"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What Teachers Need to Be Empowered

Ten years ago, I held workshops for elementary school teachers in the Philippines. During that time, I sat down and had a casual conversation with a male teacher. He was not participating in any of the meetings I had scheduled for teachers, but he was quite eager to share with me what he nows about managing a classroom filled with young children. There I was, quite eager to share my ideas and yet found myself on the receiving end of experience. That dialogue was quite brief, but such encounter, in my opinion, was demonstrating to me in a simple but direct way what was necessary to uplift the teaching profession.

The previous article in this blog, A Seed Needs a Fertile Ground, illustrates by a specific example, how professional development and adult learning can happen inside a school. A recent white paper by Mehta and coworkers from the Transforming Teaching project housed at Harvard University, offers a picture that broadly captures the main challenge in building quality teaching.

Above copied from From Quicksand to Solid Ground
The title of the paper is actually quite catchy, but it appropriately describes the current predicament of the teaching profession. This paper may be specifically referring to the situation in the United States, but the problems stated here are in fact much more pervasive in the Philippines. The points necessary for true professional development suggested by Mehta and coworkers are actually no different from what was shown by the principals and teachers at Mason Crest Elementary School. The following was highlighted in the concluding remarks of the paper:

Above copied from From Quicksand to Solid Ground

Most of education research and reform focus on the curriculum, on standards of learning, on a wish list. Somehow, teachers are expected to miraculously hear about these new goals and magically apply the new expectations in their classrooms. Although there is great effort spent in crafting what students need to learn, there is no corresponding effort made in producing lesson plans and activities that will help reach these goals. There is neither an avenue nor opportunity for teachers to read, discuss and try these new ideas. Worse, lesson plans and activities may be found on the internet, but most of these have not been vetted. From Quicksand to Solid Ground therefore concludes "providing teachers time within the school day to consider research, address student work, reflect on individual practice, and process all of this with colleagues could go a long way toward advancing the integration of knowledge into classroom practice."

Even with research-based evidence, transferability remains an issue since no two classes are identical, no two students are alike. Teaching has a very intimate and responsive social dimension. For this reason, research and development must include the teacher. Teaching requires both ideas and experience. These could only be achieved with teachers given the time and opportunity to sit down and talk with each other.



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