Inform. Reform. Transform.

teaching-wordleKnowledge is a double edged sword. I feel a sense of gratification that I am now more equipped with knowledge than I was several weeks ago. However, there was also a feeling of shame as the knowledge I gained also exposed my malpractices, assumptions and misconceptions regarding the teaching process and the profession.

This course had challenged my belief system as a teacher. Now, every time I think about a concept, I also question if it’s a theoretical concept, if it’s based in research or just an assumption. I learned to hunt my own assumptions and to use lenses in understanding where those beliefs originated from.

I now firmly believe that the teaching process will be effective if reflective practice is being applied. I started using reflection as part of my daily routine after learning the module. I ask myself “why” even before I would teach a lesson. Why would I use this certain strategy or activity? What do I want my students to learn? Even when I’m in the middle of my teaching and talking, I reflect and observe how my learners respond to the lesson. Reflections in action and on action are two of the most powerful strategies I learned in this course.

Personally, I see the immense significance of learning these principles and concepts because 1) they reveal all of our epistemological assumptions that affect our teaching 2) they correct the wrong practices that we’ve been doing 3) they improve our teaching practices 4) they ensure that teachers will have a solid foundation entering an education field.

The school that I’m currently working at has curricula with embedded contemporary teaching and learning approaches. This alone had helped me become aware of the array of contemporary pedagogy. Yet, there were still so many concepts/principles that I didn’t know that this course had presented. The teaching perspectives such as being culturally responsive and creating an inclusive learning friendly environment were very impactful for me.

It is my goal as an educator, to provide a holistic approach to teaching. I believe in developing not only my students’ intellectual abilities, but also their social, physical, mental, spiritual dimensions. I want my students to act with social and intellectual maturity.  I want them to demonstrate flexibility and a creative approach to problem solving, develop and maintain relationships, reflective, strong and effective communicators.

The only way for me to achieve my goals is to continuously seek professional development and growth. I need to keep learning and participating in learning communities. Through these, I get to share what I know and learn new ideas from other members of the community and be a whole teacher.

Lastly, I need to change my perspective that my duty as a teacher is to not only INFORM but rather to REFORM and TRANSFORM lives and communities.

 

http://blogs.ibo.org/positionpapers/files/2010/09/Holistic-education_John-Hare.pdf

“The most violent element in society is ignorance.”

igno

I had strong negative feelings about our school having an open enrollment as our admission policy. I experienced and still am experiencing the challenge to teach students with behavioral problems and students with no knowledge of English. Although I kept things to myself, I have been negative and kept blaming the Admission Department for not doing their job right. I was frustrated and I wanted out.

But I was also ignorant. Culturally responsive pedagogy, inclusive-learning friendly environment… these are all new to me. It’s embarrassing to admit but I have committed mistakes that I wish I could undo. Was I culturally responsive towards my teaching and my students? No. Was I applying inclusion? No.

My autobiography as a learner helped me realize and understand why my beliefs were they were. In the Philippines, there are schools that are exclusive for certain groups. In the public school that I went to, students were groups by their academic abilities. There was a year that I didn’t do well and I was move down to a different section which really affected me. We’ve always sorted things and remove those that don’t belong in a group and we still do.

My ignorance of it blinded me and led me to teach insensitively. I may have hurt some of my students in the past because of my words, actions or teaching practices.  But because of this module, I was able to reflect on my practices and I’m now informed of how I could be inclusive and culturally responsive as a teacher. My belief has changed and now know that differences are a great resource for learning.

Being informed, I now understand why our admission policy is the way it is. But knowing now how to be culturally responsive and inclusive make me question the policy even more. We have an open enrollment and yet we lack the human resources for these students. Is my school really being inclusive or just want to gain more money from it? There’s 1 Special education Teacher for 65 students, no in-house Psychologist to diagnose these students either and 1 English Language Development Teacher for 180 students. We don’t have enough teaching materials to make our teaching effective or enough assessment kits.

To be culturally responsive and inclusive requires a huge change of beliefs from the leaders of the school all the way down to the teachers and parents. We have to review our school policies and procedures to ensure that they are sensitive to the diversity of our school population. There should also be an on-going professional development for teachers, staff and parents tackling these issues. We need the involvement of all, leaders, teachers, parents and students. It needs to be part of our daily life for it to become a belief.

