How To Update Your Teaching To Something Messier
by Mike Fisher
Recently, I participated in a Twitter chat for the ASCD Leader to Leader initiative, hashtag #ASCDL2L, on the role of the modern teacher. As the conversation unfolded, it caused me to think more deeply than I have before about what elements teachers might consider on their path to developing a more modern version of their current role.
In Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess Digital Work, I challenge teachers to think about several questions as they seek to modernize instruction, though this is just a slice of what being a modern educator means. Using digital tools is essential, certainly, but I want to extend the message of the book to include other aspects of modern learning.
8 Tips For Updating Your Teaching To Something “Messier”
1. Embrace change
It is inevitable that the world will change. Your world will change. Our children will live in a different world than we grew up in. Change happens. The energy we expend fighting against change could be used to make the change work for us.
Embracing change means embracing personal growth. Make new paths. Travel new roads. New destinations bring new expertise. Be open to that.
2. Be a willing collaborator
Your students will benefit from what you model. Your professional practice will improve when you invite the perspectives and expertise of your colleagues into what you do. The entire culture of a school can be upgraded when people work together toward common goals.
3. Build a toolbox
Don’t limit yourself to what you’ve always known. Build a toolbox of resources and opportunities, both digitally and physically.
Participate in professional development that enhances your toolbox and adds expertise to what you are able to choose from when making curricular decisions. There are tons of websites and apps that would be great for instruction, and there are tons of print resources and physical products that need to be in your toolbox should the opportunity arise for their inclusion in instruction.
In the 21st-century, toolboxes of opportunities, resources, web tools, and apps are extremely important.
4. Invite the kids into the curriculum conversation
The role of the teacher is changing. It’s not about being the sage on the stage anymore so much as it’s about becoming the coach on the sidelines. What the kids value is important and sometimes it’s important to give them a chance to voice both the ‘how’ of learning and the ‘why’ of learning.
On Twitter, a member of my Digital Learning Network tweeted that he told his students what standard they would be working toward next and asked them to suggest ways to meet the goal. If the ideas were good, he included them in his lesson plans. This is huge! Teamwork yields great results. Ask the kids what they think.
Students are your partners in education, not just the objects to whom you teach.
5. Let student explore
Look for places in the curriculum where direct instruction can be replaced by deep student-centered inquiry and exploration. The kids need a toolbox, too! Let students discover the answers to questions.
Now that information lives everywhere, students have access to knowledge. What they don’t have is an understanding of how to select from those knowledge resources, decide which resources are relevant and useful, and which resources will be the best to provide evidence for supporting their thinking.
6. Give students the gift of discernment
Always hold students accountable for their rationale. They should be able to articulate why they chose a particular resource or why they used a particular tool, website, or app. Reflection on learning and reflection on the tools and resources with which we learn are extremely important. We need to know that students ‘get it’ on a conceptual level, rather than just a recognition level.
7. Seek opportunities to extend the classroom
In the 21st-century, the teacher should not be the student’s only audience. Understanding multiple perspectives comes from experience with multiple perspectives. Students should regularly interact with students in other countries around the world and should regularly be publishing their work online for the sake of global feedback before the teacher ever sees it.
This is called ‘amplification’–students amplify their work and reap the benefits of critical perspective analysis. It gives them opportunities to think of things that they would not have otherwise considered.
8. Let it go
Be critically aware of the traditional aspects of instruction and what is timeless and what is mindless. Educator comfort with past learning modalities should not be a factor for defending their use in the modern classroom.
Traditions that build solid foundations are still important, like traditional print literacy and basic literacy skills, but other bastions of education, like lectures and popcorn reading, were irrelevant modes of instruction two decades ago and certainly are not strategies that work for 21st-century students.
“The way we’ve always done it” is no longer an excuse teachers can use. Let it go. Ask yourself how much work you’re doing versus how much work your students are doing. Shift the balance. Your students should be doing the work, and that work must be as meaningful, relevant, and authentic as possible.
The modern classroom is like a Jackson Pollock painting. It’s messy, integrated, interesting, abstract, creative, engaging, rich, invigorating, student-centered, and immersed in technology. It is not like the classrooms we remember as kids. It is not like the classrooms depicted in popular media. It is not filled with compliant students who smile a lot and do well on assessments just because we “taught it.”
The modern classroom is constantly evolving. It is innovative and challenging, while also being inviting and valuing the voice of the child. The children. All stakeholders. The modern educator is a conductor of a symphony of awesome possibilities and a conductor of the train of excellence.
Upgrade yourself. Upgrade the way you do what you do. If you put the students first, how does that change your perspective? If you put aside biases and move forward with risk-taking behaviors, how does that benefit your students? Take a look at yourself in the mirror. Are you, as Heidi Hayes Jacobs says, preparing kids for 2025, or 1982?
He is a member of both the ASCD Faculty and the Curriculum 21 Faculty. He is an active blogger who writes often for the Curriculum 21 Blog and ASCD’s EDge Social Network. His website is The Digigogy Collaborative and he can also be found on Twitter as @fisher1000. He is also the author of Digital Learning Strategies: How do I assign and assess 21st Century Work? and the co-author of Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students, both published by ASCD. He is also a contributing author to the Solution Tree series Contemporary Perspectives on Literacy; image attribution flickr group Great Quotes about Learning and Change; 8 Tips For Updating Your Teaching
This post has been updated from previous publishing