Teacher Reflection and Sharing

I think it’s rather inevitable that in the coming years technology will become an integral part of the learning and teaching environment. That doesn’t mean that it has to permeate the environment completely; for certain subjects such as music or PE, there are some very important reasons to keep technology at a distance from the students while they are in those instructional spaces. So if technology is becoming more ubiquitous in our schools, how do we assist the teachers, those individuals closest to the students, to use technology wisely?

First of all, I believe the teachers need very rigorous training and follow-up from their leaders. In one example, Matchbook Learning (located in New Jersey), holds bi-weekly meetings with teachers to encourage them to reflect on their pedagogy and use of technology in the classroom. These questions include: “Are the students actively engaged in their learning?”, “What evidence is there that a student has mastered a particular principle?”, and “How are you using the student achievement data to determine what to do next with that student?” or “What strategies will you tweak in the next two weeks to try something new and improve student learning?”

These questions are good, but I believe there is another dimension to quality teaching that is missing here: what kind of relationship is being built between student and teacher?  A few questions I might like to include in an interview like this would be, “When did you last see a student light up with excitement? Tell me about it.” , “What behavioral issues are you encountering in your class and how are you trying to help?” , “Are there any students with whom you feel a particular connection or desire to help?” , and  “Are you sharing authentic bits of yourself with students during the day?”

Some of these questions have been prompted by my recent researching on Parker Palmer and his educational paradigms. I never knew that this philosopher existed, let alone that his ideas exist in this modern world. He is quite radical in proposing so many spiritual dimensions to teaching and learning as he does in some of his books. Here is a favorite quote of mine,

If we want to grow as teachers — we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives — risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.

I think this is especially true when we decide to integrate technology into our classrooms. The technology can help students progress at their own pace in certain activities, but then, do we improve our interpersonal interactions in the classroom to counterbalance the technology effects. Do you take opportunity to be real with each other, even with young students? When the laptops are all put away, can the teacher say that they made a difference in the students’ lives or was the improvement of the classroom due to technology alone?

 I want to know about teachers who have been using a blended system for many years, or some teachers who may have only used a blended system for a little while. What concerns do they have or what paradigmatic shifts have occurred for them as technology has outsourced some of the responsibilities that they have previously held? I know that technology integration can be done poorly, and that it can be done well. My supposition is that in blended learning environments that are flourishing, that students and teachers are embracing new roles and responsibilities. In some cases, maybe change is hard for a long-time teacher who is not used to the technology. We are seeing some achievement gains in learning for students, but are our teachers the ones getting left behind as we plow forward with these new learning and teaching apparatuses and schools?

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