Towards Improving Myself and My Learning Community

plc

I’m fortunate to be working in a school that recognizes the needs of teachers for Continuous Professional Development I have attended workshops and seminars in the past, and have always gone back to school feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the world. However, the feeling was fleeting. I would remember two strategies from the workshop and forgot the rest that I’ve learned. I also didn’t get the chance to share my learning with my colleagues because of the busy schedule that we have.

After reading the module, I learned that there are different elements of CPD. It’s embarrassing but I think that I was only experiencing the retooling and remodeling kind. I think that the success of this relies first on the leaders in creating an effective system that will make CPD beneficial to each and all. Although there are some teachers in my school who are interested to grow and learn more, there are some who just take advantage of the stipend being provided and go see a new place or country. I don’t think this is quite working well and through teachers’ reflective practice, this issue should come up.

We also have a professional learning community. Last year, our principals intentionally ensured that there are common planning and meeting times for teams. Because of this, we were able to achieve a lot. I noticed that we were more collaborative and engaged in the discussions. However, since there was a drastic change in schedule this year, we rarely met as a team. The collaboration became shallow to the point that the phrase was “This is what I will do” has been a norm. We used to talk about, what do the students need? What’s the best approach? How can we optimize the learning of a particular content? We were collectively reflecting and planning.

I realized that supportive leaders are one of the keys to an effective professional learning community. If we have leaders who don’t understand the kind of work that we do, it’s easy for them to change the system that have been implemented to suit what they think is right. Without involving teachers in the decision-making, things could go down the drain. Teachers will feel unvalued and will not be willing to collaborate. This is what happened in my school.

It’s also important to have shared vision and values. If we are not working towards the same goal, then there will be a lot of misunderstanding and confusion. Apparently, our values were different from our leader and so our learning community disintegrated. Teachers have left because they didn’t feel that they’re still growing as before and I can’t blame them.

I really hope that the next set of leaders will see how important our learning community is. Next month is a new school year and I’m hopeful that we could get better. It starts in each one of us. We have to create a positive culture, a culture for learning and a sincere desire to improve student learning. After all, they’re the real reason why we do what we do. We should never forget that.

Ripple Effect

ripple effect

I grew up being taught traditionally. We are all seated on our chairs while the teacher did the lecturing in front. I’ve been scolded many times for not listening because it was difficult for me to be seated for an hour without doing anything. I thought I just needed to behave better but after learning about this module, I realized that it is really a natural tendency for students to lose their focus and be disengaged when we are being passive learners.

Even before learning this module, I also assumed that there’s only one approach to teaching and that is through lecturing. I realized that I have missed a lot of opportunities growing up to become a better learner because I went to a public school. However, even though we have access to free education, it should not mean providing us a poor quality of education. We, just like the rich people, have the right to a quality education. One that is mindful of us as learners and not computer processors. Is it not the goal of education to give equal opportunities for all?

But what I don’t understand is that why haven’t we changed this kind of system? Does the educational system of our country lack the awareness? The conventional education should not punish students by giving them a century old way of teaching just because they can’t afford it. The improvement of our education relies on the leaders of our country. Unfortunately, they are not directly affected by any of these issues because they can afford to send their kids and grandkids to international schools wherein contemporary teaching approaches are utilized. So, the sense of urgency is not there at all.

As an informed learner, it is my responsibility to be active in searching ways to transform our educational systems by maybe joining organizations that call for reforms or additional budget. It is also my responsibility to promote varied approaches to teaching so that it becomes a ripple effect.

Our actions have the ripple effect. If as teachers, we are smart and wise of carefully choosing the approaches and pedagogy to optimize student learning, then we are also creating a bigger and wider impact through our students. Hoping that when they become teachers and parents themselves, they will do it too .

