Learned Behavior


By Dan Koch I found the above image on Facebook earlier this morning, and it really struck a chord with me. Perhaps it's from recently welcoming our baby girl into the world this September. Perhaps it's from being a teacher for years. Whatever the case, I believe this quote by James Baldwin is worth reflecting on. 

Teachers spend a great deal of time around their students. During the school year, teachers spend more time with kids than their own parents do. This is a known fact, and not really anything new to those who currently have school-age children at home.

Since 2010, I've been able to see the students in rural Citrus County, Florida flourish due to some amazing teachers. Since moving here and beginning my job as a middle school English teacher, it amazed me how much these teachers, who I was lucky enough to call colleagues, really care about the students in their classrooms. The students may never know the extent of their reach or how selfless their hearts really were. 

In that short six years, I also got to see state standards change--twice--and see the introduction of a 1 to 1 iPad program extend to every school in our district, wherein each student received an iPad to take home for the year (elementary and some high school students had theirs on carts in the classroom). This is a huge amount of change in a relatively short amount of time. 

Teachers became (understandably) overwhelmed. Not only did they have new standards to unpack and become proficient in teaching, they had a brand new piece of technology placed in their students' hands, and were expected to become at least novice learners. This, more often than not, required more time than there exists in the contracted school day. It was bold new territory. It was uncharted territory. Would teachers rise to the task? 

Yes. What I saw and was able to collaborate on in those first few months of new standards and iPads in my school were some of the most rewarding and important times in my professional career. Since only 7th graders received their iPads that pilot year, administration purposefully placed teachers who were enthusiastic about the new technology in the same hallway on our 7th grade team. We held collaborative planning meetings, which included all content areas, to devise cross-curricular units for students (not mandated by administration; by our own volition). Students got to research their own apps and we experimented with them in our classrooms. Students blogged. They shot, edited, and published videos. And we were excited all year.  Think about what transpired in the brief paragraph written above. What if we said, "these iPads are just too difficult, and a distraction from learning?" What if we, as teachers, had written off the possibilities and vocally expressed our loathing of technology, and how it hinders student achievement, and contributes to them being off task? What if, instead of seeing their teachers enthusiastically collaborate and open themselves up to being learners themselves, they saw us stack the iPads on a desk in the corner of the room to focus on "real learning?" I believe they would have gotten a great lesson: Adults don't care about learning any more. To quote Kevin Honeycutt: 

"Fear and bravery are learned behaviors." Which one are you teaching your students?