You Teach Your Way……

I watched a series of Tweets between multiple educators at various points in the last week on teaching practice.  One conversation was about using tests in the classroom, another was closely related on the issue of getting rid of standardized testing and a third conversation was about homework expectations at various grade levels.   Some of the conversations were great!  They offered detailed reasons why they teach the way they do and then someone would challenge with another thought or question.  I don’t think either party convinced the other to change much about their practice but the questions they all asked were very thought provoking.

Other conversations did not have this tone.  They were condescending and in some cases, borderline bullying complete with name calling and incredibly insulting comments.  These conversations are not productive.

I saw someone else tweet earlier today, “Just because you and I teach differently doesn’t mean either one of us is wrong.”  So simple and yet it contains a hint of wisdom that I think gets overlooked or forgotten about as people get heated up in the defence of their own passion.  Myself included.

I admit that I have some strong opinions when it comes to my personal teaching pedagogy.  I don’t believe in giving zeros, I do very little formal testing (although I’m NOT test free), focus heavily on project based learning, and don’t assign homework.  This puts me in direct conflict with other teachers who DO give zeros, DO test, and DO assign homework.  And many times both of us take to twitter to express our opinions.  I’ve engaged in really great conversations with people who have pushed my thinking and encouraged me to re-evaluate my own beliefs.  Most of the time we agree to disagree and walk away from it.  Sometimes I pause and think….you know what, I’ve never thought about it like that before.  And then something inside me changes.

Just because we teach differently doesn’t make either of us “better” or “worse” then the other.

That’s why it strikes a chord with me when I see other teachers insulting, condescending, or putting down the teaching style of someone else as being WRONG in their views.

“I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  To tweak this a bit….

“I may not agree with the way you teach, but I will support you in whatever way I can while you teach it.”

So I make this vow to my fellow colleagues…..

1.  I will not condescend to you and tell you that your teaching style is wrong, but I promise to ask you questions that will encourage self reflection for both of us.

2.  I will not speak badly about you behind your back.  If someone asks me my thoughts on your teaching style I will respond with, “We are differently pedagogically, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

3.  When you ask me for my opinion on what I consider to be a best practice, I will be honest with you and share my views.  I will never tell you that your views are wrong, only that I differ or disagree.  And I will never name call, put you down, or make you feel like you are less of a teacher because we think/teach differently.

4.  If you present me with research that argues against my personal pedagogical practice, I promise not to dismiss it.  I will read it, consider it deeply, and use this new knowledge to re-evaluate my beliefs.

5.  If you and I engage in debate I will be respectful of your opinions and beliefs.

6.  I will never tell you that my way is the only way to teach.  (Let’s be honest…..I don’t think any teacher would claim to have it all figured out.)

We all teach in the manner that best suits our own practice.  I’ve changed the way I teach numerous times over the past twelve years of my career and I will continue to evolve into the next twenty I’m sure.  I’d be surprised to find any teacher who could claim they taught the same way in year 30 that they did in year 1.  My husband and I are both teachers (of the same grade no less!) and most people would not be surprised to find out that while we agree in many aspects, we are at opposite ends of the spectrum on others.  It hasn’t caused a divorce.  Yet 🙂

I teach in a small K-12 school where we have these conversations all the time in the staff room.  They are important conversations to be having.  But it’s also important that we acknowledge that what works for one teacher does not necessarily work for another.  I like working with project based learning.  That approach doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s completely acceptable.

The only thing I have a problem with is when one teacher tries to change the beliefs and practices of another teacher because it’s how they teach.  For example:  I don’t think it’s fair for the Grade 6 teacher to tell the Grade 5 teacher, “This is the way I teach so you need to teach this way to get them (students) ready for next year.”

That, to me, is right up there with those people who knock on my door on Sundays and try to tell me that my religious beliefs are wrong and I have to convert to their way of thinking.

If you teach a certain way it’s your job to get your students acclimatized to that WHILE you have them.  Not to force a change in teaching practice on a previous teacher.  If you strongly believe in your way of teaching then model it, talk about what is working for you, and encourage others to give it thought.  At the end of the day if they don’t join you on your side…..that’s ok.

Plus I think it’s important that as teachers we stick together and have each others back.  I’ve seen staffs almost literally fall to pieces, completely shattered, because of the negativity that some people hold towards others.

But as I end this post…..

No matter what your teaching style is I encourage you to always consider the needs of the students in your classroom.  Sometimes we have to shift our thinking and do what is best by them.  If they don’t learn the way we teach, we must adapt and teach the way they learn.

I would expect that most people would look at the title of this post and think it’s natural to extend the title to, “You Teach Your Way, I’ll Teach Mine.”  But it sounds too negative, as though it’s a battle of wills with you in your corner and me in mine.  Never the two shall meet…..

The actual end of my title is…..

“You Teach Your Way…..And I Will Respect That.”

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About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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12 Responses to You Teach Your Way……

  1. What if the teaching goes against the vast weight of peer-reviewed evidence? What if the teaching ignores the dramatic shifts that are occurring in our information landscape? When do we draw the line?

