Saturday, March 10, 2012

Faster Than the Speed of Teacher Training

I recently participated in one of my favorite weekly Twitter discussions, #isedchat, during which the topic of "student helplessness" came up.  As I read the various comments, questions, and answers being shared, I wrote  a simple thought that a few people said was interesting and asked for me to explain.  Here is what I wrote.
isedchat I think the "help" students need is changing faster than the "help" teachers are trained to provide.
Here is the explanation behind my idea.

I am not convinced that "helplessness" is the right term for students.  Many need motivation.  Many need inspiration.  Many could use more grit and determination.  However, I see helpless as the the inability to act without help, and I think teachers confuse helpless with a possible disconnect between traditional teacher training and the less pedagogical/curricular needs that many students have.  Teachers are then left to try to figure out what is needed and when the guess doesn't match the problem, a mirage of helplessness may appear.

I do not like the term helpless, but I concede that ALL students need the help of a caring and professional teacher.  The problem may be that though teacher training involves how to plan lessons, address curriculum objectives, understand best practices and pedagogy, and sprinkles in some psychology, the needs of students today are changing with the demands of the connected world.  I have found that, in many cases, the help students need is not based on pedagogy, psychology, or best practices (though all of those are necessary for good teaching).

What I see today (more than at any point in my career) are students who need teachers to help them find motivation, build self-confidence, seek challenges, set appropriate goals, and how to develop and follow through on action plans to help them attain those goals.  Teachers today are seeing these needs in class, and are trying to help, but because traditional teacher training doesn't quite address these types of needs, teachers try what they know, and are left frustrated when the results are not as they would expect - thus, students appear "helpless."

Remember the reason for this post was to try to explain the thought behind my suggestion that students' needs are changing faster than teachers are trained to provide.  What I didn't suggest is that students' needs are different or new - just changing.  Student's have always needed motivation, inspiration, grit, determination, and the ability to set, act upon, and attain goals.  The issue here is the nature of how those aspects of student success is changing.

When the world needed more disciplined, obedient factory workers, those needs were less important and easily suppressed by building those skills in school.  In order to teach those skills, teachers were trained to teach in that mode.

Now, the world needs more independent thinkers who are capable of synthesizing information and solving problems.  We also know much more about how to help students build those skills.  There just hasn't been the same push for teacher training to follow those needs.  

If you are looking to supplement your traditional training in an effort to help students whose needs may be changing faster than the traditional training models are prepared to address, here are a few areas on which you may want to focus.

  1. Growth mindsets
  2. Setting and attaining goals
  3. Project based learning
  4. Social and emotional learning
  5. Building self-control, grit, and determination
  6. Right brain functions
  7. Motivation
If you want to add to this list of valuable topics for effective teachers to understand, please do so by leaving a comment.

If you want to read a stimulating and thought provoking manifesto on the needs of today's students, check out Seth Godin's Stop Stealing Dreams - free to download and read.

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