Maya Angelou was a very wise woman. There is so much embedded in the quote above. Doing the best you can until you know better requires both persistent effort and a quest for growth. The latter part demands we step out of our comfort zones and take risks as we pursue that growth.
As educators, we should constantly be seeking to know better so we can do better. This is not to say we're ineffective or to admit a lacking, but this mindset should be part of our profession - to reflectively pursue learning and growth so we can have an even greater impact on the students we serve.
One of the most difficult things about being an educator is that parents and students deserve us to be great, seasoned educators on Day 1 of our careers. Unfortunately, this is not possible. There is too much to learn and experience. I sincerely wish I could go back and redo my first years as a teacher and first years as an administrator. I cannot. But, what I can do is continue reflecting and learning as I strive to be the best I can be for the students and staff I now serve.
My educational philosophies continue to be challenged, transformed, and molded through various conversations, books, blogs, podcasts, and Twitter posts. The mindsets below are definitely not original thoughts, but they are mindsets which have had an impact on my growth and transformation as an educator.
This list is random and by no means exhaustive. These mindsets are simply one educator's beliefs...
- Professional growth and learning is something each of us should pursue. We will always remain a work in progress.
- Education is about the learning, not grades.
- Discipline is about prevention, not revenge.
- Classroom management begins with relationships and engagement, not the best rules.
- We must focus on those things we can control rather than blaming others and making excuses.
- Yes, teachers are not respected or paid enough. But we must persevere and do what's best for kids anyways.
- Compliance, paying attention, and following the rules do not equal engagement.
- Retention and SPED testing are last resorts.
- We cannot intervention our way out of ineffective classroom instruction.
- Reflection should be a regular occurrence (for educators and students).
- Students should be growing at least one year for each year they're in school. If they're not, we need to examine our practices. If they are, we need to determine what is working well.
- Sometimes, the students aren't to blame for their lack of achievement. It's our method(s) of instruction.
- Our systems are perfectly designed to give us the results we're getting. If we want different results, we must tweak (or change) our system.
- There is no silver bullet in education. However, some strategies/methods have a greater impact than others. (We should know what those are and utilize them. See Visible Learning.)
- Students do not learn from people they don't like. Constantly working on relationships is critical.
- Worksheets are not the only way to measure student performance. In fact, they are rarely the best way to measure deep learning or application.
- The field of teaching is reserved for only those with the unique combination of purpose, desire, determination, and dedication to persevere through all of the challenges and expectations. Teaching isn't for everybody...only the special ones willing to follow their calling.
- We must surround ourselves with those who challenge us to be better. Not because we admit a lacking or deficit, but because being a professional means constantly pursuing growth.
- We must live just outside of our comfort zones and take risks.
- The status quo has no place in education.
- Every student matters. (And if you disagree, write down the names of those who don't. Then, call their parents and tell them.)
- Grades are typically a reflection of compliance and playing the game of school. Rarely do they tell us what a student has mastered or what their potential is.
- The textbook is not the curriculum.
- Teachers are the experts in the classroom, not publishing companies. Teachers should be deciding what gets assessed and how learning is measured....not the publishers.
- Collaboration is critical, and disagreement is ok - between teacher/teacher, admin/admin, and teacher/admin.
- Making errors/mistakes is necessary for learning. They should not be discouraged, especially by traditional grading practices which penalize students for not learning something as quickly as another student.
- Feedback is more important than grades. (Students can learn without grades, but they cannot learn without feedback.)
- If points are taken off for late work, bonus points given, or final grades calculated by averaging, grades are no longer a true reflection of learning or mastery.
- Assessment is to gauge instructional effectiveness - not to have something to attach a grade to.
- Success is not an accident. Hope is not a plan.
Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.