their classroom without getting a lot of backlash from outside the classroom? What do you feel is the most important element that you bring to the curriculum in your classroom (or your future classroom)?

Witness

The Witness Blanket Project is a beautiful and moving art installation currently on display at the University of Regina. Its purpose is to educate the public by engaging them with artifacts collected and donated from Indian Residential Schools and survivors across Canada. There are over 800 artifacts on display as part of the work, and many are very telling of the types of experiences and settings of the schools. There are many books, plaques, photographs, newspaper articles, toys, and pieces of the buildings themselves.

The question I kept asking as I witnessed this amazing work was “How does this piece connect to curriculum?” Certainly in the Residential Schools, the curriculum was created to “take the Indian out of the child” and make them more like the European settlers. This was done in many ways, including what was taught, but I think the most traumatizing part of the Residential schools was not necessarily what was taught, but HOW and WHERE it was taught. Children were torn from their families and communities and made to live in unfamiliar places with strangers amongst foreign customs and traditions. So my focus as as I examined the artifacts was not really about the actual things that the students were taught, but about the place that they were learning in.

Many of the building artifacts are very manufactured pieces and include things like glass, shingles, door knobs, and this striking piece of tin.

Witness Blanket Tin Artifact

It was these pieces that spoke to me the most. These buildings were such foreign places to the students who were forced to attend them, but they completely influenced their experiences and their education. I am realizing that curriculum is not just about what you learn, but how you learn it, and the experiences that go along with that learning. I feel like this piece of tin represents the culture that was being imposed on the students. It is clearly not something of an Indigenous nature, as the Fleur de Lis imprints suggest something of a French background, and this type of tin-smithing was not a cultural practice of Indigenous people.

As a result of this new understanding of curriculum being more than just a list of topics to be learned, my relationship with curriculum is becoming more complex. It becomes clearer that individual students can have varied experiences with curriculum based on their interactions with the learning environment. Many of my own experiences in school were quite positive because I was often able to develop a good rapport with my teachers, but I also had some poor experiences in some classes (especially in high school), which negatively affected my view not only on school but on the subject area that I was learning. As a pre-service teacher, these revelations are really helpful as they will help to shape my own perspectives as a teacher, and will influence how I approach the creation of a classroom environment in addition to the subject content that I teach.

I feel like I am becoming a very reflective and somewhat existentialist teacher. Choice, freedom and environment have such an impact on how a person reacts, learns, and experiences the world. When teachers create too many rules and barriers to positive student learning then the student can begin to view education as a chore, or as something boring and meaningless to his or her life. I am really appreciating all of the new ideas that I am being exposed to in my classes and my own independent reading as they are truly expanding my mind. I think I will be constantly trying to understand my relationship with curriculum as a teacher throughout my career in order to create the best environment for the students I work with.

“To bear witness, or to show by your existence that something is true, is to pay tribute to all who have been directly or indirectly affected by Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.” – Witness Blanket

What is Curriculum?

Curriculum. A word I have head for many years, but until I became a student in the Faculty of Education had not really given much thought to as I have really only understood it to be a word pertaining to education. So what is it? Well, as I began my 4th semester in education, my definition of curriculum was:

  • An outline of the expectations to be learned at a given grade level across all subject areas. These outcomes are determined by the ministry of education and all teachers are to follow and complete them in their teaching. They are to be used to guide the teaching, not dictate how the concepts are to be taught. It is up to the classroom teacher to determine in what order and by what methods the outcomes will be learned by the students.

But is that really what curriculum is?

My experiences with curriculum and learning in elementary and high school were very traditional for the most part. We learned from the textbooks that were provided by the school, wrote tests, and occasionally wrote some assignments or papers, or did some projects based on the information we were learning. I very seldom had teachers who went “off book” to teach anything. It was those teachers who went beyond the textbook though, who have stayed with me to this day. I had a teacher in grade 6 who would give us visual word puzzles (rebus puzzles) to expand our minds and vocabulary, and would read to us from books like the Horrible Histories series to show us that there was more to history than boring facts. In grade 7 I had a teacher who had us plan a pretend trip to Arizona (I seriously thought it was real at first!) to practice our math skills, and had us create our own bands, complete with album covers and tour itineraries, as part of art and social studies projects. It was these projects and teachers who showed me that curriculum doesn’t have to be boring, but why then, do I write such a boring answer to the question of what is curriculum?

I think that this comes from a societal “norm” of having to give the “correct” answer, or the one that is perhaps most common. I know that curriculum is encompassing of all learning, and is more about the experiences that students have, rather than the government mandated list of expected outcomes for each grade level. I feel like I often get caught up in thinking that there is a “right” and a “wrong” answer, and since I want to do well in my courses, I should give the “right” answer, meaning the one that is expected. I think that this is often the case with the understanding of curriculum by in-service teachers also. Everyone is so concerned with doing the right thing, pleasing the parents, the faculty and the government, that they sometimes forget that education is an experience, and encompasses more than just what is in a textbook or on a list of outcomes. Sure, there are certain areas that each grade level focuses on, but why must we get so caught up on only those lists and the “rules”? Are we limiting what we teach our students and how we do it?

Sir Ken Robinson has some great thoughts on this:

I really appreciate his thought that kids aren’t afraid to be wrong! Yet I think that traditional education creates a structure that makes us think we can’t be wrong and that there is only one right answer. I think that the way we typically think of curriculum totally supports this idea. We think, as teachers, that there’s only one curriculum and that we must teach it in the “right” way. How can we change that?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0H7b9faIBo

I think I’ll go watch some more videos now! I really enjoy Sir Ken Robinson’s perspectives on education and human potential and am excited to try and apply some more of these thoughts to our conversations on curriculum, and was blown away by the young boy’s interpretation of “what do you want to be when you grow up” and how to bring happiness, health, and creativity into the curriculum. Who knows, maybe I’ll be an education hacker!