Category Archives: Teaching Styles

Teach, Lead, and Transform- Be a Teacherpreneur!

Here’s a short excerpt from an article I read today- What the Heck is a ‘Teacherpreneur’?:

the concept of “teacherpreneur” involves giving classroom teachers more of a voice in educational leadership, while allowing current educational leaders and policymakers opportunities to spend a part of each year working in a classroom with students.

In this ideal world, teachers spend part of their time in the class as co-teachers, part of their time researching and writing curriculum and assessments for schools, part of the time mentoring new teachers (who have a reduced work load while they’re being trained), part of their time innovating ideas for teacher development, and part of their time drafting educational policy.”

This is what I want to be when I grow up- a teacherpreneur!

Not that I don’t like my current job.  I am currently serving as an instructional coach and I truly enjoy it.  It’s definitely a close second to being a teacherpreneur.  I have the privilege of providing professional development to teachers, I can offer my two cents (for what it’s worth) on the educational policy of my school, and I get to observe and learn from other fantastic teachers. Sometimes I even get lucky enough to be asked to model a lesson in a  classroom, or provide interventions for a student or two, which helps satisfy my need for student interaction.

The Limitations of Being an Instructional Coach

As much as I love my job, at times it can be frustrating when I have an idea that I would love to try.  For those of you who don’t know me personally, you should know that I am known for being readily open to trying new things in my classroom. (Some may attribute this to possible ADD, but I like to think of it as educational enthusiasm!) Most of the time, the ideas turn out to be pretty good ones that help the students learn.  As for those occasional bad ideas- while the students may not learn much from them, I learn PLENTY!!

I spend a lot of time reading professional literature (yes, I really do this for fun) and like any true nerd- when I read about ideas, I want to try them out.  Think of it like being a student in a science class reading how to calculate speed, but not able to actually measure the time and distance of a toy car rolling down a ramp.  Instructional coaches (like myself) would be the first to ask “How much learning can really take place without hands-on experiences?”  The same rings true for anyone in the education field who is not working directly with students day-in and day-out.

As an instructional coach, I can read up on the latest research and best practices, I can attend the most inspiring professional development, and can observe the most fabulous teachers, but if I never have an opportunity to implement firsthand what I have learned, a complete understanding will never be realized.  I may have surface knowledge of the concept, but it won’t run deep.  I liken this to the shift to in-depth standards which require the students to delve deeply into concepts and explore them on multiple levels to understand these concepts more thoroughly.  It’s just as important for educators to have a deep understanding of teaching practices and how they affect student learning, and this isn’t possible without hands-on experiences.

The Benefits of Being an Instructional Coach

On the other hand, I feel that by being involved in more “global” issues outside of my immediate classroom, I have grown tremendously as a member of the educational community.  Sometimes teachers get tunnel vision and all they have time to care about are the students in their own classrooms and the students’ performance in their class.  They aren’t able to see the big picture.  And often, it isn’t their fault.  At some schools (thankfully not at mine) the administrators make all the decisions and tell the teachers exactly what they will be doing.  So the teachers don’t even bother trying to see the big picture.  What’s the point?

But when teachers’ eyes are opened to the big picture, that’s when things get exciting!  When teachers within a school or district come to view themselves as part of a larger network, and are invited to provide educational insight and advice, they become more invested in the system.  Since becoming a coach 5 months ago, I have learned to question seemingly outdated policies and procedures, consider ways to better meet the needs of students and teachers, and make suggestions for improvements.  Many of my ideas have been accepted and implemented, and some have been politely acknowledged and then quickly forgotten, but either way, the fact that someone values my opinion encourages me to continue seeking ways to improve as an educator.

Being a Teacherpreneur- The Best of Both Worlds

My fear is that as time passes, I may forget what it was like to be in a classroom and start inadvertently providing input that is irrelevant or even worse- counterproductive.  And this is more pertinent now than ever before. Because of the rapid changes in society, it is extremely likely that the classroom will be a completely different place than it is now in just 5 short years.  If I am not engaged in the experience of teaching students, I will not be as effective in making sound educational decisions.

In a school of teacherpreneurs, this fear doesn’t have to exist.  All members of the teaching community will stay connected and informed through classroom teaching, while also serving as a valued leader in a capacity that best suits them: administrator, author, curriculum developer, college professor, policy maker, etc.  Say good-bye to disgruntled teachers who complain about irrelevant policies that don’t make sense, and say hello to motivated professionals working towards a common goal of improving student achievement through continual learning and collaboration.

Do you believe this educational structure is attainable?  What are some obstacles that will need to be overcome in implementing this idea of teacherpreneurs? What are the benefits of this type of system?

If you are interested in learning more about this idea of “teacherpreneur”- check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LXFVpp3wQ0

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Why You Should NOT be the one Driving Your Classroom.

