My Beliefs About Learning

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 4 Comments A + a -

Author Simon Sinek has extensively written and spoken that true leaders must start with why, i.e., being explicit about our beliefs, motives, purpose, etc. to lead a successful organization.  I think of this and Will Richardson's call to our MURSD community that we reflect upon what we believe how kids learn most deeply and powerfully.   I have several beliefs that I hold deeply, and all of them have been confirmed at multiple points in my 28 years as an educator.  So what do I believe?


Learning Is Messy.  I was blessed to work for a kind and wise principal who told me this during my first two weeks as a young high school science teacher.  He pushed me to always have my kids up and actually "doing" science, conducting laboratory investigations and hands-on activities as much as possible.  As a first-year teacher grappling with classroom management, it wasn't always pretty. There was plenty of broken glassware and an occasional item on fire. But I quickly learned that my students were learning more from their inquiry- their own trial and error- than from me lecturing them and disseminating content. I found that the learning progression is almost never linear... there are ebbs and flows that ultimately lead to cognition.

Every Child in Every Classroom Needs a Caring Adult.  If you think about a teacher that made a difference in your life, perhaps you will remember someone who inspired you because of the content he/she taught.  But chances are you'll remember a teacher who was invested in not only your learning, but also your well-being. You'll remember a teacher who took the time who got to know you as a person and tailored his/her practices so you would be challenged and successful.  Relationships are the key to success in our profession!  End. Of. Story.


Enthusiasm Goes a Long Way.  When I tell people that I was a chemistry teacher, the usual response is something like, "Good Lord! I couldn't stand that subject" or "I just barely got through it." I get it. Learning topics like stoichiometry or balancing reduction-oxidation reactions might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I tried to approach each day teaching chemistry with some gusto. Delivering instruction with energy and enthusiasm is one of the first building blocks in engaging students.

Students Should Pursue Their Passions.  The strand that runs through novel reforms such as Genius Hour, Maker Education, Connected Learning, et. al.  is that students pursue learning about topics that really spark their interest. Oftentimes their learning is project-based, where students can create new products that may or may not lead to clear answers to complex problems. This type of learning usually is fun and leads to a great deal of pride and investment by students. We should strive to provide these types of choices for students, however...


Kids Need Our Constant Encouragement.  I think of students who don't quite know yet what their passions are (particularly our youngest learners).  This is where a teacher who is enthusiastic about the content can shape a student's future passions.  I understand the recent push to emphasize areas where there is a need for qualified workers (e.g., STEM related fields); however we should always promote the classic liberal education where students may explore all content areas. The arts should never be given the short shrift, as they lead to well-rounded adults.

Our Families and the Community Must Be Our Partners.  Our students deserve a consistent message from the home and the classroom. When parents are engaged through active, two-way communication, they can understand our intent for their child's learning.  In a similar fashion, we should strive to engage the community to help us in providing meaningful opportunities (e.g., volunteerism, internships, job shadowing, etc.) for student learning. Our relationship must be symbiotic:  the community supports inclusive public education and we prepare future productive members of the community.


The Effect of a Great Teacher Is Immeasurable.  In looking at traditional means of measuring student achievement (MCAS, AP scores, SAT, etc.), the aggregate of results is generally highly correlated with socioeconomic factors. However, I believe our neediest students - our students who come from disadvantaged homes, those with disabilities, those struggling with physical or social-emotional health issues, or our English learners- are the ones who need us the most!  It has been my experience that a high quality teacher is often what makes all the difference in the world, and in several cases, is the best thing in the child's life!


So these are my core beliefs about learning... Am I on point?  Or have I missed something?  Do they align with your beliefs about learning?  If so moved, feel free to comment below!

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September 20, 2017 at 4:01 PM delete

Hi Joe -

Thank you for sharing your beliefs about learning. You are on point! Your beliefs align with my beliefs. I especially like:

"I understand the recent push to emphasize areas where there is a need for qualified workers (e.g., STEM related fields); however we should always promote the classic liberal education where students may explore all content areas. The arts should never be given the short shrift, as they lead to well-rounded adults."

You have always been a champion of the arts for our district and we appreciate that! I have just one small request, though. I would love to see us refer to STEM as STEAM, which is the proper acronym as of the adoption of ESSA in Dec 2015, STEAM. Most likely it's a little thing to most, yet it's a big deal to art education.

Thanks again!
- Alice

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September 20, 2017 at 5:16 PM delete

Thanks for sharing your beliefs about learning Dr. Maruszczak. I share many of the same beliefs. I've been thinking about the ways that I measure student learning in my practice. Truthfully, I spend too much time on formal assessments. While I get that we must take occasional snapshots of student learning, I'm not sure that my practice always brings value to my students' overall learning experience. I’m pretty sure that some of the assessments do just the opposite. They SUCK THE JOY out of learning! So, what do I believe about learning and how we should measure what is being learned?

As a student, I've always been super clear about what I can do well and where my struggles are. I've always known what I know and what I've yet to learn. It has occurred to me that none of my teachers ever asked me! Wouldn't asking me, the learner, be an easy way for them to gain insight into my learning?

