Monday, 16 November 2015

Being a teacher … now and tomorrow

I’ve been browsing through a book called ‘Learning identities in a digital age’ by Avril Loveless and Ben Williamson (2013) and have found the chapter on ‘being a teacher in a digital age’ (chapter 8) particularly insightful.

As a Teacher Educator there is much in this chapter that resonates with what I am trying to be and to teach. Recently, we discussed similar questions in faculty groups as part of our review of initial teacher education. What do teachers need to know, do and understand in order to be effective in diverse settings? What do we want for the beginning teachers we mentor?

Guided by Loveless & Williamson (2013), and following discussion with a small group of colleagues, a little of my current thinking falls around the words highlighted below, with the suffix sion/tion: meaning act of, state of or result of. So, this is my thinking on what teachers do, are and achieve. This is what we are aiming at ideally as we teach, including those of us who teach teachers about teaching.

Vision – As teachers, we need to be purposeful, imaginative and as resourceful and wise as we wish/expect students to be, say Loveless & Williamson (2013). This is compatible with the New Zealand Curriculum vision for young people to be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners. It stands to reason that these goals are essentially appropriate to teachers. Can a teacher who is not confident, connected, actively involved or a lifelong learner successfully teach someone else to develop these capacities? Can we expect students to have purpose, imagination, resourcefulness and wisdom if we do not lead them by modelling these qualities? If these are the attributes we seek in our next generation, these are areas for teacher leadership. At its core, this vision needs to prioritise social justice and ethical responsibility, with appreciation of diversity, in order to be responsive to the needs of all students rather than just the privileged few.

Foundation – Teachers need subject knowledge and a dynamic approach to advancing and revising this knowledge continuously. Pedagogical presence and reach are essential attributes, alongside interest and actual enjoyment of one’s field. If we can’t model passion and joy in teaching, then how can we guide others to find it an exciting career?
Digital literacy is a key foundation, comprised of skills and attitudes toward problem-solving and change. Fundamentally, the ethical core lies with commitment to equity and to valuing people and learning.
Without vision and a foundation to build upon we would be stuck, floundering and faking it at best.

Decision – Teachers are curriculum-makers, not merely there to deliver or transmit what another has designed. Instead, teachers have to make decisions, to do so in flexible and adaptive ways, and with the social good in mind. Again, ethics comes into decision-making, as does courage and wisdom. Specifically, Loveless & Williamson remind us that environmental sustainability must now be part of our decision-making in terms of social good.

Action – Just as students are encouraged to be actively involved, teachers need a growth-mindset as lifelong learners, willing to proactively create and pursue learning opportunities and continual improvement. Being active is about being critical rather than passive in our acceptance of the status quo. This critical stance also pertains to our own practice, as we actively interrogate and build upon our practice. Action that takes a new direction can be transformative of learning possibilities. Action also includes the strategies we use when teaching and learning.

Without these two states/acts/results, we would be indecisive and passive. So, I guess we would still be stuck.

Participation – In terms of being connected, teachers cultivate relationships and collaborate in knowledge-building communities. Whether virtual or f2f, participation stems from being decisive and active. This is important in terms of relationships with students that make a difference, and also in terms of proactive approaches to teacher learning 

Innovation – Teachers who take risks, in creative and inventive ways, who improvise and who seek originality, rather than doing things the way they have always been done.

Reflection – As part of lifelong learning, we need to be prepared to critically examine our practice and to grow. Perhaps this is what future focused learning is about.

What have I overlooked?
What else do teachers need to be, do and strive for?

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