One Sunflower

I used to think…but now I think…..

on March 24, 2010

My principal gave me a copy of an article published in a Harvard Education Letter by Richard F. Elmore titled, “I Used to Think…and Now I Think.”   Mr. Elmore writes that he asks participants in professional development sessions to reflect on how their thinking has changed as a consequence of the work they have done together. 

The second statement in this article is the one I felt was most relevant to me and my daily practice:  “I used to think that people’s beliefs determined their practices.  And now I think that people’s practices determine their beliefs.”  Mr. Elmore goes on to write, “The largest determinant of how people practice is how they have practiced in the past, and people demonstrate an amazingly resilient capacity to relabel their existing practices with whatever ideas are currently in vogue……Resilient, powerful new beliefs – the kinds of beliefs that transform the way we think about how children are treated in schools, for example – are shaped by people engaging in behaviors of practices that are deeply unfamiliar to them and that test the outer limits of their knowledge, their confidence in themselves as practitioners, and their competencies.”

I am intrigued by the idea of my practices determining my beliefs, and thinking about whether I am engaging in enough “unfamiliar” practices to create new beliefs.

Whereas there are routines and strategies I’ve practiced for years, I also know that I am definitely not teaching the same way I used to 10 years ago.  I include more direct instruction, I think out loud, I structure learning experiences more intentionally and have higher expectations for my students.  I wouldn’t have – and couldn’t have changed anything at all without a significant amount of input and support from colleagues and other professionals in the field.   

I haven’t done a thorough evaluation of my year but so far the most striking difference in my practice this year has been in the way I am working “with” my students in their writing.  Talking about story elements is just one new aspect of the work.  The writing portion is new too.  In previous years, I would have given my students paper to draw on and although I might have modeled some drawing techniques, I would not have been so involved in their drawing, story creation and writing.  I would not have put my hand over a student’s hand to draw – I’ve done it to write, but not to draw.  It is also new for me to add small details to my student’s pictures that help them recall their stories – it is becoming a key strategy for creating a successful retell experience.  It has been an interesting process to work side by side with my students and experiment with how to support their individual needs.

For all his bravado, Alpha is a reluctant writer.  He struggled with finding topics – that weren’t about super heroes.  While looking through a National Geographic one day, he found a picture of a man being bit by a snake.  He wanted to recreate the story in his journal, adding his own ending.  He was able to draw the main character, but wanted support with the snake and  the ambulance.  In the past I would have encouraged him to do it by himself and wouldn’t have offered to help much at all.  But this time I put my hand over his hand to draw the snake and then drew the ambulance outline.  I added the flashing lights and sound bubble.  It became a favorite story of his to retell.

I’m not sure how I would have supported Daisy in the past.  She is a young ELL who babbles about her story and keeps drawing and drawing and drawing all over the page.  Maestra understands her words and found that Daisy always has a story idea but she would go off on tangents – adding more characters and new events.  She is also extremely independent and insists on doing her own work.  Maestra has learned to thoroughly discuss Daisy’s story idea with her so she gets all her ideas out before giving her the crayons.  Maestra also uses the teacher side of the page to model how to draw details rather than helping Daisy directly on the page.

My next steps are to be more cognizant of the relationships I have with my students and how I can work more efficiently to heighten their learning experiences.  I’ve been a part of a group of teachers learning how to use the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, (CLASS.)  Now whenever I hit a tough spot during the day, I try to focus on the various components outlined in the rubric and rethink how I’m engaging the kids. But I’m hoping to learn how to be thinking before I hit the rough patch –  maybe avoid it and be a more effective teacher in the long run.

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3 responses to “I used to think…but now I think…..

  1. Juliann says:

    I love that you are willing to take time to reflect on your practice. I wonder if this idea “engaging in enough “unfamiliar” practices to create new beliefs” isn’t creating that disequilibrium that we need to shift our understandings?

    • onesunflower says:

      I agree with your premise that creating disequilibrium shifts our understandings. If I hadn’t been forced – or at least “strongly encouraged” to try things in a new way, I wouldn’t have experienced and witnessed changes in my teaching, and results from those efforts.
      But I have always been a teacher who is willing to try new things or go along with the strong encouragement. Too often I’ve been around teachers who are entrenched in their ways or use their seniority to resist trying new ways of teaching.

  2. Blue Like Jazz says:

    Dr. Elmore continues in the article…” As practitioners, we are notoriously poor observers of our own practice and therefore not very good at judging the correspondence between our beliefs and our behavior. I know this about my own practice – as a teacher and as a consultant – which is why I rarely, if ever, practice solo any more.”

    This speaks directly to the leadership (at all levels) problem of practice in this regard: How do we create/nurture a system where stretching out of our tendency to “entrench” – to live in and with disequilibrium – is the normative culture of how we conduct ourselves as educators?

    We need each other to get better and we need to get better because what we do matters in the lives and futures of our students. You, OneSunflower, live with that kind of urgency and that is what makes you so good at what you do…and a leader among the people (at all levels) with whom you work!

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