    Richard Elmore notes that we’ll never be a true ‘profession’ until we can stop being so relativistic and start drawing some lines about good practice v. wrong practice…

    • You make a valid argument. But who gets to decide what is “wrong”? I’m not sure where you are from but here in Alberta all teachers are expected to uphold their principle values with something called the TQS (Teacher Quality Standards). Failure to meet these standards can result in your dismissal. If the way I teach is in accordance with these guidelines then I should be confident within my own practice. Do we draw a firm line in the sand? I’m not sure we ever can, but you raise an interesting dynamic.

      • I haven’t seen Alberta’s TQS but we have similar documents here in the USA. What if our standards don’t keep up with the demands of society? Can we call an educator ‘wrong’ if she complies with current teacher quality standards but, say, isn’t willing to integrate technology into her instruction with students?

      • In our current TQS this would actually be a violation of the standards. If you’re interested I can send you a copy. I think under circumstances like these (and this is a great example on the use of technology) then these people definitely need to be challenged. I think this is where questioning and a bit of teacher coaching is crucial. Although I will admit that I’m not super comfortable doing this with a peer, I would hope my administration would be on top of this. This actually reminds of a conversation I overheard between two teachers just the other day. One argued that handwriting still needed to be taught as a valuable skill (not sure I agree with this but I digress….) and the other argued that handwriting should move over so typing skills could be the focus. The debates are intriguing and absolutely necessary but you’re right. Sometimes these need firm resolutions.

  2. Vanishing_pt says:

    Cherra-lynne, this is another outstanding blog post … thank you for articulating what so many people feel but sometimes never say out loud.

    It’s important to consider where our strong beliefs come from … a friend of mine, Wayne Hulley, calls it the “See – Do – Get” cycle. The way we See things influences us to Do things a certain way, and that, in turn, influences the results we Get. If you want to change the things you Get, you either have to Do things differently, or See things differently.

    And there’s the rub… do you change your actions (the way you Do things) first, in the hope that what you Get will then change your beliefs (the way you See things), or do you try to change your beliefs in hopes that you will then change your actions?

    Nobody can determine that for you; most often, what you already know when you come to these conversations will influence whether or not you can learn from them… and if you aren’t ready to hear the hidden truths, you won’t be able to. The approach you are suggesting is sound, in that you are promising to listen, think, and reflect, but not promising to change… not until YOU are ready to. That is bound to drive the people who want to bully you into changing crazy, but it will protect your integrity and help you do what’s best for you.

    And they’re just going to have to learn to deal with that.

    The ones who THINK they KNOW they’re right just might suffer from what Steven Hawking desccribed like this: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” Problem is, they aren’t ready to hear that hidden truth, either.

    You keep on getting there your own way, Cherra-lynne, right or wrong.

  3. Colin says:

    It’s funny… I was just writing about this topic earlier today. [http://lexiconic.net/wheatfromthechaff/archives/1525]. I think it’s vitally important that educators respect each other and, when necessary, agree to disagree. Otherwise, we all risk ignoring both innovative methods and tried-and-true best practices. Thanks for your post.

  4. I’m with @mcLeod on this. When there is evidence that one way works better than others, we need to acknowledge the truth. The world is not flat.

    • I don’t disagree with either of you. But research into what works best is constantly shifting. If you take a look at the pendulum swing between “Whole” language and teaching phonetically you can see that there has been a huge switch to our approach to teaching language at the elementary level. Right now the big huge debate in many of our classrooms is over using formal testing to evaluate the “true” knowledge of students. There has been much research to support the belief that formal testing can in fact be detrimental to the learning growth of our students. Then, just yesterday, I read an article on the benefits of testing on memory and recall. So now you have two opposing views, both supported with research. Now what?

      • I think you have a very valid point regarding the pendulum swinging in educational theory. Very few things remain a constant when it comes to such a diverse, internalized, and micromanaged profession. What I would propose is a healthy discussion, bringing new research and relevant standards to the table, on what “good, better, and worse” practices are in use. This can engage people without the confrontation of an old practice being labeled “bad teaching” by peers and administration.

  5. The way I see it, we have to work in a way that is in alignment with what we agree with as best practices. But, in doing so we must be free to choose from the vast collection of available tools and methods, ones that suit our individual styles and personalities—and those of the learners.

  6. Dan Winters says:

    Great conversation

    As a Principal, I applaud your openness and professionalism. I think I fall on the side of needing to make decisions one once course of instruction over another, though I believe that course should be made through the work of collaborative teams (grade levels or departments in secondary). Healthy dialogue followed by consensus, and at times administrative decisions with consultation are necessary.

    • Yes and as a principle you are definitely in a different situation than I am. I’m also in a school where I AM the grade team (since there is only one class at each grade level) and that can be a very isolating thing. I’m left to my own devices in terms of how I will teach my prescribed curriculum. Dialogue is always a good thing and people who know me also know that I encourage conflict as well. In the book “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” the author talks about “healthy” conflict as being necessary to make a team or organization grow. Good debate can help us all grow, no matter what the end result (emphasis on the word ‘good’).

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