Archive for January 27, 2013

Just Dance – Changing Role of the Teacher



I love to dance! I’m not a great dancer…in fact, I’m not even a good dancer. I really don’t care, though, I just dance or, as the saying goes, I “dance like no one is watching“. So, when I attended a learning session this past week where the presenter shared that teaching was like being a choreographer, I was intrigued.

The presenter was Garfield Gini-Newman from The Critical Thinking Consortium. The topic was about using technology to transform teaching practice. Gini-Newman reminded us all that technology

has the potential to be a curiosity amplifier and can transform teaching and learning but only if harnessed in powerful pedagogy.

We reviewed Critical Inquiry and how creating an engaged, curious classroom community can serve the needs of today’s learners. What really got me reflecting this week was when Gini-Newman identified what the teacher’s role in this learning environment needs to be.

For me, I always felt the role of the teacher included a balance of the following:

Teacher as Expert ~ the teacher needs to have some depth and breadth of knowledge about the subject discipline – preferrably not just to dispense information to students but to know where to guide students as they uncover curriculum together in order to assist students in making connections, both to prior learning and to the real world where the subject discipline lives.

Teacher as Facilitator ~ the teacher needs to bring out the past experiences, new understandings and individual perspectives from students – often watching and observing as the learning unfolds while giving students voice and choice, when possible, in exploring, in more depth,topics of interest.

Teacher as Coach ~ the teacher needs to continuously assess the developing understandings and skills in order to support next steps in learning – asking questions and helping students find answers within themselves while developing confidence and perseverance through ongoing feedback and opportunities to learn from mistakes.

This week, Gini-Newman provided me with a new way to consider the role of the teacher – which caused me to do a lot of thinking. I wasn’t sure, initially, if I agreed with his analogy.

Teacher as Choreographer? ~ I am in awe of talented dancers – the movement, the skill, the grace and strength. Quite frankly, even though I took several years of dance in my youth (and was really very bad!) I have little to no understanding of what is involved as a choreographer. What my limited understanding tells me is that choreographers plan a dance routine and get the dancers to follow their plan. So, how is this any different from the traditional role of a teacher? Plan a lesson and have the students follow your plan (Teacher as “Sage on the Stage”). Then I did a little research. I watched this TEDTalks video to help me understand more about the role of a choreographer.

What I discovered is that in the kind of choreography shown here, the choreographer exposes the dancers to an idea or gives them a challenge, creates a mental picture, and provides them with choices for what to do for themselves. As they explore the creative process, the choreographer observes how the dancers are interacting with the movements and ideas and then makes decisions, in that moment, about how to collaborate with them to change, adjust and connect to the central idea. The process is fluid, based on taking risks, expressing voice and communicating ideas.

The skilled classroom teacher, as choreographer, follows this same creative, collaborative process. The process is never fixed, always fluid, dynamic, responsive to individuals and allows for individuals to interact with new ideas and understandings in a way that is meaningful to them. The teacher continuously assists students to connect the smaller pieces to the big, overarching idea in order to bring coherence and meaning to the process.

Teacher as choreographer – it is a lot more complicated than to just dance!


Recharging the Battery for the Best in 2013

Five years ago, after I took on the role of Principal at Greystone Centennial Middle School, my husband and I and our two sons took our first trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We fell in love with the place and ended up buying our second home here. It was a pretty big risk, we didn’t know much about purchasing property in Mexico, but opportunity knocked and we answered the call. We have absolutely no regrets about this decision and five years later, we just spent another holiday here at our home away from home – the first time since our original trip here that both of our adult sons were able to join us. It has been an amazing holiday filled with love, laughter and fun family times together. It was an absolutely perfect way to recharge the battery from a fairly busy and demanding role as Principal of a high flying staff and energetic group of middle school students.

I am fortunate enough to get away to this amazing piece of paradise about twice each year and I find the time away absolutely essential to my ability to carry out my responsibilities throughout the school year. Every time I escape to this peaceful retreat I head back to my work refreshed and ready to take on whatever challenges and opportunities await. In fact, I usually find that time away gives me the creative energy and enthusiasm to take my learning and the important work we do in our school community to a new level. This year is no different – after almost two weeks of time to focus on myself, my family and doing what I love (running in the warm climate, reading, relaxing on the beach, trying out great restaurants, and enjoying the company of wonderful family and friends) I feel like I  am ready to take on the new year with a renewed optimism and commitment to the goals I set out for myself earlier this year.

This brings me to the reason for this post – a reminder to myself, and to others who might stumble across this and read it, of the most important thing to keep in mind when we are caught up in a very rewarding, yet demanding profession, that requires so much of our energy and commitment to continuously give to others – we must never forget to give to ourselves, first. Just like they tell us on the airplane – get your own oxygen mask on first before you help others. I believe it is okay to be selfish by looking after yourself first (by setting priorities for family, sleep, exercise, emotional/spiritual renewal) before you can be at your best to do your best for others. This should  not just happen during scheduled holidays – it needs to be a way of life. This is something that my time away in paradise always reminds me about when I am here recharging my battery. I plan to keep this selfish lifestyle up all year round so that I can be my best for all of the students, families and staff – because they deserve the best that I can give. Feliz 2013!

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