I’ve recently started a second Master’s degree; in a year and a half or so, I'll have a Master of Education in Digital Learning and Leading. I was a bit shocked to realize that it's been almost 16 full years since the last time I was in a Master's program! But as someone who is always a digital learner and at least sometimes a digital leader, I'm very excited about what the near future will hold for my own intellectual growth. I'm about halfway through my first class, and the upcoming assignment is to articulate my personal manifesto for teaching and learning. So I figured the best place to start reflecting on that topic is to write to you.
First of all, you know I’m a word nerd. So I wanted to examine the word manifesto to get a true definition and think about its origin. (Please: you can still be friends with me even though I really am this big a nerd.)
Merriam Webster says “Manifesto is related to manifest, which occurs in English as a noun, verb, and adjective. Of these, the adjective, which means "readily perceived by the senses" or "easily recognized," is oldest, dating to the 14th century. Both manifest and manifesto derive ultimately from the Latin noun manus ("hand") and -festus, a combining form that is related to the Latin adjective infestus, meaning "hostile." Something that is manifest is easy to perceive or recognize, and a manifesto is a statement in which someone makes his or her intentions or views easy for people to ascertain.” (from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/manifesto)
So what do I think? What do I want to make easy for people to understand that I believe about teachers and learners? Here you go:
- Teachers have to be exemplars and role models for learning, for failing, for treating others well. So many school districts these days have mission statements that address students becoming "lifelong learners"; teachers should be their students' chief role model for what a lifelong learner actually looks like. In addition to being paragons of lifelong learning, teachers should also be shining examples of failers. Not failures: failers. So many kids seem to think that one failure is the worst thing that can happen to them, and they give up. Teachers should demonstrate how to fail fast and get on with it. I don't have to work very hard to fail in front of others; something is always going to go wrong with technology, and the chances for a mishap seem to grow exponentially with the number of people in my audience. It used to bother me tremendously if a tech snag occurred during a presentation, or if someone asked me a question for which I had no good answer. Now I use those opportunities to model how to behave when faced with, if not failure exactly, an unexpected outcome or event. I use those opportunities to get better the next time. And as I have said countless times before, the thing I love most about my job is that I truly do learn something new every day. Nobody can know everything in today's information economy. All the opportunities for fast failure and learning from that failure make it a tremendously exciting time to be in education.
- Learning should ultimately be joyful (even though there will often be lots of struggle and turmoil before the joy). A kindergartner is typically pretty joyful about school and learning; a tenth grader? Not necessarily. How can we make the school day more fun and more joyful, without sacrificing all those pesky standards and learning targets? Many teachers do a great job celebrating successes and making the same learning fun that in other classrooms just happens as drudgery. I personally love when I figure out some new tech tool or concept, and I try to convey my enthusiasm about it to anyone who will listen. I challenge you to think this week about how you can infuse more joy into your classroom.
- Reading is at the heart of... well, everything. Countless researchers and other Professional Smart People have noted that literacy forms the foundation for all other learning, because if you can read, you can learn. One of the biggest reasons I am sad when I hear that "there's just no time in the schedule for reading" (as though it is some big waste of time!) is a less-talked-about by-product of reading that students might be missing out on. That is the development of empathy and compassion. Authors have the power to teach, yes; but they also have the power to make a reader identify so closely with a character that he or she actually laughs with or cries for that character. The emotional impact of books should never be taken for granted. In our polarized world, would anyone say it's a bad thing for children to imagine what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes?
- Technology should be used in class only if it enhances the learning; it should never become the focus. I'm a technology geek, so you might think that I would walk from school to school begging teachers to use more tech in everything they do. But it's BECAUSE I'm an Instructional Technology Specialist that I often encourage teachers to kick it old school. Throwing in technology just for the sake of "using technology" does no one any good, and it can waste time and resources that might be better spent with paper and pencil. That being said, there are countless opportunities every day for teachers to seamlessly -almost invisibly- weave technology into the curriculum in a way that makes an already excellent lesson become truly outstanding. If you have technology integration specialists on your campus or in your district, take advantage of their expertise and ask for suggestions on the best technology tools for your particular subject or lesson. (We totally love to be asked.)
- Children are more - and are WORTH more - than the discrete data points that test scores provide. I know lots of wonderful teachers who know so much more about their students than any standardized test will ever show: the student whose mom was in a horrible car accident over the weekend or whose dad just got sent to jail; the student whose younger brother is dying of cancer; the student who against all odds will be the first in his family to graduate high school; the student who routinely volunteers to tutor younger students at the community center nearby. As teachers, you know many of these things about your students and more. Is another score on another standardized test going to make you any more proud of your kids? Or make your heart break any more? Please don't get so focused on individual test scores that you forget about the individual.
- Teaching children to be good people is not especially measurable, but it is immeasurably important. Teachers, especially elementary teachers, spend more waking hours with children than their parents do. You guys are the ones who have the opportunity to teach those "hundred little life lessons" about sharing and honesty and integrity and character, and over a lifetime of school, those lessons add up. Again, no test score will ever show what you've written on a child's heart: but the kids know.
- Every teacher, in every school, every day should be a digital culture change agent by addressing digital citizenship issues. I hear teachers say from time to time that they don't have time to add one more thing to their day, and I get that teachers are slammed with curriculum that needs to be covered, tutorials to be delivered, parent phone calls to be returned, professional learning to be accomplished, and on and on. But it doesn't take a lot of time to briefly throw in a comment like "You know, I thought about tweeting about ___ last night, but I realized I wouldn't want something like that on my digital footprint" or "I read something very insulting on Facebook last night, and it really made me wonder how the other person felt." If students heard hundreds of comments like those over the course of their schooling (see #6 above), surely they would over time become more conscious of the choices they make regarding social media. I've written about that before here.
- Libraries are equalizers. Even now, when almost everyone literally has information at their fingertips in the form of a smart phone, libraries are places that make equal access to books, ideas, equipment, and more a reality for ALL people. Whether a library is a Learning Commons, a Makerspace, a Stuff-brary, or some other future incarnation, there are few if any other places in the world where the access to everything is FREE for EVERYONE. And incidentally, anyone who says that librarians are no longer needed since there is so much free access to information nowadays needs to take a quick look at this quote from author Neil Gaiman:
- For all that is wrong with teaching - the fact that we are still using a century-old model, the overblown testing culture, a lack of reasonable funding, decisions being made by non-educators, certainly the list goes on and one - the main thing that is RIGHT with teaching of course is, and will always be YOU, wonderful teachers, who get up every morning and work so tirelessly on behalf of your students. The work is challenging, exhausting, sometimes impossible, often frustrating, but also necessary, noble, uplifting, and genuinely important. Not a lot of professions can say that, and most of you wouldn't have it any other way!