Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Learning from Students

My Twitterfriend, Maggie Bolado (@mrsbolado) shared this image the other day. I love it! She gave me permission to use it for this blog post. (Thanks a bunch, Maggie!)

Image by Maggie Bolado. Used with permission.

The reason I love this graphic so much is twofold.

First: I was a middle school teacher for 14 years. These are lessons I too learned over the years. I might phrase them just slightly differently if I were to write a list like this one, but all of these 10 lessons ring true for me.

For people who have never taught middle school, you might find it difficult to relate to those of us who chose to go back into the thick of the drama that is young adolescence. (When I used to tell people I was a middle school teacher, I usually got one of two reactions, either a look of pained sympathy, or a wide-eyed "I-could-never-do-that!") Teaching young adolescents is clearly not for everyone. But for those of us called to teach in middle schools, it is a tremendous blessing. There are good days and bad days, of course. But looking back from the vantage point of five years in higher education now, almost all of the "bad days" have faded into the haze of memory, and it's mostly the really great days that still come to mind for me.

Working with young adolescents is an amazing calling, and one we must not take lightly. If we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts full of compassion, we can connect with kids at a deep level, and have the privilege of helping them grow more and more into who they are created to be.

But I said there were two reasons I love this graphic.

Here's the second:

Maggie here has captured something that I fear far too few educators understand. Notice the header on this graphic: "10 Lessons My Middle School Students Taught Me." Did you catch it?

Maggie acknowledges that she is still a learner.

More than that, she acknowledges that her students teach her too.

Now, as a teacher of teachers, I want to recognize and affirm the importance of professional preparation for becoming an educator. Clearly we want professional educators to be knowledgable about the content, about instructional practices, about student development, about learner diversity, about ethical practice, about effective assessment, about educational technologies, about creating an environment conducive for learning, and more. And all of these are important parts of the teaching profession.

But what sets apart the really great teachers from the mostly-okay teachers?

I think--and this is just my best thinking for right now, but pretty sure--I think that the best teachers are the ones who recognize that they are still learning. The best teachers are the ones who understand that they are--as one of my former professors put it--"experienced fellow-travelers on the journey" with their students. As teachers, we have broader experiences than (most of) our students, and deeper knowledge of the content, the context, the concepts than our students. But...if we are willing to be humble enough to recognize that we can learn with our students, and perhaps even from our students?

What if greatness is actually the fruit of humility?

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