February 13, 2014

What is Great Teaching?

If you clicked on this you are like everyone else in the world (including myself) searching for answers.  I thought I used to know what good teaching is. It was independent student driven learning, no tracers, free thinking, Montessori style, then TAB, then it was my mentor's style that was good teaching. Each time I'd see something else that was amazing, I would try to reframe my definition. It didn't help that each style I loved spoke down about the others. When I taught at Montessori School there was almost a fraternal quality that you had to buy into. I remember the head master (I forget her real title) sitting me down before our interview, explaining why a few other teachers didn't work out, and then asking if I would subscribe to all the Montessori philosophies. Yes of course I would! I was broke. I did and it was an amazing learning experience to immerse myself in that philosophy. Trying something on, an educational identity, is a really valid way to grow as an educator. That is how you become a good teacher, doing best practices.

What makes a GREAT teacher?

I find many other blogs, forums, trying to define this. They have guidelines, like an organized group, that outline their beliefs and anything falling outside these beliefs is not valid. I can understand this thinking completely because people who know me know I'm rigid, borderline stubborn. Part of my growth as an educator is teaching myself and my students how to hold two opposing ideas in the air at the same time, without completely collapsing into rigid defensiveness (okay I don't think that is a real word, but you know what I mean.)

AN EXAMPLE FROM MY CLASSROOM:
Recently I gave students a picture of the Blue Willow Patterned Plate and asked them to use it as a catalyst for a story. We did a round about story where each person in the circle added a sentence to create a story. Most students had already developed the whole story in there head. Some students were able to add a sentence to the story when it came their turn even though the story was not what they envisioned. They were able to hold their own story and the collective story together for a moment. But there was one boy, who kept shouting, "That's not the way it should go. That doesn't make sense!" I was not at all surprised because this boy was the very person that I was doing exercises like this for. We stopped, and I asked him if he could keep his story in his head so he could write it and also participate in the new story. His reaction was so interesting. This was the problem, he could not try on this new story while holding his own.

This is exactly what I'm seeing in education that is totally killing our system. The need to find the one right way to teach. The last place I thought this "need to be right" mentality would hit is art education. There are so many different and fabulous art teachers and resources out there. But yet, the need to have one be the BEST persists.

This idea of being able to hold different ideas, practices in the air is not my own, and it's origins go much further back then this quote.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
I ask you to think on this snowy day. . . why did you click on this post in the first place? We all want to be great, hopefully for our students, family and self and that is a positive thing. But when we take this positive energy overboard, we are sentencing ourselves, instead of freeing ourselves. So I challenge you to "try on" a different style (especially one that you condemned. . . nothing crazy though:)!) because there is value in pieces of everything.

As this community grows, I hope we grow because of each other's differences and not despite.

REVISED
Phyl actually provides a really good idea of what good teaching is! 
So I've added it to the content of the post, hope you don't mind Phyl from There's A Dragon in my Art Room.
To me, good teaching is figuring out what works for YOU for a particular batch of students, at whatever their learning level or ability, and what encourages them to become independent thinkers and to take responsibility for and have pride in their work. I don't think good teaching is endless collections of data and assessing, and spending more time on paperwork than you do working with kids. I do think good teaching is being able and willing to fly by the seat of your pants when something unexpected happens, with a smile and a sense of humor. I think good teaching involves compassion, understanding, organization (even if you are the only one who understands your organization), firmness when necessary, and gentleness when needed. It involves a willingness to make mistakes and admit them, and an ability to be flexible and compassionate. 

BEAUTIFUL!!! 



8 comments:

Phyl said...

Intriguing post, Erica. After teaching for umpteen zillion years, and seeing professional development and initiatives and new programs and new regulations come and go, my feeling is simply figure out what works for you. I think this is what disturbs me about so much of what is happening in the latest round, with Common Core and scripted academic modules, that are particularly wreaking havoc. In my former school district, an elementary teacher recently got called on the carpet for making penguins with her young students. Not in the curriculum! There's no room any more for spontaneous activity, creative writing, and so much more. Exemplary teachers are being asked to teach to a script and then aren't considered exemplary any more when their kids don't succeed.

