Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mastery cannot end with content

Master's cap for graduates in the globe. 3D

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One of the most memorable pieces of advice I received in an undergraduate education course was in response to a question about being nervous about mastering our content area during the first year of teaching.  The professor, a well seasoned life-long learner, looked at us and said, “Just remember that no matter how insecure you feel about knowing your content, you know more than the students in the class.”

Now, back then that was good advice.  There was no universal access to the sum total of human knowledge at the click of a button (Yes, I’m talking about the internet).  Today, when I work with new teachers I cannot give that advice.  Students are very savvy and any part of the teacher/student relationship that once gave the teacher an upper hand based on content, is basically nonexistent today. 

Mastery of content is still important.  I consider the credibility based on a teacher’s content knowledge one of the foundational elements of an effective classroom experience.  On the other hand, effective classes cannot exist anymore based solely on the teacher being a content master.  This speaks volumes, in my opinion, about how teacher preparation and professional development needs to transform parallel to how we see student learning changing.

As “masters”, what areas should teachers focus their mastery efforts in order to create an effective classroom?  Some studies suggest that a couple of the most powerful influences on student achievement is the relationship between teacher and student and the use of formative evaluations of programs (for a very good article on these topics, and others, see this post).

Here are a few other areas to consider if you are seeking your next “mastery” challenge.

  • Holding yourself as accountable as your students (deadlines, preparation for class, level of respect, etc.)
  • Understanding the nature of change in schools
  • Recognizing your role as a member of a team of teachers, not a lone wolf tasked with championing your subject area
  • Reading the non-verbal clues sent by your students in class
  • Engaging parents proactively and positively as part of building an important partnership
  • Using positive language (what you can do for your students) rather than negative (what you cannot do)
  • Effective written communication
  • How to create and deliver good assessments to students AND be willing to admit when the instrument you used is flawed - poor results are not always due to lack of student preparation
  • More collaboration (critical and honest conversation about instruction and programs)
  • Acceptance that technology is changing the rules of engagement – if you want to maintain an advantage, you must control (or at least be comfortable with) these new rules
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