Thursday, February 23, 2012

Required vs. Optional

It's almost daily that I jostle these tags; as a teacher, leader, professional, colleague and person.  Too often I hear educators telling me they have to do this or have to do that.  Sometimes I like to ask, "do you really have to do that?" or "what if you tried this?"  The simple question does for many fellow educators precisely what it does to my students: makes them stop and think.

Certainly there is a veritable array of obligations teachers and administrators have to peg higher up on the priority ladder, but how much of what we say we have to do is optional?  These are questions I continually ask myself as a classroom teacher because I want to get the "required" stuff out of the way so I can open learning opportunities for my students that aren't scripted to me in a curriculum book or delegated from a political hierarchy.  I find that, in more times than not, when students are given an opportunity to inquire and investigate a concept or topic, questions and creativity flow naturally.  Absolutely, I believe there are some skills students will only acquire when guided through the process but now there are incredibly powerful resources (computers, classmates, personnel) more readily available for accessing information and learning opportunities.  Teachers and students need to leverage these tools for learning what matters.

I also believe that we impart on children the kinds of attitudes and skills we use in the classroom.  If we want our students to be open communicators that know how to work collaboratively and think critically, we have to demonstrate, on a regular basis, what that looks like.  We must engage ourselves in these opportunities with our colleagues and students.  Sometimes finding the time to do those "optional" lessons and projects can be difficult when the "required" stuff gets in the way.  That is why I encourage you to prioritize learning for yourself and students with what should be done and what could be done.