Last week I enjoyed attending the Heartland Christian Teachers' Convention held here at Dordt College. They keynote speaker was someone I deeply respect (and...let's be honest...I'm kind of a fanboy) and have followed on Twitter for years: Rick Wormeli. Rick is a gifted presenter, a passionate educator, and an intellectual pot-stirrer. He is unafraid to challenge teachers to rethink their classroom practices, and to not do things just because "we've always done it that way." (Not to say we need to crave novelty...but that we need to be reflective, introspective, and willing to adapt.)
It was great to have Rick here on campus, and I confess, I attended every session he presented. (And live tweeted them...) It wasn't necessarily "new" material for me--I've been reading things he wrote since the mid 2000s when I was doing my Masters degree. But it was good reminders of the things I believe to be true about assessment, about differentiated instruction, about meeting the needs of students, and about teaching for understanding.
As an added bonus, I got to help out with a tech issue, and then took this awesome selfie with Rick:
The significance of hearing Rick for me was mostly a chance to recommit to teaching in a way that I sometimes lose sight of now that I'm higher education instead of middle school: I want my classroom to be "learning centered," as my friend Al Bandstra has put it.
Some teachers have subject-centered classrooms. The subject being studied is central.
Others have teacher-centered classrooms. The teacher, as a knower-of-the-things is central.
Still others have student-centered classrooms. The student takes precedence and is central.
But in a learning-centered classroom, learning is placed at the center. Rick's presentations at the convention were a reminder of this for me. I clearly care about the subject being studied. I clearly care about my role as a teacher. Obviously, I care about the students who are learning in my classroom--without them, I'm not actually teaching! But I am keeping learning at the center, and the learning is for my students...and also for me. All of us are learning; learning the content, learning each other, and learning ourselves.
Throughout this semester, I've been blogging this series "Learning to Teach Again," and really this is the heart of it for me: I want my classroom to be fundamentally about learning. To do that, I definitely need to know my subject matter. (I mostly have this down now...but I'm still working on learning more all the time.) I also need to get to know my students. (Working on that too!) And, while I think I know myself pretty well, I'm definitely continuing to reflect on my own role as a teacher, and as a learner.
One quote that jumped out and smacked me among all of the good stuff Rick shared throughout his sessions that has kept on ringing in my head through the past week: "We must commit to daring acts of pedagogy." Pedagogy, as I often mention to my Education majors, is the "art and science of teaching." Committing to being "daring" in our pedagogy means being willing to risk trying new things, to risk changing what we've "always done," to risk...continuing to learn, instead of acting as if we know it all. I'm working on this...and reflecting on how I'm doing...and, hopefully, ensuring that my students are learning through this process.
I'm brave enough to try...and I'm committed to keep experimenting.
If you're an educator, I invite you to join in this process as well: commit to daring acts of pedagogy!