by Changing Classroom Dynamics
Welcome to On Teaching.
Our goal is to improve the nature of education by helping teachers challenge their practices and beliefs. By doing so teachers will be better equipped to make tough decisions by being better able to identify what is truly important, and worth fighting over, as well as what is not important. Such empowerment and conviction based on vetted, challenged, and articulated principles will make the biggest difference in education.
Our Origin Story
I am passionate about the power of quality education. But, educational institutions are largely faltering. I want to help.
First, I thought, students just need more help. So, I started a website for students called The Bearded Math Man. It varied in focus and style from places like Khan Academy in that students were exposed to a sequence of related concepts, from which procedures were derived. I wanted students to have access to why math worked.
The problem with this approach is that students are fairly content with the current system. Those that get good grades are reaping a reward. Those that don’t, but could, often fail to find meaningful opportunities offered in education. In both cases, they’re not interested.
What about those that truly struggle? It has been explicitly clear to me that students that perpetually struggle, at least in math class, fail to improve as students. They have a schema that distorts their perception of their potential. In response, they self-sabotage. They need cognitive behavioral therapy, not a math tutor.
That project lasted for about 3 years before taking a back seat.
What about addressing things on the opposite end? I took things up with decision-makers, those in power. A few things became clear quickly. First, those in power are secure in their position. Change threatens that. Second, how people engage in politics is disgusting. That arena is filled with unbalanced bad actors. So, I moved on.
For round three I made my biggest error but found the right path. I thought that lesson delivery was the key to improving education. That is important, and people are receptive to changes there, but it falls short for reasons I’ll share shortly. I built a website and launched a nonprofit called Math Connected. The idea is that this is a place to share lessons, build community, and match mentors with developing teachers. The lessons shared are rooted in developing mathematical literacy and focused on retention of concepts and developing quality student skills. This is still a meaningful project that is being developed.
My biggest mistake was believing I was the gold standard. Oh, egos can build so much, and destroy so much more. I over-valued my style and results. I presented materials to match my style as if, this is the way.
Even with the ego checked and that error corrected, there were two major problems. First, the proposed solution to the problem of improving teaching didn’t address the teacher’s needs. Second, it fell in line with the thinking that has education in a negative feedback loop. It is often the case that the cure causes the disease. We don’t need an updated curriculum and better tests and better books. Those components can greatly improve, but they’re the tools. A skilled artist can create beauty from primitive things.
Change will need to start in the classroom, with the teacher. That begins with the teachers being supported and encouraged to appropriately let go of the responsibility for grades and learning. That job belongs squarely to students. The teacher’s job is to design courses, and then to shepherd students through their educational process.
Real change in education will require us to step out of this negative feedback loop and to stop doubling down on well-intentioned, but inappropriate solutions. This begins with grooming teachers while changing the organizational focus to student needs instead of organizational requirements.
That’s what On Teaching is all about. Maybe, this is another misstep in the journey. Even if so, it will help all involved move closer to the true goal of improving education by making it more meaningful for students.
That’s the origin story. I hope you’ll join us on our mission. Get involved by joining the discussion on our FaceBook group, contribute articles, listen to the podcasts, and share the word with interested people inside and outside of education.