Should Knowledge Bases Be a Prerequisite in Hiring Teachers?

bulb

I started teaching here in China without an ounce of knowledge on how or what to teach. I was employed for the sole reason that I can speak the English language and that was all they wanted from me. On my first day, I was supplied with a set of flashcards and without any planning or preparation I started to teach. As someone who had not taken any education courses nor undergone any training, I still had the confidence to get in the field. Most of the batch mates I grew up with chose the route of teaching. They didn’t belong in the smartest section where I was in, so my assumption was that teaching was a no brainer kind of profession. It reminds me of the adage, “Those who can’t, teach.” Honestly, it was egotistical of me to even think that. I assumed that everybody can teach. Looking through the lens of my autobiography as a learner helped me to realize that I was wrong.

Another assumption I had was that as a teacher all I needed was a bag of tricks that I can pull out from when I needed to. Using theoretical literature as a lens, I recognized that there are such things as knowledge bases. As claimed by the advocates,  knowledge bases of teaching exist- a codified or codifiable aggregation of knowledge, skill, understanding, and technology, f ethics and disposition, of collective responsibility—as well as a means for representing and communicating it Homes Group (1986) and the Carnegie Task Force (1986). They contend that it should under gird teacher education and rightly inform teaching practice. Gauging how much I know as a teacher, I realized that I was very inept at my job and had used wrongful practices. It didn’t help that many schools like the previous one that I was in are not setting high standards for the kind of teachers they are hiring.

Here in China, you could find all sorts of teacher ‘wannabes’ especially in private schools. However, administrators don’t seem to be bothered that they are hiring inept and experience teachers.  Regardless of their educational background or experience, they could still teach as long as they could speak English. Knowledge bases of teaching are far from what they were looking for in a candidate. Sadly, this custom had been happening for many years now. Although, the government is cracking down on unqualified foreign teachers by requiring them to provide certification or bachelor’s degrees before they could grant working visa, Chinese school heads still find a way to get them in. Education to some has become more of a business.

Knowledge bases of teaching has opened my eyes how much I still need to learn in able for me to become a very effective education professional.  Deprofessionalization of teaching will continue if the governments and all people involved in education all over the world will allow anybody without proper knowledge and training to be in the teaching field.

TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) terminology is new to me. Yet, I have been integrating technology in my teaching. The advantages are that students get easily motivated by it. It also encourages them to be creative, cooperative, collaborative and it builds the skills needed for the 21st century. Do note, however, that it takes a very supportive school administration and skillful teachers for the integration of technology, pedagogy and content to effectively work. On the other hand, the lack of support and funding could hinder in achieving this goal. I, as a teacher, as willing and as motivated as I am at practicing this, our school doesn’t prioritize the use of technology in learning. Teachers like me have found creative ways to solve this problem and it sometimes leads to using our own personal laptops for student use.

It is only fair and just for our students to be taught by qualified and competent teachers. To do this, there must be a rigorous training of education students and all teachers. Mastering all of the knowledge bases and TPACK must be given priority. Schools have to support this by creating professional learning community that continuously updates the knowledge bases to fit with the demands of the 21st century.

On Teacher Professionalism

Time to try something new.

David refers to five commonly cited professionalism criteria focused in the literature. They are (David, 2000): (a) professions provide an important public service, (b) they involve a theoretically as well as practically grounded expertise, (c) they have a distinct ethical dimension which calls for expression in a code of practice, (d) they require organization and regulation for purposes of recruitment and discipline and, (e) professional practitioners require a high degree of individual autonomy- independence of judgment- for effective practice.

The teaching profession meets the first four criteria. However, there has been an on-going debate over the fifth criteria. Do teachers have autonomy and if they don’t, are they still considered professionals?

In an effort to define autonomy, we could consider Richard Ingersoll’s work, professor at The Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania. Ingersoll provides two views of organizational control in schools.  He explains that schools are viewed by some as highly decentralized organizations in which teachers have workplace autonomy and discretion, while others see schools as top-down bureaucracies in which teachers have little influence over school operations.

His explanation perfectly describes the kind of school I currently work at. It is a mixture of Western and traditional Chinese teaching. On the western side, we have sets of standards to teach but we are not on a lockstep on how or when we should be able to teach those. We are given the autonomy to make adjustments to meet the demands of our students. On the Chinese side, they are required to teach the same topic at the same time. They follow a book that was handed to them and they were instructed on how to teach it. Homework, projects and activities should all be the same.

