WHY do you teach the way you do?

September 27, 2012

in 21st century schools, rants and reflections

Kate from Altering Education left a comment on my National Board Certification page the other day about how important the question WHY is when it comes to our teaching, and I just can’t stop thinking about it. WHY is really at the heart of the NBPTS process, and one of the main reasons why I believe it impacted my teaching practice so profoundly.

But WHY is a question I’ve often forgotten to ask myself over the years. There have been many times when I chose a particular instructional strategy by default, without giving it much thought at all, simply because:

That’s the way I taught it last year.

That’s the way I learned it when I was in school.

It’s the easiest way for me to teach it.

I didn’t plan anything better.

It’s the way the teacher’s manual says to do it.

It’s the way everyone else in the school teaches it.

Because that’s how it’s always been done.

What would happen if we selected all of our teaching strategies with purpose? What if we choose them because we believe they are the most effective way to reach our group of students at this particular point in time? What if we put aside tradition and our comfort level and embraced a different way that might be more beneficial for our students?

The school day is often too hectic for us to stop and really think about these kinds of questions. I can only imagine how much more effective my own teaching practice would have been if I had collaborative planning time on a regular basis so I could really dig into the issue of WHY with my colleagues.

But in the middle of everything else that’s happening, even the occasional WHY can have a big impact on the way we teach. Asking ourselves WHY just once a day can form the habit of thinking more critically about the choices we make. Even an occasional WHY can open us up to trying something different. WHY is the crux of intentional teaching, the foundation of innovative teaching methods, and the beginning of change. And it’s a question that we all have the power to ask and reflect on.

If you want to try asking WHY more often, set the image above as the screensaver on your computer, or copy and paste it into into your lesson plans. Or just place it someplace where you’ll see it often and remember to ask:

WHY this teaching method?

WHY this strategy right now?

WHY this lesson for this group of students?

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself WHY. Even when you don’t know the answer…reflecting on the question means you’re moving yourself in the right direction.

How do you make time to think about the WHY behind your teaching? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gretchen October 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Excellent question. I have been able to really answer this question more honestly each year that I teach. When I first began teaching many techniques, materials, or instructional methods I utilized were because my team was using them or I learned them in college. I was not yet “in the groove” to make my own educationally sound decisions. I know that sounds silly. Looking back, I also think it sounds silly. But as we gain knowledge, delve deeper into our curriculum, and see year after year a set of students that really needs us, teachers begin to make wise decisions. The Why and the How is not only because of quality teaching but because teachers KNOW in their teaching hearts what needs to be done. I wish it was something that I could easily explain or pass on to other younger teachers. But really, experience helps teachers strengthen their teaching heart and make successful choices in regards to their students. I highly suggest the National Board process as it helps teachers reflect which thus strengthens your ability to do what I am speaking about. Collaborate and take risks. You too will learn to utilize your gift to impact our future.

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2 Angela Watson October 21, 2012 at 8:03 pm

So true, Gretchen–that type of reflection really does come with time. Each year I feel like I reflect more deeply. And I like your point about how teachers know in their “teaching hearts” what needs to be done. I have heard this referred to as “the gift” and I do feel like people who are gifted to teach just understand certain things instinctively without ever questioning why. The NB process made me stop going on instinct in a lot of areas and really think about the pedagogy and brain research, etc. behind what I do.

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