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This I Believe

In my classroom I offer regular praise for close observation and good thinking.  Over time, this creates an environment in which students are eager to make observations, share their ways of solving problems, and hear how other people solved the same problem.  In learning about math, for instance, our first grade class regularly referred to the pattern Anthony noticed, or the way Amber explained odd numbers.  In this way, we built a classroom culture that valued students’ ideas and encouraged other students to share their ways of thinking about problems.  One of my favorite moments was when I first asked the students to lead our daily calendar activities.  They asked each other interesting questions about the calendar, but most exciting to me was that the student leaders regularly followed up on a correct answer by asking “why do you think that?”   The class learned to ask about the process of getting to the answer rather than simply accepting the result.

This critical thinking – this asking of “why” – is at the heart of my teaching.  The learned habit of questioning transforms a student from a passive recipient of knowledge to an active analyzer of information and constructor of knowledge.  It gives students who at times control so little in their lives the power to make sense of their worlds and begin to chart their own courses.  It helps students see beyond the binary of right and wrong, good and bad, dumb and smart, and start seeing that what is under the surface can matter, too.  I hope that in learning to value the process of discovery and problem-solving, my students will become more confident and competent, both inside and outside of the classroom.  My goal is give them the skills to feel in control of their futures – to be respected employees, knowledgeable citizens, and valued friends and family members.  By teaching them to look beyond the surface, I want to help them see the nuances of the people and situations around them and become comfortable solving complex problems.

I help students take what they learn about others and use it to improve how they work together.  No matter what our personality or preferences, we all must deal with other people to survive.  I have worked with many highly educated people who never learned how to see a situation from another person’s point of view, negotiate roles within a group, or otherwise make the small adjustments that allow people to co-exist peacefully.  These co-workers have had many strengths, but they have also been difficult to manage or work alongside.  Their struggle to get along with others makes life less enjoyable for everyone – including themselves.  Knowing that we all need to coexist, I think one of the critical roles of education is to teach us how to do that.  To me, this process of getting along is tightly tied to the creation of critical thinkers.  People who get along with others are able to think about situations from the perspective of another person or with a view of the group as a whole.  They know what they want and need and what they are willing to give up to keep the larger group functioning.  This takes a lot of self-awareness, and self-awareness comes from digging below the surface of one’s experiences and asking a lot of questions.

In the end, I believe the goal of education is to help children become independent, critical thinkers who are capable of working well with others, because I believe this will allow them to be happier, healthier adults who enrich the people and organizations around them.  And this, I believe, is the ultimate goal of education.

Categories: Reflection Tags: ,
  1. your mom
    March 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    This was SO more than ten minutes!!

    • Eliza Jane
      March 2, 2010 at 7:16 pm

      True. I wrote it in a lot more than 10 minutes, but I did spend 10 minutes revising it before I put it up.

  1. April 28, 2010 at 9:57 pm

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