Focusing on Learning, One Class at a Time
I’m Mark Heintz, a social studies teacher in a suburban high school district in Illinois. In my school, I formed coaching partnerships with over thirty teachers from every discipline in the school. Those partnerships worked towards common language and beliefs on teaching and learning. Furthermore, each coaching partnership involved students to ensure they were central to the learning environment and had a voice in the process. I attempt to make learning transparent by partnering with my students to create conditions that develop students as learners, have the flexibility to let them pursue their interests, give them the ability to make choices about how they learn best and expand their curiosity, while still developing the communication and analytical skills sets they need to be successful in their lives.
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I haven’t used the blog to state what I’m doing in the profession, which is truly a missed opportunity to share that with my students and their guardians. By making my “why” public, I could have students share their thoughts on school and help me grow as an educator. Also, any time I have to make a decision, I should reference my “why” in order to keep the larger mission in mind. I think the answer to the “Why am I teaching” should/could/must drive every decision we make as educators. If not, we often bend to or swayed by the latest fad in education. I have bent and swayed enough over the past thirteen years of my career. Because of that, I need to codify my mission to drive those decisions I make every day.
How do I develop people as learners?
That’s a lot harder than I originally thought.
In my mind, a vision is how I will get at the mission, therefore this is my vision (I really wanted to use the title Vision Quest for this post). I don’t want to spend a lot of time coming up with my mission and not live it every day. I want actionable steps to fulfill my mission statement.
I want to ensure that I know what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I will do it. In the last post, I stated that my mission is to develop learners.
A few years ago, I had a student who was obsessed with history. Every day he came to class with some obscure bit of trivia from something he just read or watched – always about World War II – and then proceeded to ask me a plethora of questions. I loved it. It’s not every day or year for that matter that I get to geek out with a student all year.
Sadly, this was not a dream scenario. I cut his questions short. All. The. Time. When I did, he asked when we were going to cover World War II as a class, and my response was the same: April. I had this student for two years in a row, and every day for two years he asked me, knowing full well that my response would be the same. Come on kid, get with the program; WWII is rarely on the AP World History exam, and when it is, most students know enough to do well. I don’t need to cover it.
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I’m a teacher of high schoolers, but above all else, a learner. Every day I attempt to focus on meaningful learning with the people around me.