Every industry or culture has a critical time when the organization, the people, the process or the product must be redefined in order to be successful. And now is the time for Educators to Redefine What We Must BE…
Be A Chemist and Synthesize: The educational paradigm is evolving more broadly and rapidly than ever before – with new legislation, reform measures, contract negotiations, budget cuts, changes to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, linkage, value added, common core and new assessments – the list goes on and on. Educators must have the ability and professional commitment to research and keep ourselves informed. More importantly, we must have the skills to “sift” through so much information and combine the right elements into a single entity in our classrooms – understanding how our kids are directly impacted! Essentially, we all have to be Chemists in such a day and age of change and evolution.
Be a War Strategist and Embrace Technology: If most schools and classrooms don’t change, there is going to be an educational revolution led by students. It is going to be over technology, weapons are going to be social media platforms and the battlefield is going to be in classrooms; choose carefully which side you will be on. If the only thing you do with technology is check your email and present some basic concepts on a Smartboard or PowerPoint – not only are you behind the ball, you are harming your students. If you continue to struggle with classroom management because students are Texting, Instagraming and Tweeting – then begin rethinking your degree of engagement and pedagogy. One goal of the 21st Century is to prepare students as digital citizens – and if the only place they are getting exposure and guidance is outside of the classroom by external forces – then we have failed our mission. If you don’t know about popular social media sites – then be a learning facilitator and ask your students for their input and creativity. Create a Twitter account for your classes, Use Instagram to celebrate top performing assignments, Develop a Pinterest Board for Project Based Learning – and push yourself to Get Connected!
Be a Comedian and Use Humor: Whether you are the one making others laugh, or doing the laughing – you must be able to find humor in your mission as an educator. One, it is healthy for the organizational culture of your school and individual classroom. Two, it is healthy for your personal soul. Being an educator is not a job or a career – it is a lifestyle, and very easy to get overwhelmed, stressed and burned out. Often, the best remedy is maintaining a certain degree of humor. Three – and most importantly, remember that kids have the most innate abilities to pick up on “vibes” from adults – and they immediately sense and know when we are angry and stressed, or focused and encouraged. Learn to Laugh.
Be an Architect and Understand Space and Design: Collaboration is such a key focus of the 21st Century, that if you are still teaching by standing in the front of the classroom with your students sitting in straight rows as the primary structure for delivering methodology – you are far behind the ball as a modern educator. Sure, not everyone has flexible tables on wheels that breakdown and reshape like transformers – but how easy is it to assemble desks in clusters of three or four, perhaps a semi-circle or even a horseshoe. You can even take a field trip within your building or campus and use the shape of any physical space as a learning environment. Ultimately, collaboration should not be a special activity in your classroom culture that students get to do once every two weeks – it should be the norm. Challenge yourself to rethink how you are using furniture and space to strategically engage your students.
Be a Philosopher and Live In The Question: Is it primarily due to mandates in testing that the craft of teaching has evolved into a culture of only asking questions where there is one specific answer? As educators, have we lost the creativity and art of our profession? Are we are prohibiting innovation and limiting critical thinking in our schools and classrooms by not pushing students to live in the question? Are we really empowering our students to challenge WHAT and WHY they are learning? During the first week of school we set the tone – and most educators present students with a syllabi, we tell them about our classes and our curriculum, and have students share something about themselves. If we changed this basic approach, would it send a different message and establish a redefined culture? What if we pushed each student to ask questions about themselves? What if students were encouraged to challenge the curriculum? What if during the first week of classes – we didn’t tell students anything?
By William T. Sprankles III
Princeton, 6-12 Principal
Special Shout-outs to the key leaders in my life that have pushed me to have a Breakthrough – and have challenged, encouraged and provided leadership – and ultimately, pushed the pendulum.