I'll admit, I'm relieved I retired. I'm just so tired of it all, especially all the ever-changing jargon. To me, good teaching is figuring out what works for YOU for a particular batch of students, at whatever their learning level or ability, and what encourages them to become independent thinkers and to take responsibility for and have pride in their work. I don't think good teaching is endless collections of data and assessing, and spending more time on paperwork than you do working with kids. I do think good teaching is being able and willing to fly by the seat of your pants when something unexpected happens, with a smile and a sense of humor. I think good teaching involves compassion, understanding, organization (even if you are the only one who understands your organization), firmness when necessary, and gentleness when needed. It involves a willingness to make mistakes and admit them, and an ability to be flexible and compassionate.

I could go on but I have to go somewhere, right now!

brenda lee said...

This is a great post, and one that I can definitely use.

I am just beginning my journey into "teacher-land". After many years, I finally decided that I wanted to be an art teacher when I "grow up". I have my own personal experiences with my own teachers at all levels, and my daughter's as well. But as of yet, I have no experience of my own (with the exception of day care jobs and volunteer hours which really just don't count). It's very interesting to see what other teachers think, what their philosophies are, and where education is heading.

I'll be sure to bring this topic up in my Foundations of Education class and keep it in mind as I begin my first Observation Hours next week.

HipWaldorf said...

Erica, I enjoy reading your thoughtful posts. You always have something insightful to discuss. I too am a former teacher of a specific teaching method. My MEd. is in Waldorf and I had to swallow it whole, lest I be affecting the karma of the school. Happily I am in a public school now using the beautiful Waldorf supplies and artistic methods with out all the pressure.

The gift of these alternative methods of teaching is the way they force you to pare down your lessons to their essential, best quality after you have done the research. I never saw quality taught like this in my methods classes during my undergrad years and I don't see it very often in mainstream education with all the fast paced teaching and testing.

I have a BFA and I do see student teachers coming from BFA programs and art colleges asking what the larger picture is in their teaching. There is something about defending your art work in critiques for years, that builds an ability to stand up confidently and clarify your purpose down to the essential - I am thankful for this ability.

Thank you Erica for sharing!
Steph Brooks

Marcia Beckett said...

Amen, Phyl! Exactly.

Phyl said...

Aww, how sweet of you, Erica, to incorporate my words into up your already thoughtful post. Ironically, I had to leave earlier when I was posting my comment, because I was on my way to teach my after school kids!

So I'm back again, thinking about proper terminology, educational jargon, proper lesson plan formats, curriculum development, essential questions, big ideas, TAB, flipped classrooms, and so on. I realize, sadly, my naive style of teaching no longer fits into the current model expected when employed in a public school, and that is too bad, because, ironically, students still respond positively to old-fashioned hands-on art education, where they learn by DOING, not by watching endless PowerPoints on the classroom's smart board technology. A good art education program can still exist and flourish without iPads and smart boards and document cameras, if only someone would allow us the room to nurture blossoming creativity, critical thinking, and the joy of discovery.

I think I've gotten off track here. Maybe I'm bitter about the current direction of public education, and if so, I apologize, but I do believe something important is being lost in the mass of fancy jargon and theories. Thank you for allowing me to rant, and feel free to delete me if I've gone on too long.

Cassie Stephens said...

I love this post. Going back to read it again and the comments. Thank you, Erica!!

Erica Stinziani said...

Thanks Phyl! I was just thinking the same! Computers are great as a tool. . . for example, when they put 40 bilingual kids in my room one year I had to use a document camera so they could see what to do. I also had to put my lessons on power points so that I could project them. .. no one was going to be able to get out of their seats!!! But once they broke up the class I tried to eliminate teaching with a powerpoint. It just feels really impersonal to me. It also assumes that I'm not going to change elements of the lesson as I teach it, which never happens in art.

Thanks Steph for commenting. I'm sure you know the inspiration for this post comes from the education closets blog post. I really just to put something out there to remind myself to always come to teaching, blogging, interacting etc from a place of love (sounds corny but I am totally corny.) Yes I agree, everything is so fast paced now with the common core, race to the top, nclb, all have created a culture of fear and that is where I see a lot of educators operating from, that same place of fear. I am hopeful that a new tide is of optimism and trust is coming to education. That is what kids need.

Paintedpaper said...

Yep Miss Phyl yon nailed it! I am lucky to have administration that wants me to have the freedom to create new ideas, I think after 18 years I am figuring what works great for me and my students. I think personality really plays an important part in the classroom too. I guess after all these blasted rules we have to follow this girl just wants to have fun! :)