Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What is your Kryptonite?

Standing in a coffee shop, I saw a piece of sign art that said, “I Teach, What is your Superpower?” I thought, “Awesome! Teaching is like having a superpower. What an excellent way to think about that.” And then I thought, “Wait a minute, if you have a superpower, that makes you somewhat of a superhero, and every superhero has a weakness.” Superheroes usually can identify what that might be. Thor was lost without his hammer, Batman was plagued by guilt, and Superman needed to avoid Kryptonite. If teaching is our superpower, what hinders us from reaching superhero status? How often do we sit down and reflectively think about what might be our weakness?

I have really enjoyed working on all of our campuses this year in my coaching role. It’s given me an opportunity to view our district from a different perspective and listen to teachers share their experiences. Many of our discussions revolve around those pieces of Kryptonite, things that are getting in the way of achieving superhero status. Some of the common threads revolve around time, energy, and the amount of curriculum.

Time: Time is always an issue, in any job. There never seems to be enough. In classrooms, time is a valued commodity and managed very carefully. One way of addressing the time bomb, is for schools to start looking at restructuring their schedules. If we want teachers to incorporate more project-based lessons, design thinking strategies, and performance based assessments, we need to give them enough time in the classroom to allow it to happen. Teachers also need guidance in understanding how to blend curriculum and think about creative ways to break away from teaching single subjects in isolation. Let’s stop putting a detailed schedule on the board and give students more opportunities to drive the learning with enough time for meaningful conversation and exploration.

Energy: Teachers work hard. No one denies that teachers pour their heart and souls into their students and in creating an environment that gives students structure and safety for learning. It’s draining. Sometimes I think that teachers are working harder than their students. We need to balance the scales. Allowing students more choice and voice in the classroom let’s them shoulder more of the learning responsibility. The byproduct of this is often a more excited and positively energized classroom. Consider it the antidote to the energy drain.

Too Much Curriculum: If you aren’t a teacher, you may not be familiar with the amount of curriculum that accompanies a textbook adoption. It’s a mile long and an inch deep. It covers a lot of information but not much depth. There’s also a pacing guide, teacher’s manual and additional resources for every piece and every student group, plus thousands of worksheets for just about any situation. Back away! Teachers need to become their own designers of their curriculum. Consider your talents, your students, and all of the tools and resources that you have available and blend them together to meet standards and students’ needs. Pull the curriculum pieces that you think are most valid for your current students and put the rest in the cupboard. In today’s digital age, there are so many choices to enhance textbook learning that are more vibrant and engaging for kids, don’t be brought down by worksheets and scripted materials.

It’s a tough time to be a superhero teacher. Technology is rapidly changing and students are demanding a different learning environment. Take time to reflect on your weaknesses. Identify your Kryptonite and strategize to overcome. Teaching is a superpower!

By: Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach
Twitter: @kamithor

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