One of my favorite educational writers, whom I have had the privilege to meet and hear speak, is Sir Ken Robinson. I once heard him say, “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
When I was a school administrator, I sometimes found that teachers were reluctant to try some new approach to teaching, some innovative way to instruct, fearing that it would be frowned upon as “Not the way we do things!” I always told teachers to never be afraid to try something new, to think outside of the box. “If it doesn’t work, that’s ok,” I would tell them. I didn’t want a building of ‘cookie cutter’ robots all doing the same exact thing.
“You’re a professional,” I would add. “Use your skills and see what happens.”
Now, as a school board member, I still feel the same way. Obviously we all understand that standards have to be covered in accordance with state policies, but I think that often we get way too caught up in the HOW those standards are taught, losing sight of the fact that teachers are as individualized in their styles of instructing as students are in their modalities of learning. It has always bothered me that so many teacher evaluations, for example, are based on covering all of the tick boxes on a form designed by some committee of experts. It is bemusing to me that in education we preach about instructing for individual students’ learning styles but at the same time we attempt to treat teachers as a monolithic style of instructor, all teaching the same way. If our teachers once had individual learning styles when they were students, why do we now expect them to all teach the exact same way, and thus ignoring their individualized styles? I have asked that question in various forms of many educators and policy makers over the years. No one has been able to give me an answer so far, except to say that we need some way to compare teachers in an evaluation.
That’s not an acceptable answer to me. I understand that some form of evaluations for teachers is necessary, but they also need to accommodate for different teaching strategies and styles. A teacher should be more concerned with student learning rather than teaching by some forced methodology for the purpose of the checklist on a formal evaluation.
To that point, Robin Williams’ character John Keating in “Dead Poets Society” would have failed a lot of formal teacher evaluations miserably. After all, he never wrote his state curriculum standards on the board in a canned “The learner will be able to…” statement. And I can only imagine how poorly written his lesson plan book would have looked by many of today’s formal teacher evaluation standards. But teach he did. And his students learned… a lot. Teachers: don’t be afraid to innovate. Challenge yourself and expand your mind when it comes to different ways to reach kids. Talk it out with your school leadership but don’t be afraid to be wrong because when you get it right, as you usually will do, something special will happen for your students.