Saturday, April 2, 2016

When teachers don't know what they don't know

Traditionally, teaching has been an isolating profession. In some buildings, teachers see themselves as independent contractors, in charge of their classrooms. They close their doors, and their "customers" are their students. 

Teachers are learners just like their students. They should be constantly learning about best practices, most effective ways to motivate their students as well as learning about themselves. To teach means to motivate, explain, create, design, persuade, organize, manage, model for, and empathize with students. 

To be able to be the best teacher a person can be, he/she must have a high emotional quotient and self-awareness, along with a willingness to be vulnerable while learning and trying something new.

How do teachers know if they need to improve? What measures do they have to know if what they are doing is successful? What about tenured teachers who reject constructive criticism from evaluators? How do proficient teachers move to expert?

Teaching today doesn’t have to be an isolated practice. With the development of Professional Learning Communities or even online Personal Learning Networks, teachers have access to others who can share ideas, listen and give feedback, provide support and encouragement, or act as lesson design teams. Is there a reason for teachers to not know anymore?

The four stages of learning are Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence, and Unconscious Competence. What does this mean for teachers, and how do we help them move up the ladder?

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence
“50% of my students did poorly on the last unit test. It’s a hard unit; why would I want to change anything?” (Additionally, teachers will sometimes “scale” tests at this point, thinking that the concept was so difficult that they should give a little “padding” to the grades.)

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence
“I found out in the PLC meeting that the other teachers’ students did well on the last unit test. I’m not sure what I need to do to get better results, but I want my students to be more successful on their test.”

Stage 3: Conscious Competence
“I asked the teachers in my PLC how they taught that unit, and I attended a workshop on better instruction using student-created rubrics during the unit. I don’t know the steps to leading students to creating their own rubrics, but I refer to the information from the workshop when I’m teaching a unit.”

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence
“My students’ test scores have really gone up, and my understanding of their learning stages during the unit has increased dramatically by creating a feedback loop with the rubrics. I’m getting so good at the process, my administrator has asked me to lead a workshop for our other teachers.”

Here are some ways teachers can move from Stage 1 to Stage 4:

~Teachers visit other teachers’ classrooms
~Article Studies
~Reading blog posts
~Participate in Twitter chats
~Learn from Voxer group
~Evaluation feedback
~Ask students for feedback 

~Attend workshop
~Video/Article studies
~Video self while teaching and review with colleague, coach, or administrator
~Online learning - e-course, webinar, etc.
~Ask students for feedback on progress

Growth and learning follow a continuum, and both are a fluid process. Some days may feel like a step backwards, and those are the days that an encouraging coach or mentor is extremely valuable. Moving from Stage 3 to Stage 4 takes time and persistence, which require self-motivation. It also requires a culture of risk-taking, trust, and opportunities for feedback and sharing.

So if your teachers don’t know what they don’t know, take a look at the culture, too. Does it support growth and learning in your teachers as much as it does for the students?


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  2. Jennifer,

    I love the visuals you give to outline the process. I also love your lists of ways to grow. I will refer back to this for my own learning. Thanks for making a very abstract concept concrete!