Living in the past, or looking to the future?

Posted on May 27, 2014 by Alicia Levitt - Best Practices

When I started teaching back in the late 1980s, we were just beginning to learn more about how kids learn. I remember being trained in college in a program called TESA (Teacher Expectation Student Achievement). At that time, it was believed that if teachers engaged in certain types of behaviors, students would get the message that they were capable of learning.There are many of us out there who've been around for a long time, and we begin to think that every new idea is just a recycled version of an older idea. It's how the brain works, tying new information to existing knowledge. Although I was relieved to see that the foundations of the TESA program are still valid today, I realize that a lot has happened in the areas of brain and learning research in the past 20 years. Twitter and Pinterest have become the new ways to stay informed and get new ideas. Old-timers like me can feel threatened and want to hold on to what we know, and this is usually drawn from our time in the classroom.There is an art and science to teaching. We do understand more about relating to students and parents as our experience grows. And we develop our content knowledge expertise as we teach the same concepts year after year. The art comes with time. Yet, advances in brain-scan technology and years of research on learning environments have brought us some very specific recommendations. It's time to acknowledge that experience alone doesn't make an effective teacher. We must all stay current and be willing to let go of old practices that aren't effective. We must also be willing to take some risks in our classrooms and try something new, knowing that we may need more practice before we get it down. These are the marks of a true professional.As The Lutheran Schools Partnership plans for next year, we'll be inviting experts to answer this very essential question: "What does current research tell us about how students learn?" We'll be addressing a variety of topics, including the science behind learning, re-examining homework, and scaffolding our instruction so all students in our room are working on grade-level materials. Teachers, administrators, parents, and community members will be able to come and learn together.To prepare for this, I have a challenge for all of our veteran teachers. I want you to clean out your file cabinets and get rid of anything that is more than five years old. Really get rid of it; don't just stick it in a box labeled "just in case"! Can you do it? How much will you have left? The art of teaching is grounded in our experiences and memories of watching students learn (the past). The science of teaching is grounded in what we learn today and what we'll discover tomorrow (the future). OK, I'll let you save one box.