Tag Archives: teacher

Unlearning, Revisited.

The very first article I read on Zite this morning  was a blog post written by Dr. Chris Dede (incidentally the keynote speaker last week at #on21Clearn in Toronto).

Dr. Dede begins by reminding us that the knowledge and skills of teachers and classroom educators are the most important factor in student learning.  Having said that, transformative change means that much of what teachers know, believe in and do, will need to be changed, and this is a very difficult task.

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Photo Credit: Mike_tn via Compfight cc

“Professional development for transformative change is very challenging because participants not only must learn new skills, but also must “unlearn” almost unconscious beliefs, assumptions, practices, and values about the nature of teaching, learning, and schooling.  In this situation, too often teachers are provided learning experiences that are purely cognitive, but professional development that requires unlearning necessitates high levels of emotional/social support in addition to intellectual and technical guidance.”

Dr. Chris Dede, Education Week, Leadership 360, October 26, 2014

 Finland has included the “unlearning” of teaching strategies in its Teacher Education programs for many years.  The understanding of the importance of an intense teacher training program, with opportunity for research, extensive practice teaching with highly competent mentors, and graduate work, is at the heart of the Finnish teacher education system.  There is an understanding that initial teacher training is essential to a high performing school system.

“The basic aim of every teacher education programme is to educate
competent teachers and to develop the necessary professional qualities to
ensure lifelong teaching careers for teachers. Behind this aim is the belief
that initial teacher education is of paramount importance and that any
defects appearing in the programme will have consequences that will be
extremely difficult to correct later on.”

Pertti Kansanen

Teacher Education in Finland: Current Models and New Developments

Technology has the power to transform learning for students.  Indeed, there are pockets across the country and around the world where this is already happening.  But using technology without changing our thinking about learning will not result in the ‘deep learning’ we are hoping for.  We need to give up some cherished beliefs about schooling before change can happen for our students. 

“Transforming from presentational/assimilative instruction to this form of pedagogy requires from teachers substantial unlearning of mental models and emotional investments in them. These mental models have been developed through decades of being students themselves, receiving traditional instruction, and further years of building skills in conventional instruction.”

Dr. Chris Dede, Education Week, Leadership 360, October 26, 2014

“Unlearning” is unsettling.  As educators, we take pride in our work and we are emotionally invested in doing what is best for our students.  Realizing that our beliefs about what constitutes ‘great teaching’ does not result in the ‘deep learning’ our students need is emotionally challenging.  Rethinking and relearning requires strong support and affirmation as educators move forward in changing practice.

As we consider how we design learning opportunities for educators, we must remember that this is more than a cognitive shift.  It is a shift in a belief system, and from a belief system to an evidence-based, inquiry model of learning.  It requires modelling, and nurturing, at all levels of the education system.

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Photo Credit: Ken Whytock via Compfight cc

Further reading:

What will you ‘unlearn’ today?

Five things I’ve learned (Dr. Chris Dede)

Education policies for raising student learning: The Finnish approach (Pasi Sahlberg)

Finland’s secret sauce: It’s teachers

Teacher education in Finland (Diane Ravitch)

Nobody likes to hear it (Dangerously Irrelevant)

Student Mental Health in the Media

Recently, there was an uproar about math scores in Ontario.  The media called the results of the PISA test “a crisis” and quickly blamed schools, teachers, the education system, and anyone else related to public education.

Yesterday, we learned shocking statistics about the state of students’ mental health in Toronto District School Board.  The response? Train the teachers better to deal with students who have mental health issues, and train the students how to better deal with stress.

http://www.cp24.com/more/let-s-talk/tdsb-to-provide-mental-health-training-to-entire-workforce-as-part-of-four-year-strategy-1.1659588

It’s interesting.

Schools get all the blame for math scores, but mental health issues are caused by other factors and we just need to work with it.

But I have yet to hear a response similar to the math “crisis”, that schools need to change to help students have a better state of mental health.

By change, I don’t mean adding mental health support, though that is also critically needed.

I mean change structurally.  How are schools contributing to the stress and anxiety students are reporting?

Where else do bells ring all the time?

Where else are you ostracized and singled out for being late even though you were outside and you can’t afford a watch and your best friend just told you she is pregnant….

Where else would it be considered right to stick kids in a huge gymnasium to write final exams that are “important assessments” that determine whether they get credits or not?

And we wonder why they are anxious?

As long as we see students as products and not people, we will create structures that work better in a factory than in nurturing people.

As long as we see school as preparation for life, when school actually is life, we will forget that providing rich learning experiences in a safe and nurturing environment is our role.

What structures in the school system can we change right now to provide quality of life and a relaxed learning environment for the youth in our communities?

Bring Yourself to Your Classroom

Back when I was involved with the Ministry of Natural Resources Critical Incident Stress Peer Support Team, I was fortunate to spend time with Dr. Martin Rappeport.  At the time, he gave me some career changing advice about teaching.  He told me to stop trying to be so many different things in the classroom, and just be myself.  He said I had many things to share with my students, and I should do just that.  “Bring yourself to your students.  Be genuine.  Bring all the gifts that you have and value your life experiences as worth sharing with your students”.

Colleen chats with  author Jeff Kinney through Skype with local elementary students*.

One of the key things about being a great teacher is to go out and have those life experiences – to learn constantly and to reflect on your learning, and to be willing to talk about and share that learning with others.

As teachers, we can also learn much from other disciplines.  While pounding out my long run this morning, I listened to Simon Gowan on the TriSwimCoach podcast.  He talked about how important frame of mind is when considering athletic performance.

One of the lessons we can learn from training is understanding how the way we are thinking affects our physiology and our performance.  For example, if we are out for a long run and we are thinking about how hard it is and how tough it is, then it is difficult to put one foot after the other.

But instead, we could be thinking about things like how fortunate we are to be healthy enough to run. If we are out running in a beautiful place we might think, “Wow, I wouldn’t see this if I wasn’t out running today”.  Having that enhanced mental state improves our performance and makes it so much easier to do the training work.

Run in beautiful places!

So when schools are places of hope; when schools are places where kids are in a mental state of excitement and enjoyment of learning, shouldn’t this make learning so much easier?

We can take what we learn from other places in our lives – our many other pursuits – and apply it so that we can be the best teacher we can be, and give kids the best learning environment we can possibly give to them.

*Photo courtesy of Invision for Skype/AP.  Read more about Skyping in the classrom here: http://northernartteacher.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/beautiful-learning-with-technology/