This topic has been a tricky one for me. I really got to thinking about what my role as a teacher actually should be last year. I felt like there was a disconnect between how I had been trained to teach and what actually engaged students. I had always maintained great relationships with students: it was easy because I was passionate about my subjects and was and will forever be young at heart. We often talked about real things and I always treated them with respect, remaining fully honest about every topic. However, my material wasn’t quite up to date with 21st century learning.
I decided that I needed to get myself together, that it was time to start using technology in the classroom more frequently. I started a class blog for two different classes: Français 9 and Arts visuels 9. I posted assignments, distributed content, gave feedback on student work, and facilitated chats, discussions and forums. Overall, it was a decent start. For Art I used the blog to showcase student work and provide visual examples of techniques and mediums we were exploring. I had even made a separate blog to teach French grammar that linked resources, videos and online exercises.
Since then, I realize that my blog attempts were a start, but still weren’t quite up to where teaching should be. It still wasn’t sound with what I now believe should be the ideal, utopic role of a teacher and the best, most effective delivery of a relevant education.
Fueling my thinking about what the role of teachers should be was Will Richardson, a guy who is doing some tremendous work in posing important, education-changing questions (especially in his book “Why School?“). After tuning into our ECMP 355 live session with him, my thoughts on the matter became even more numerous. So, to discuss this question, I have attempted to organize my thoughts into three sub-headings. What is our role? Here’s my take:
To Be RELEVANT
Relevance is an important word in our career today. In my mind, relevance touches on multiple aspects of the job: what we’re teaching, how we’re teaching it and what we’re using to help students learn. (Aside: those three things sound very teacher-driven, not student-driven, don’t they? Habit is not so easily undone.) The important questions we should be asking are: What does the 21st century learner need? What does he/she want? What does he/she need to know and need to be able to do in order to function and contribute positively to society? I definitely do not know all the answers to these questions; I don’t think many are fully prepared to answer them at all. Despite that, we should be striving to understand our learners with a concern for relevance in mind. What do we know about them? What do they like? What are they interested in? What are they using to communicate, to run their lives? What abilities (traditional and non-traditional) do they have? When we start to answer these questions, we will be steps closer to understanding how we should change school to make it relevant to students.
Students want us to be able to answer this:
Of course, in the context of ECMP355, it is essential that we discuss the role of teachers when it comes to technology. Technology is one of the biggest puzzle pieces of making school relevant for kids. By unleashing the hounds on the web, they’re given access to, as Will Richardson said, “all of the world’s knowledge” at the click of a mouse. It is our job to facilitate student learning online by plugging into this vast resource. It is no longer our job to be experts in content which, I have to say, is a relief. Our role is to facilitate and monitor as much self-directed (therefore relevant) student learning as possible. We must then evaluate this learning (which for me is the hard part right now). Finally, it is our responsibility to demonstrate skills pertaining to digital citizenship and digital learning, as well as to be a model learner. I will discuss these more in the points to follow.
To Build & Maintain RELATIONSHIPS
A big reason the institution of school will always be relevant is because it is full of caring, compassionate adults who serve as important connections for kids. But the question is: what should these relationships look like? How should they be? If you ask me, our role is to build and maintain relationships with students. And within these relationships, I believe we have a host of responsibility. First of all, they need to be meaningful. I think it’s important to establish real relationships with kids where teachers and students know each other on several levels: professional, of course; educational, definitely; extra-curricular, paramount in knowing kids on a deeper level; and personal, because I believe greater collaboration/learning is achieved when there is mutual understanding and respect. Relationship building is number one.
Once these relationships are established, teachers fulfill many other roles that are essential to learning success. They must be role models for learning, or model learners, meaning they themselves must be continually learning in 21st century style. If we want to reach kids where they are, we need to know their world and demonstrate how to actively participate and engage in its many learning opportunities. We need to show students how one can purposefully interact with others in class and all around the world in online communities. We need to – well, in short – show students how a person can greatly benefit from all that is available.
It is after being a model leaner that the roles of guide and facilitator will come into play. After seeing someone who is participating, engaging and learning in their world and after witnessing how exciting it can be, students will start to light up. When they understand how interaction can be purposeful and meaningful in a networking community, students will become even more interested. And when they learn of the possibilities that exist, students will completely buy in. Once they buy in, we must guide them in the development of the skills they need. And all of this really is not a big jump since a lot of the skills they need are already embedded in our curricula! Teachers are to guide students in the practice of skills such as:
-how to respond to what they see and hear (and the many ways to do so)
-how to search for meaning and how to organize information for themselves
-how to analyze and assess the information they obtain (how to think critically)
-how to make decisions and judgments about their world and what’s happening in it
-how to explain and justify their thoughts and feelings
Another role we possess is that of mentor. It is a mentor’s job to help kids become good citizens. A mentor coaches students along their journey in life. In this case, teachers have to coach students as they learn in and experience their world. Since their world is happening online more than ever, I think it is essential for educators to look at how to mentor in the area of digital citizenship. It is important that we discuss and demonstrate what it means to be ethical online and offline. (As an aside, I feel this is an excellent way to remedy online bullying, plagiarism and other serious problems.)
To Stay in REAL-TIME
The definition of real-time is this: “the actual time during which a process or event occurs”. How does this apply to teachers? We need to be real-time, meaning we need to stay current on what is happening AS IT IS HAPPENING, not understanding it months or years after the fact. It is our job to stay current in what is new and available in the world of our learners (remembering, of course, that we are learners too). It means we need to be continually updating our knowledge, skills and tools so that we are delivering the most up-to-date and relevant education possible.
I think this summarizes where I’m at with these ideas thus far. I’m sure my thinking will continue to evolve as I network with others and apply this to my own practice. Thank you for reading and I look forward to your feedback!