Friday, 8 December 2017

An open letter to me, the teacher of seven years ago...

Dear me of seven years ago,

Firstly, before I cause you offense, let me start by saying, you are a brilliant teacher, fun, caring and creative.  The children in your class are lucky to have you and are achieving remarkable results.

But what if I told you that what you are doing could be even better?
What if I told you that by doing this you would be happier and your children would beyond happy, happy is not really the right word, they will be content, secure, confident and open to new ideas?  What if I told you that by listening to me, your whole view of success for children would change, your whole definition of learning would change?

If I told you this, would you change what you are doing right now?

I'm not completely sure you are ready to listen to me, I mean why would you, there isn't a problem to solve, you run a safe, happy classroom and a safe happy school, children leave your school often working far beyond where they need to be academically, surely there is not a reason to change.

But just before you dismiss this letter, I ask you one thing, have you noticed anxiety on the rise?  Have you noticed a growing change in mental health...I know you have, so please read on.

 I am going to offer my advice even if you don't want it right now,  bet you are happy to read that hasn't changed.  In fact, I am happy to say that is part of my character that has truly developed....yes sorry, I have turned into quite the oversharer.

So let me leap right in, sit back, grab a coffee (hey might be a good idea to start laying off on that if you can) and be prepared to be challenged, confronted and probably, knowing you as well as I do, initially quite miffed.

I want you to think about maths first, you teach it well don't you?  So here is where I am going to get confronting, because actually, no you don't.  I'll let that statement settle for a moment, because I can already sense your blood boiling.

The way you teach maths currently is narrow, you see maths as subject rather than the language it truly is.  Maths is beautiful and needs to be taught in an authentic way.  Stop with the over developing of knowledge, thinking that this knowledge will help them later with their strategies.  Children are developing this knowledge, yes, but they have no idea of how to apply it.

At the moment you are showing them far too often that in maths there is always one answer.  This could not be any further from the truth.  You need to be allowing knowledge to be a necessity and to develop through authentic situations.

Open your mind to problem solving, open your mind to visual images, open your mind to math talk.  Look for the maths in the world around you, it is everywhere.

What is that I hear you say?  Your children won't be able to do that?  Maths talk is beyond them? Well I am happy to confirm that if you stick with it, they will be able to do it, and better than that, the maths language and understanding that will develop will blow your mind and really make a difference to those you see as 'struggling' right now.

 While I am on a roll, can I tell you to stop breaking maths down into narrow steps like somehow they develop their knowledge sequentially and in isolation....going over and over one part of the knowledge is not going to assist them to see where it fits.  They will see where it all fits if you present it to them visually and in creative ways and particularly allow them time to see it, over and over again in many different ways.

Stop teaching them in levelled groups, they learn so much from each other.
Stop using worksheets, they learn nothing from these.
Start using games that challenge them to develop number sense and while this may be a little threatening for now..,.perhaps you could consider whole class teaching?

Stop, just stop using that task board...if they need something to do while you are busy, let them play!

This one you might like...stop over the time you save in planning, work on your own professional understandings, I recommend you read up on number sense.  I really recommend the work of Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck, take time to read their books, allow the messages time to sink in...these two are very important to the teacher you will become.

This will seem very confronting to you, but stop segregating strand and number, maths is maths and children need to see how this all fits.
Spending three weeks on geometry, then three weeks on measurement is about as far away from real application of maths as it can get.
Start looking for maths in their play (yep I know you don't do that a lot yet, but that is the next part of this letter.)

Lastly on this point, but certainly not least...some children will never image by default....don't hold them back, for goodness sake let them use their fingers and give them time....stop implying through what they do that to be right, they need to be fast, this is damaging.  Oh and for goodness sake stop saying that you are not a maths person!!!  It is ok that you still use your fingers too!

Hey maybe you might even give some time to think about how you could come up with a completely different approach that will bring maths to life for these children?  I know you've got the creativity to make this happen....and when you do, don't forget to share it with others.

Ok, I know, I know, you are ready to virtually trash this letter and delete it permanently, but just take a few deep breaths, this letter is about to get even better and probably for you, even more confronting.

So, in terms of the children, have you noticed how much some of them struggle to sit still, how they are reluctant to write, and seem a little like robots completing your reading responses according to your set criteria?
Have you noticed that all their pictures look the same?
Have you noticed those poor children with limited fine motor skills, struggling away with their writing.
 Have you noticed how the struggle to take risks and hate to be wrong?
Have you noticed yourself rewarding children for complying with specific sets of behaviours?
Have you thought about how it feels for those that do not receive that big sticker on their work?  Have you thought about how much time you waste marking their writing?
Have you thought about how it makes them feel when you put your pen marks on their work?
Have you thought about how they feel when they have done they best and you correct it?
Have you thought about how many of the children seem to have difficulty getting started with learning?
Have you noticed that children struggle to use their initiative and wait for you to tell them what to do?
Have you noticed all those children with the urge to spin and roll and asked yourself why you redirect their behaviour?

I see a few of my questions have hit a nerve and caused you to pause.  Good.  I want you to confront what you are doing head on and ask why.

Go find out about the work of Nathan Wallis, think about the brains you are developing, and how this works in with what you should be doing.   Visit an ECE, watch the children learning, why does this learning look so different from what is happening in your classroom?

Just for a few days, let them play, yeah yeah I hear you say it.  No I don't mean choosing time, I mean play.
No direction from you, open the door, let them outside, watch them change before your very eyes over the week, over two weeks, over a month.
Look for the play in the learning, take photos of it, talk about it with them.
Listen to their interests.

 I challenge you to do this, sit down and reflect on what they have been doing, what you are noticing.  Start weaving self-directed play into every day and see how it slowly takes over so naturally.

Stop directing them, start relaxing, let them be children.  Don't keep them on the mat, forcing learning down their throat for lengths of time, let them go and watch them actively seek out their learning.

Trust me, it will be truly beautiful to watch them follow their urges.

While I am at it, and just before I sign off...I know you are exploring increasing devices in the room...don't.   Get rid of them, it will destroy their social skills.  In fact consider getting rid of all devices in the first few years, they simply don't need them.

Right if you have got this far, well done.  I write this letter out of absolute love of what I am doing now, and a deep regret that I didn't reach this place earlier, perhaps you can help me with that.

Kind regards,

The you of seven years from now xxoo

PS - I know National Standards are the bane of your life at the moment, and they will continue to be, but eventually they will be gone.

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