Commitment to Students and Student Learning
What does it mean to be committed to students? At first blush, this seems like an easy answer: know the curriculum, have a plan, and be nice. And I don’t want to say those things aren’t important, but I think there’s more to student learning than the job description of “being a teacher.” Did your students eat this morning? Do they live in healthy home environments? How much sleep did they get? These are important questions that will obviously affect student learning. If we are, per OCT requirements, going to be “sensitive to factors that influence individual student learning,” we can’t help but ask these questions. If a student hasn’t eaten since lunch yesterday, or slept poorly, they probably aren’t going to be terribly interested in class participation. As an educator, I want to reach every student. So, with students like these…what do I do? How do I reach a student who hates school? Or a student who feels unsafe around their peers? There are no easy answers here – only more questions!
Leadership in Learning Communities
Teaching is often called a “caring profession,” and with good reason. Even when dealing with young adults, we are the authority in the room. Though it may be a cliché, this great power comes with a great responsibility. We have been trained in how best to foster learning, in all sort of school environments. One day I will work with senior music students, who will sometimes go to university to further their artistic studies, and the next I’m working with grade 9 beginners. In all contexts, “leadership in learning communities” means applying your professional and personal expertise to classrooms that are always diverse in experiences and social locations. In my time as a teacher candidate, I have strived to make every classroom place where students can safely, confidently and enjoyably pursue the subject of our learning. Whether that is grade 8s discussing water pollution, or grade 12s learning a new piece of music, all teachers must exercise their expertise in facilitating the best environment possible.
Ongoing Professional Learning
“What AQs are you going to take?” I’ve already answered, and asked, this question a couple dozen times in this program. I don’t think it’s a bad question, but it risks missing the point. I think we need to expand our idea of what constitutes professional learning. For a music teacher, professional learning could simply mean deep, critical listening to a new album or genre of music. It might mean practicing your first instrument, or learning a new one. For an English teacher, it might mean browsing the library for new books to read. Professional learning, like personal learning, is what happens when we reflect on the things that we love, the things we don’t love, and the randomness of real life!
Since professional knowledge is always evolving, educators have a responsibility to “keep on top of it,” so to speak. I’ve often been challenged by course readings and ideas in my program, and while I hope the idea of challenging perceptions continues for students who come after me, I certainly hope the readings change! There are many ideas, of course, that all teacher candidates and educators ought to be exposed to, like those of Paulo Freire and Maxine Greene. But “professional knowledge” means considering these ideas in light what we know, what we don’t know, and what we want to know. This goes for the teaching profession generally, and for each individual educator. A critical music pedagogue ought to sound different in 2017 than they do in 2030, and this is what professional knowledge is all about – considering new developments in education and the world with our own lens.
Educators must always be willing to consider new information, and adapt our practices accordingly. One of my former instructors likes to say that when you put students first, you can’t go wrong (even when you do go wrong). And I think this is a great way to look at ourselves and the profession we’ve chosen. Rather than castigate ourselves for real and imagined errors, why not consider what those errors mean, and how we can learn from them? None of us is perfect, and we can treat ourselves kindly while still growing as educators. Dialogue is key here. As teachers, especially at the Intermediate/Senior level, we often get caught up in subject-specific issues – a music teacher worries about instrument repairs, and an environmental science teacher thinks about on-site/land-based learning. And while these are all valid concerns, why not have two or more departments “compare notes,” so to speak? What can I learn from my English colleagues? What can math teachers learn from French? We must be willing to talk not only to those in our subjects (or grades, at the elementary level), but also those far outside our own experiences. Friends and family, faith leaders, artists and neighbours all have things to teach us, and dialogue is at the heart of this!