In education, both as teachers and administrators, there is no shortage of questions to answer and items to check off the list.
“What are the standards?”
“What are your lesson plans?”
“Did you put grades in this week?”
“What day are you testing?”
“Did you finish your homework?”
As you know, this list could go on forever, and I’m sure there are questions and “checklist items” out there that are unique to your classroom or your school. These questions are often rapid fire and routine. It has become increasingly clear to me, however, that these questions, and often answers, are incomplete. Many times, we are missing the “why?”
“Why is this part of my lesson plan this week?”
“Why am I assessing this way?”
“Why was this a homework assignment?”
ACKNOWLEDGE THE NEED FOR “WHY”
There is a growing frustration in schools, classrooms, living rooms, and other educational circles with the process and standardization of all things learning. All too often, it seems students are saddled with assignments, homework, and assessments that only serve one purpose: getting something done so a grade can be entered. I don’t think this is an intentional move on the part of most teachers, but rather the result of the education process over time that has demanded standardization and compliance. I think more and more, parents and even educational leaders, are beginning to ask “why” things are being assigned, practiced, and done the way they are. I really think this is due to two things: the growing frustration with the educational system and the rapid pace at which technology is changing our world. The truth is, the “why” is no longer to just deliver content. Our students have a wealth of information at their fingertips, and the job of teachers is transforming before our eyes. This transformation underscores the need to acknowledge the “why”.
START WITH THE “WHY”
The idea of starting with the “why” comes down to a basic philosophical view… do you think you are just making lesson plans, or do you believe you are creating experiences for students? If you believe you are creating unique experiences, then you likely take into account the “real world value” of learning, and not just the standards. Starting with the “why” is critical to providing unique learning experiences. Teachers have to consider, not just why they are covering certain material, but possibly more importantly, why they are assigning certain activities, projects, homework, or assessments. When you start with the “why” of what you are doing, you are forced to answer, upfront, some tough questions about what you are doing and the value it will have for students. I have found that working backwards from the “why” has allowed me to not only create valuable learning experiences, but it has also made me much more aware to what is of value, and what is not.
COMMUNICATE THE “WHY”
I don’t think we have ever lived in a time when communication was more important, especially in the world of education. I don’t just mean communicating with a students home, but rather communicating with students, other teachers, administrators, and, of course, parents. I have found that simply communicating the “why” behind what you are doing in your classroom will revolutionize climate and relationships. Much of the frustration that parents feel can be eased when teachers take the initiative and explain why they are doing certain projects or assigning certain work. Communicating the “why” also holds teachers accountable. You can’t just coast through the assignments you have given year after year without any thought to them anymore. You need to come up with fresh ideas that have real world value. If you make a decision to communicate the why, there has to be a “why”.
I have always sent an email out to parents to begin the week, where I update them on class and talk about what activities we are going to be doing. I do not send out standard, day-to-day lesson plans, simply because teaching is not standard, and things change on a moment’s notice when we get new ideas, or students want to spend more time on a certain topic. However, recently I have been also making a YouTube video where I briefly explain the “why” behind what we are going to be doing. It is a short video, but I am able to explain the real world value an assignment or project has, and I think that makes a connection with parents that is essential.
Joe Robison is a Middle School Science Teacher in Valdez, Alaska. He is passionate about connecting with kids, building relationships, and innovating in his classroom. He enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, Wylie, and their four small children. You can follow Joe on Twitter @joerobison907.