Sunday, May 18, 2014

What Are Your Non-Negotiables?

The Common Core State Standards tell us what students should know and be able to do academically at the end of a school calendar year. They are, in essence, non-negotiables. But, what about you? What are your non-negotiables?

What should your students know and be able to do when they leave your classroom, your school, or your district? What’s most important that you can pass on to them?

Early in my teaching career, one of my non-negotiables was being a content and control specialist. I knew my material and loved to share it at the front of the room. I orated and did my best Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver impersonations. The content was dry, so I needed to make it fun by being ‘the fun teacher.’ I thought that was how teaching was done: by replicating what I’d been through in public education, what I learned in college courses, and what I’d seen in movies. But, I wasn’t teaching: I was wasting our time. Students were bored because I was teaching them that learning is boring. No wonder they passed notes, talked while I was talking, and made poor decisions. I put them in that position by keeping them isolated in their seats all day. I would have done the same thing if I were a student in my own class.

As I’ve grown as an educator, I’ve changed this non-negotiable. I’ve moved from a teacher-centered environment to a student-centered one. I’ve learned that I can’t control the learning outcome. Students control that. I can’t make students learn. Students control that, too. What I can do is create an environment that is conducive to student learning occurring: short mini-lessons and active student engagement, while embedding cooperative learning and character education in each lesson. I can make the learning environment fun, and through that, I can teach students that learning is fun. Because, when learning is fun, students will stay engaged in the process, even when it gets hard.

The Common Core State Standards are hard. There is a lot to cover, and the depth is tremendous. I can see why teachers get overwhelmed and scared. This is why I believe it is so important to know our non-negotiables, and fall back on our personal mission statements: what do I want my students to know and be able to do at the end of a school calendar year? What are my non-negotiables as an educator and a person. What is my role?

Even with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, my role as an educator hasn’t changed: if anything it’s become more important to stick to my moral compass. I need to work with students to create an environment that is safe, so they are comfortable learning and taking risks. I want to help build creative, outside-the-box thinkers of strong character, ones who use rejection or failure as opportunities to grow. My objective at the end of the year is to help activate the problem solving and skill set necessary within my students so they will be successful when they’re adults. Because, they will learn from this failure and rejection, and work harder by growing from it. But most of all, when students leave at the end of a school calendar year, I want them to know I didn’t teach them anything: we learned it together.

Now, I don’t want people to think I’m down on the Common Core State Standards. I believe in them. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there. I work with different education constituencies to assist educators in understanding the instructional shifts brought about by the Common Core. However, at our core, it is important that we always remember why we are educators, and what the most important thing we can do as educators -- and that’s too build the next generation of society with the skill set necessary for success in college, career, and life.