My Chinese colleagues complain that they feel overly controlled and constrained. They don’t feel like being treated as true teachers because everything they do has to be dictated by the leader. They have little input over how the school operates much more their classrooms. One of them stated that it feels like working in a factory. Chinese teachers are expected to produce cookie cutout-like students.

I realized that I have the autonomy in the classroom and I find it to be very fulfilling both for me and my students. On the other hand, our side struggles to maintain uniformity and consistency across the grade level. Some teachers do more than the others. One parent even commented that getting a hard-working teacher is like winning a lottery. Likewise, parents question why the western teachers have dissimilar activities when they’re just covering the same units of study. As a result, accountability and cohesion are lacking.

Autonomy, as vital as it is in empowering teachers, shouldn’t be given effortlessly and fully for it comes with a huge responsibility. Teachers must disregard self-interest and focus on students’ best interest. Autonomy, when used inappropriately, could lead to isolation. I believe that there should be a balance between having autonomy and control. Teachers should have classroom autonomy but should be held accountable of students in achieving learning outcomes. We need teachers to be trusted that they could do their job well. Schools should have control regarding policies, curriculum, and standards being covered to ensure that all students are given opportunities to reach high level of excellence. This way, both students and teachers will become successful.

Before reading the resources, I had a paradigmatic assumption that professionals are those who have high academic achievement, have secured licenses to practice and have individual autonomy. I assumed that since most public school teachers are being controlled by the government, that they aren’t considered professionals because they have no individual autonomy.

However, through theoretical lens Hargeaves (2000) explained that, “we are now in the post-professional age, which draws attention with the increasing efforts to create strong professional cultures of collaboration to develop common purpose, to cope with uncertainty and complexity and to response the rapid changes and reforms effectively.” We should view professionalism past its traditional definition because our changing world demands more than what it was.

What I want to be is to become an activist professional. Activist professionals take responsibility for their own on-going professional learning, and work within communities of practice, which develop in larger contexts – historical, social, cultural, institutional (Sachs 2001). In my school, we have a professional learning community and more and more teachers are aiming to be more equipped in dealing with the new challenges.

I believe I have been forced to think outside the box and look at myself as a professional. I don’t have a lot of experience but I do have a strong desire to educate my students. Two, I am constantly looking for professional development opportunities to improve myself as an educator and three I am a collaborator. I know that there are more characteristics that I need to embody before I could consider myself a transformed professional.

Moreover, I feel like I have been challenged to look at my own experience and put the school I work at under a microscope. I have discovered that my schools’ learner profile (IB Profile) list of traits that are being taught is similar to the traits of the new professionals. I’m realizing that our school is preparing students to be the transformative or new professionals we need. I do hope that these traits also permeate not only among our students but also in us, their current educators.

My plan is to look closely at the traits that embody a new or transformed professional and draft ways how I could gradually incorporate them in my practice. I think finding a mentor and a teacher that I could collaborate with to receive feedback from and be held accountable for would definitely make this process more attainable.

Resources:

http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3227718/

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042810025498

http://search.proquest.com/docview/305245225

Reflecting On My Reflective Practice

reflective swan

Everything we say, believe or do may seem innocent and supportive. On the other hand, it could be filled with hegemonic, paradigmatic, causal and descriptive assumptions and we could be oblivious of its effect on our educational developments. Reflective practice (1) helps us to understand how considerations of power undergird, frame, and distort educational processes and interactions and (2) exposes and questions assumptions and practices that seem to make our teaching lives easier but actually work against our own best long-term interests, (Brookfield, 1995).

The Good

Prior to reading the resources, I was assured that I knew a lot about reflective practice as I frequently apply this at work. However, I realized that what I knew about it was just the superficial process of it. I’ve always done it at the end of my teaching day and would ponder on the practices or activities that worked or didn’t and adjust my teaching accordingly.  Being able to spot numerous assumptions in my previous ideas regarding reflective practice was certainly a huge revelation for me.

Using my autobiography as a lens, I now realized that my choice to do this process privately was instigated by fear of being humiliated. I didn’t want to be thought as an inept and inexperienced teacher by my colleagues. However, my causal assumption is impeding myself to improve. Brookfield even cited that self-reflection could lead to self-denial and that may have happened to me several times.

