A Changing Role for Teachers: Partnerships

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Most international schools such as the Dhahran Elementary Middle School (DEMS), Saudi Arabia are adopting more demanding curriculum such as C3 in Social Studies, Reading and Writing workshops that are run in parallel (Elementary and Middle School), NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) and an approach towards Math involving modeling, explanation and reasoning. 

This in itself, pushes for a more rigorous, critical thinking and student centered approach towards education. DEMS has also made an effort to support student interests, peer teaching (amongst students) and mentorship (between students and teachers). Many teachers also give students freedom to choose the technological tools they want to use or introduce them to new ones for various projects. 

Thus, the classroom and school environment due to the demands of new curriculum is already pushing towards the new pedagogies model with the 6 C’s

  • Character education
  • Citizenship
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking

With a special emphasis on citizenship (within school and outside), collaboration, communication and critical thinking. 

The learning relationships between teachers who teach the same grade or same subject allowing them to align horizontally or vertically. Most of the co-planning is done on the teachers’ own time and implemented together. 

In addition, there is plenty of opportunity for peer learning amongst students and mentorship due to project based learning in Humanities, Science and Language Arts. 

Learning Partnerships in My Class

Photo by Edvin Johansson on Unsplash

All learning partnerships between the students and myself were based first, on the premise that they were most probably more technologically savvy than me and they could teach me and I could learn more from them! Needless to say this made them very excited!

Second, I also ‘genuinely liked’ the students that I taught (am no longer with DEMS after the summer of 2019). And it does make a difference if you like the students or make an effort to like them as they respect you and usually like you back. 

Third, my classroom trusted each other and they trusted me. I publicly told my class to never lie and I would always believe them/trust them unless found out otherwise. Therefore, they had my trust always, until they let me down and then I would not trust them again (a bit drastic!). It was the spoken rule in class and it gave the students the confidence to be themselves. 

Fourth, I was clear about my fallibility as a human being and a  teacher and they had the freedom to either correct me in class or afterwards if I made a mistake in my teaching or was too hard (sarcastic) in class. 

Last, politeness and kindness goes a long way in building an environment conducive to learning for all. For example, there have been numerous occasions when I have apologized for not thinking before speaking. Furthermore,  there is never an opportunity to not thank a student. These are little gestures but they have far reaching effects in building trust between students and teachers for a better peer or mentor learning relationship. It has worked well for me. 

‘Activating’ Learning Partnerships vs. ‘Facilitating’

Facilitating
“Dr. Bergstrom teaching” by UGA CAES/Extension is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 
Activating
“National Engineering Teach Ins” by Savannah River Site is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

While reading the first two chapters of A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning I realized that the role of a teacher is changing now. I need to advance from being a ‘facilitator’ of learning to an ‘activator’ of learning for my classroom. As mentioned in the readings new pedagogies require teachers to have a ‘repertoire’ of knowledge that includes project based learning, direct instruction and inquiry based instruction. These are not hard to practice in our classrooms with the changing curriculum.

But it is a challenge for teachers to know students individually with their weaknesses and strengths in order to effectively monitor the learning process. In addition, formulating learning outcomes that are meaningful, real and challenging for students is not easy. It is also a different kind of training for teachers that is needed for the future than the training most of us have at present. 

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I struggle with coming up with meaningful learning outcomes and processes for the students in my class. I think it is the ease with which we plan the same for everyone with one central teacher as in the past. However, as teachers we are uneasy about planning for a class where we are equal ‘learning stakeholders’ as our students.

As teachers we have to become comfortable with failing, accepting failure but showing grit and perseverance to try again and plan again. We need to be aware of student aspirations, and give timely feedback (sometimes so hard to do) that focuses on student skills and encourage peer tutoring. 

Personally, for deeper learning I need to plan units and lessons earlier, to build in a ‘learning process’ that can be applied to all the students with modifications. Second, there needs to be a legitimate assessment process and standards to check with. However, the standards can not be stagnant benchmarks because they have to be in flux to allow for students’ abilities and interests. 

Looking back at Course 1, Week 5

Our course 1 readings on Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (Churches) and Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-Informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning (Bell) linked the usage of technology, applied in class in a planned manner to higher order thinking skills. This is supported by what we are learning in Course 4. However, in Course 4 the teacher’s changing role and responsibilities really becomes important. These are relationships (of trust):  teacher with students and students with other students. In addition it is also building relationships amongst teaching peers at your school and outside school (virtually through social media). 

In a nutshell, we started with the building blocks of technology being used meaningfully in a classroom to encourage students to ‘create’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘analyze’ beyond the ‘applying’, ‘understanding’ and ‘remembering’. But we are ending (Course 4), with the changes needed in our teaching pedagogy and our attitudes as teachers towards becoming ‘lifelong learners’. It is together with the above two factors that the face of education can change. 

Conclusion

I would like to do more readings or PDs for learning how to determine the learning process for any project or subject for a class. If it was an interdisciplinary project then more than one teacher would be part of determining what ‘learning progress’ looks like. There should be evidence and data collected and interim feedback from students to teachers, teachers to students, students to students and teachers to teachers. This is what I need to practice in my teaching. 

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