A Roadmap for Learning on your Own
Although we’re used to focusing on the many facets of education and keeping all of them balanced, we need to be more focused and granular. We often forget that not every aspect has the same impact on the overall outcome, and that doesn’t mean everything can be decided. Each lesson can impact learning differently than a poster or a conference or a magazine article. Each teacher has unique options that each classroom faces. As teacher coach, it’s my job to help teachers figure out how to create a path for students, so they don’t have to go it alone. At first, this may seem a bit drastic. A path has to work in practice after all, right? Achieving a fair balance is a difficult enough task, and any suggestions that meddle with that will surely feel like some kind of step back.
But, keep it simple.
Most educational stakeholders focus on the bigger picture, a few main points, or the funnel that starts with a curricular goal. This is more or less ideal, but it’s not ideal for all students. And, sometimes, an approach focused on one element isn’t exactly what’s needed. Just as an Olympic athlete knows that one effort is no substitute for a whole workout, a teacher can lean on a training plan that can be applied across the board. I know this all too well. My students care about many things. Each one thinks, feels, and understands an area of the curriculum in a different way. My job is to build and lead them to believe that this isn’t the case. That this is true, that learning can be adaptable, and that results can be shown through action as opposed to a test score.
Take the example of failure. It’s easier to see when a student is in the midst of burning herself out, or floundering along the steepest slope. And, everyone wants to be seen doing all the right things. We’re all always afraid to admit that something is trying too hard, that our strategies aren’t working. And, perhaps it’s because these work too hard and aren’t sustainable. The biggest part of a learning path is staying true to each learner. A path that steers you towards “singular success” isn’t going to be beneficial to all. Teachers don’t need to define themselves as the ONLY person who knows how to help a student understand a difficult subject, only to go around the teacher and work with an entire class. They need to build that trust with their students. In fact, the challenge isn’t that students fail to understand something, it’s that they rely on teachers to try so hard to help them understand it. Teachers should be able to give the students what they need without pushing too hard. If the students know they don’t have to fight every obstacle to learn something, they’ll push to learn a lot more.
Part of building the trust is an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. Students will learn to let go and trust their teachers so long as the teachers share their curiosity and approval with them. And, teachers need to consider the larger picture when they design learning experiences. Taking a new student into a place to learn a new skill won’t work if their teacher is spending hours explaining complex math concepts. Instead, teachers need to stick to the core concepts, answer as many questions as possible, and allow the student to figure things out on their own.
In order to remain focused, you need to shake things up. Work on a road map. Build it with the hopes of one day distributing it to your students. It’s the best way to not only build a skill-based learning environment, but also to allow students to take turns leaning on one another.