The Bus Driver Teacher

Do you measure your success as a teacher in the following ways?

  • I am efficient and organized.
  • I know exactly what I should teach, and when I should teach it, and plan my lessons for weeks in advance.
  • I have identified a lesson that has proven effective year after year and use it to teach each of concepts.

If so, you might be a bus driver teacher.  Bus driver teachers see their role as moving students from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.  They know what the student should be able to do when they enter their classrooms, and they have mapped a route to get them where they need to be by the end of the school year.  While bus driver teachers seem professional and prepared on the outside, the problem is that teaching students is not as simple as picking them up at one stop and delivering them to the next.

Every single student in your classroom comes in with a different skill set, with different understandings, and with different strengths.  In other words, they are not all at a common bus stop.  If you are lucky, most of the students will be near the same stop, and some students may even be able to run and catch up to the bus stop if you start off slowly and slow down occasionally when they seem to fall off the bus, but more than likely, they all won’t make it on the bus.

Most students start off the school year with the best intentions, but those that don’t make it on the bus soon get tired of chasing it, and end up only a little farther along from where they started, and much more disheartened.  For these students, as each year passes, they end up farther and farther behind, never quite making it on the bus.

The Limo Driver Teacher

Perhaps you measure your success as a teacher like this:

  • I make sure that the lessons are fun for the students.
  • I use learning games so the students want to learn.
  • Students always want to come to my classroom because they enjoy themselves.

If so, you might be a limo driver teacher (or chauffeur if you want to be fancy).  A limo driver teacher realizes that for students to learn, they need to be engaged.  Limo Driver Teachers understand that learning should be fun and school should be enjoyable.  Limo driver teachers often receive rave reviews from students, parents, colleagues, and administrators.  These teachers always go the extra mile to make sure their students enjoy themselves at school.

For many years, my goal was to be a limo driver teacher.  And after my first year of teaching, where all I did was survive, I would even admit that I was a pretty darn good limo driver teacher.  I wrote grants to design and build a life-sized playhouse with my students in math class. In science, we played with roller coasters and made edible ‘rocks.’  We did skits in social studies, and made PowerPoint presentations and dioramas in reading.  My students always had fun. And I was even selected as my school’s Teacher of the Year in my third year of teaching.

However, just as the bus driver teacher fails to see how each student is unique, so does the limo driver teacher.  I failed to realize that learning is not the same as having fun.  Because not all students arrived in my classroom at the same place, by planning lessons targeted to transport my class as a whole, I was guaranteed to miss some.  After reflecting on those years of teaching, I can see that I did.

In a limo driver’s classroom, the students are more likely to try harder to keep up because who wouldn’t want to take part in the fun.   My students were some of the most motivated students in the school, which made me proud. These students will persevere a little longer, but inevitably, even in a limo driver’s classroom, will get disheartened and will fall behind their peers.

While I noticed that despite these fun learning opportunities, some of my students were still not making progress, I blamed this lack of success on other issues, such as a difficult home life, or a learning disability. After all, most of my students were successful, and I believed that I could not help the fact that some students came into my class below grade level.

The GPS Teacher

But the longer I taught, the more I was bothered by the lack of success of these few students.  I could see so much value and potential in each of these “at-risk” students, yet they struggled to keep up with their peers.   I also realized that some students had the potential to travel beyond their peers, but were content with staying in the limo with everyone else because it was fun.   That’s when my goal changed.

My eyes were opened to the realization that a limo driver teacher is nothing more than a glorified bus driver teacher.  I realized that instead of driving my students, I needed to let them be in in control of their learning. My role is NOT to transport the students, but to be their GPS, allowing them to take control of their own learning.

A GPS teacher has a big picture view of the learning that needs to take place for each student.   He understands the route behind and ahead of the students.  He discerns the location of each student as she enters the classroom, and immediately begins to provide guidance to help the student travel along her own personal path to learning.  Every learning experience for every individual is carefully chosen for a specific purpose.

And the beauty of being a GPS teacher is that your students can travel at their own pace.  Some students will travel a little slower than others, some will inevitably take a wrong turn, but that is all part of the learning process.  We simply need to be there to help them re-calculate the route.  And those speedy students will have the opportunity to excel beyond what was otherwise possible.

Is this an easy task? No way!  In fact, I would dare say that there are many days that I feel overwhelmed and scattered trying to be a GPS for all my students.  But when I finally have the opportunity to slow down and reflect on each student’s progress, I am able to see a marked improvement in each student’s self-esteem, self-awareness, and motivation (oh, and academic achievement too!) proving that my attempt to drive my students is never as successful as guiding them while they drive themselves.

Are you willing to put forth the effort necessary to be a GPS teacher?  In your opinion, is it worth it?

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