So, what do I believe about learning? There is no one more able to assess the learning than the learner! Therefore, I will ask my students how they are doing. I'll ask them to give me specifics. I'll ask IF they want my help and if so, HOW they'd like me to help. When it comes to learning, I think we all need to be self-reflective and learn to advocate for ourselves. Knowing where to turn for help, understanding the resources available, developing a skill set that will ensure we can always take our learning to the next level, even in the absence of formal teachers, seems super important to me.
Learning should be driven by the students…assessment of that learning should be too.
PS: Thankful that our district invested in Seesaw. This tech tool will put our students in the driver’s seat when it comes to assessing their learning.

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September 20, 2017 at 7:50 PM delete

Dr M,
Thank you for the reflective and engaging blog post. Not to be a "Ruby the Copy Cat", but I find myself saying "DItto" to each of your beliefs. NO matter which way the pendulum is swinging, these beliefs hold true and ground us. It is WHO I AM as an educator, not what I do. It is what I believe and what keeps me in this profession.


My students are always at the front and center of everything I do. Building relationships and creating a family dynamic have always been part of my classroom culture and something I take great pride in. I have lost sleep over my students and read more articles and books than I can count to try and reach all of the social/emotional/academic needs over the years.

I embrace change, I thrive on being the best version of me that I can be, I'm not one whose afraid to ask questions and take risks, and when I fail...I fail forward.

I believe students should have choice and have a voice.

Just today at dismissal, one of my students who looped with me said, "Mrs Webster, I really think you need to get rid of ALL those books over there, (pointing to the chapter books that have been leveled by Lexile) No one ever goes there to find a book"

He's RIGHT! and the crazy part is that I have recently been reading articles that suggest NOT leveling books as it restricts students choice.

Within a few minutes more students were involved in the discussion and suggestions were flowing, debates were being had over how we should reorganize the books.

Guess what's happening in my classroom tomorrow? It WILL be messy, but books will be reshuffled and reorganized and shelves will be moved all because one student felt comfortable enough to voice his opinion.

I LOVE what I do and I thrive on the energy that true learning brings.
I worry about the stress and anxiety that testing puts on our students, teachers and administrators. We CAN be the generation of educators to make a difference and change how our students learn. #kidsdeserveit

With admiration for your forward thinking,
Brenda Webster

PS Please don't come by for a walk through tomorrow! lol

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September 27, 2017 at 7:24 AM delete

Hello all,

This has been on my mind since Joe sent the original email. Thank you all for sharing. Keep in mind, as an ELA teacher, I tend to be a bit wordy ... LOL ...

“This I believe …”

In the value of creating a responsive community culture in the learning environment - school or classroom: a culture in which students receive a clearly stated message that: “Your learning is important! You can do it! We won’t give up on you!” As educators we need to remind ourselves of this and understand the impact of delivering it as a positively stated message to our students. Messaging our feedback in this way allows us to work with our students to ensure that they are learning.
That, as an educator, you must “touch the heart, then teach the child.” Even our most resistant and high-need students respond better when they care about what is occurring and who is part of it. If they grow to feel a connection, they will respond in ways that show that they value that connection. If they value what is being taught and the teacher working with them, their success is optimized exponentially.
In celebrating incremental successes and the value of acknowledging them as foundational to future progress.
That we must “be the change you wish to see in the world” … that we should model for our students respect, inclusion, and the importance of continuous improvement.
That collaboration means each student can clearly articulate his/her contribution to a project, and, that “A” quality work shows the “best of everyone’s effort”, not just the “neatest, tidiest handwriting.”
That parents value and trust teachers who care for their kids … even the most challenging parents. “People will forget what you said and forget what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” We must work toward making them feel that we care. I have seen the value of this on numerous occasions.
That “kids do well if they can.” I see behavior as a balance and believe that we must help our students by working to achieve their best balance. Our demands and expectations need to match their ability to adapt and learn. This is not to say that we must reduce the expectations; we may, instead, strengthen their adaptability with appropriate supports. Our teaching should be a process of guiding and adjusting so that students can experience success.
In the power of intrinsic motivators and that these motivators transfer across all settings and build lasting results in terms of self-esteem.
That literacy is the most important learning goal in our schools, in all classrooms, at all levels, bar none, and, that we should be doing all that we can support our students in becoming stronger readers and writers.
That we must “tell our own story” and, in doing so, we will find that we are more easily understood, more readily supported, and more lastingly valued.
In Ross Greene’s “Bill of Rights for Behaviorally Challenged Kids”
That teaching is hard and sometimes messy … that’s what makes it so rewarding.
That sometimes you need to sit in a darkened room and figure out what to do next … you need to “be at peace with your thoughts” before you begin to speak … to colleagues, to parents, and, most importantly, to kids.
That homework should never be a deal breaker for kids who do not have the wherewithal to make it happen at home.
That assignments should have value and purpose, and because they do, students should have second chances to make them happen.
That sense of humor delivers as strong a message as necessary to manage behavior sometimes … if it was funny, laugh and move them along :)
That our unspoken messages set the tone for what we will allow and expect in our classrooms far more loudly than what we actually say.
That we need to “teach with intention” and each decision we make should support what we believe to be important, and that, as teachers, we should understand and guide the “intentions” of our planning with care and due diligence.
That excellence, by its very nature is unique and DIFFERENT.

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