Another causal assumption that I had was that reflective practice could improve one’s teaching. Theoretical literature lens had facilitated for me to realize that reflective practice goes beyond improving one’s skill. “In education, a minimalist understanding of reflective practice is that it refers to the process of the educator studying his or her own teaching methods and determining what works best for the students and the consideration of the ethical consequences of classroom procedures on students; a broader understanding would accept that it also involves questioning the organizational, social and political context in which the teaching takes place.” (Larrivee, Barbara, 2000 “Transforming teaching practice: becoming the critically reflective teacher”)

Moreover, theoretical lens has helped me to find out other effective ways to record my reflections. My prescriptive assumption of journaling my reflection has limited my approach of this process. Sherin (204) argues that using video for developing “analytic mind set” is developing “a different kind of knowledge for teaching—knowledge not of “what to do next,” but rather, knowledge of how to interpret and reflect on classroom practices”. Putanam and Borko (2004) also added that because teachers’ patterns of thought and action become routine, they may need different types of experiences that “help teachers ‘break set’—to experience things in new ways.”

The Bad

This practice exposes our hidden thoughts and beliefs to be subjected to judgment. It’s like placing ourselves under a magnifying lens vulnerable for critical examination and questions at every angle. This could result us doubting ourselves, or our very foundation that made us who we are. We could end up being in denial or even defensive. And while it strips us off of our power, it asks us to be honest, accepting of the emerging and maybe hurtful truths and be willing to change. Reflective practice is effective if we subject ourselves to a good change.

Another issue relating to this practice is motivation. How motivated am I to do this? How much time will it require for me to do this? How about the time it will demand to do this with colleagues? How do we maintain consistency?

The Ugly

School leaders need to prioritize and reinforce this practice. The ugly truth is teachers are consumed with meetings after meetings regarding school accreditation, the new teaching practice that’s trending now in other schools, ways to attract more students and parents, etc. We don’t have time to breathe anymore, much more think about what we do. What we need is for our school leaders to give teachers a time to reflect. It should be intentional, explicit and built in our schedule. Not doing this is like disregarding the need of teachers, students and the school to improve. Preaching to the crowd and asking them to reflect is not going to happen unless the school leaders themselves see its utmost importance. They may think that it’s common sense to reflect, but the reality is not all teachers reflect. We need training after training until this practice becomes our second nature.

Moreover, reflective practice is not embedded in our culture. Rarely do I hear parents ask their children to ‘reflect on what they’ve done’. It’s usually ‘fix the problem and move on.’ I can’t remember a single teacher either who taught me or even ask me reflective questions growing up. As what Abraham Lincoln once quoted, “Teach the children so that it will not be necessary to teach the adults.” I think we will achieve more if Reflective Practice is designed to be part of our curricula from Early Childhood to Doctorate Level. There are now sets of beliefs that International Schools require their learners to have, and one of them is being reflective. This is a promising start but it should also permeate all schools and communities, not just the privileged ones.

And instead of being a reflection of our society, let’s be a reflective society. Let’s look at our past actions, hunt and get rid of assumptions that are hindering our nation to be progressive. Using different lenses, let’s stop from being defensive but rather be open-minded to change.

Weighing In

Reflective practice does have its benefits and barriers. The question I face now is, are the gains from this practice more valuable over the challenges I might face? Definitely, but I have to have a concrete plan to eradicate these challenges for me to have an effective reflective practice. First and foremost, I need to seek the advice and support of the school I work at. I and the rest of the teachers should receive education required for the development of our skills that will strengthen effective reflection. Also, this practice should be embedded into our teaching practices. We should also reflect constantly on our reflective practices as it will help us make adjustments in our process. Lastly, it is my duty to teach my students how to be reflective learners to make them better members of our society. Our society will be much better if all our kids learned how to be reflective.

Resources:                                                                                            

Putnam, R. T., & Borko, H. (2204). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say research on teacher learning? Educational Researcher; 29(1), 4-15

Rosaen, Cheryl L.; Lundeberg, Mary; Cooper, Marjorie; Fritzen, Anny; Terpstra, Marjorie (September 2008). “Noticing noticing: how does investigation of video records change how teachers reflect on their experiences?”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_practice

https://sportscoachuk.org/sites/default/files/Reflective-Practice-Report_0.pdf