Monday, March 12, 2012

Herding cats in the classroom?

Teaching is a challenging activity.  Keeping track of a class of students who are operating at a range of different ability levels, often from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds, catering for a range of learning needs, dealing with any individual health issues class members may have, managing the administrative requirements of your school or system, attempting to match curriculum requirements to the needs of students in the class, dealing with “helicopter parents” or, even worse, parents who are as insubstantial as the abominable snowman, acting as a part of a team when your specific class requires focused and immediate attention, trying to make your lessons as interesting and engaging as takes a special type of person to do it well.
It is not unlike herding cats.

One thing we know about cats is that is easier to get them to come to you than to make them go somewhere that they don’t want to go.  With cats this is easy - entice them with food.  Although we do not bribe students via their taste buds we can learn from this approach - efforts put into developing student motivation is an important aspect of effective teaching. Structuring the educational environment to get students interested and wanting to learn through engaging and challenging activities where they value the outcomes of their efforts and feel secure as they explore their boundaries changes the educational process from that of herding cats to managing learning.
If teachers feel as if they are herding cats in the classroom it might be worth looking at what is on offer. Motivated people, even young ones, don’t need to be herded; they drive themselves.  The challenge for teachers is to guide student interest in ways that reflect the outcome requirements of the curriculum. And that is far from easy.  There are many sites and blogs offering advice or guidance in this area - a brief but worthy offering can be found here.
One important aspect of effective education is often overlooked however. Teacher reflection is an important part of becoming an expert practitioner.  Teachers need to find the time to think about what is going on in their classrooms and their educational practice - this is as important as thinking about the response of students to lessons. How else can areas for improvement be identified? Reflection is not a luxury, it is an essential part of personal professional development and adaptation.
For some personal reflection needs to be done alone - perhaps over a coffee whilst appearing to stare out the window. Others need guidance and stimulation.  Technology may come to the rescue for those in this category. Apple’s Itunes “university” section has FREE lectures on a variety of educational issues and subject areas while Harvard also offers free podcasts on educational issues.  Podcasts can be thought provoking ways to stimulate reflection - and can be absorbed during the daily commute.

To paraphrase Margaret J. Wheatley, reflection “ not just a nice thing to do if you have the time. It is the only way you can survive.”

video = commercial from
Embedded link via Larry Ferlazzo at Education Week.
Harvard and Itunes links go to original sources.
Margaret Wheatley link goes to source.

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