Saturday, July 23, 2011

Seek First to Understand...

Behavior isn't something to manipulate, it's something to understand.

flickr photo via kokichuelo

I have spent the better part of my teaching career to date working with kids who manifest very adverse behavior. I have received hundreds of hours of professional development related to helping these kids improve their behavior, some of which was considered to be severe. I've been trained in behavior management techniques designed to manage behavior, corrective techniques to correct behavior and modification techniques to modify behavior. What nobody ever trained me to do however, was understand behavior.

Behaviorism is a well known school of thought relative to working with kids who display challenging behavioral tendencies. According to Wikipedia, behaviorism, sometimes referred to as the learning perspective (where any physical action is a behavior), is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things that organisms do — including acting, thinking and feeling — can and should be regarded as behaviors. Applied Behavior Analysis  is a term used commonly in education to describe how we analyze the behaviors we see in schools. In my role as a special educator, I have participated in many functional behavior analysis (FBA) that are designed to provide hypotheses about the relationships between specific environmental events and observed behaviors in students. I must admit, the FBA process is as close as I've ever been to actually understanding behavior, but even this process has left me wondering, "do I really know the story behind what I'm observing when I witness adverse behavior?"

I believe in collaboration...

I believe in collaboration. Effective leaders work among their people, not above them.
flickr photo via TerryJohnston

Barry Litun, a former Superintendent in my school district taught one of my graduate school courses in leadership. Something he said has stuck with me since taking that course. In describing how an effective leader fits into a high-functioning staff of teachers and para-professionals he said,
When people need defending, good leaders stand in front of them. When people are being celebrated, good leaders stand behind them. Most of the rest of the time, visitors to the school shouldn't be able to guess who the leader is.
I really appreciate this point of view as an educational leader. I agree that good leaders in schools need to be bold enough to shoulder the responsibility for what happens in the school, especially when they don't go well. I also agree that good leaders need to be humble and willing to let others receive the credit for doing good things (a sidebar to this is that good leaders surround themselves with good people... and they believe all have potential to be leveraged.) Most of all though, I totally agree that good leaders know how to distribute the leadership within their schools by enabling others to play to their strengths and do what they well know how to do; they honor the teachers and para-professionals in their schools by letting them be their own leaders.

Great leaders want their followers to be better at what they do than they would be at doing it themselves. They serve their people without expectation of credit as just another piece of the puzzle required to make things work. I think folks appreciate these qualities in a leader; they appreciate the respect, trust and confidence that they receive, and they are motivated by these things to offer their best as well.

Effective leaders work among their people, not above them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Kids learn now... Let's prepare teachers to teach now

flickr phot via mac.rj

I'm not fond of the term "21st Century learning." It has become a wildly referred to catchphrase in education, and as catchphrases go, I worry that the original intent of the term has been lost in translation. So often the term is equated with technological advances, and more specifically, how to utilize them in teaching and learning. I think 21st Century teaching and learning is way more involved than this.

Taken on the surface, teachers everywhere are challenged with the task of preparing kids for the 21st Century, or at least the remaining 89 years of it. A daunting task. This report commissioned by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) suggests that the teaching profession needs to think differently about how teachers are prepared to teach kids for this century; to enable, empower and engage them. The report lays out a plan to emulate a more clinical approach to teacher training similar to how doctors are trained with practical experience taking a more prominent role throughout the process. In so many ways, if done well with serious consideration for the practical value of learning how to teach in an actual school, I believe a clinical approach to teacher training is a very good idea. I have to ask though, does the medical profession attempt to prepare doctors to provide up to date patient care 100 years at a time? Perhaps a grounding of the term 21st Century as it applies to education is needed so we know what we mean when we say it. It has to be about more than just technology... it's a thinking thing.

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