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Transformational Teaching Catalyzes the Classroom

September 26, 2017

The little blond girl, with her heart pounding, worked at a rapid pace to complete the double digit addition problems. She had been absent for the past two days, and didn’t grasp how to add double digits and suppressed the feeling to ask for help as she didn’t trust how her teacher would respond. Prior to being absent, her teacher had only taught how to add single digits. Upon her return to school, her teacher didn’t seize the opportunity to review or catch her up to pace.

 

As she furiously worked, the little girl felt her teacher move beside her. She hunched over her work, fearful that others would see that she didn’t grasp the concept. The teacher briskly picked up the little girl’s worksheet, and scrutinized the work with eyebrows raised. She circled the completed, yet incorrect problems in her bright red pen and then in an exasperated tone said, “you need to work harder to figure this out.” Work harder? Her stomach felt like it was in knots. She was just 6 years old and this was the beginning of many years to come of struggling with math due to not grasping the why behind the process.

 

That little girl was me. I share this story with you because I vividly remember how irrelevant school felt at times and how much anxiety it caused me, even in first grade, especially as I struggled to grasp math concepts. There’s a huge difference between allowing students to struggle to the point of frustration compared to engaging them in the process of a productive struggle. What I really needed was a transformational teacher who understood my needs.

 

Transformational teachers are strategic at providing students with opportunities to grapple with problems in a productive struggle. They ensure tools are accessible to students, and they intentionally scaffold skills to allow learners to construct meaning and develop deep conceptual understanding. Personally, it’s important for me today, just as it was when I was younger, to understand why we are doing what we were doing. Transformational teachers place an emphasis on fostering a culture that prioritizes the process of learning and developing critical thinking skills in students as opposed to merely memorizing facts. In reflecting on my memory from first grade I recognize that my learning situation would have been vastly different if my teacher had embraced the transformational teaching methods listed below.

 

Transformational Teaching Methods:

  • Provide students with access to manipulatives and other tools to support their learning.

  • Serve as a coach to students as you engage them in inquiry based teaching.

  • Strategically scaffold collaborative conversation strategies with students so that they can  dissect the process with their peers rather than solely partnering up to complete work.

  • Demonstrate empathy for students and listen with understanding when working with students.

  • Foster rich relationships with students to establish trust and serve as a catalyst for risk taking.

  • Craft hands-on learning experiences for students.

 

While I’ve been blessed to have numerous teachers positively impact who I am today, one stands out in particular. My seventh grade social studies teacher, Mr. Merritt, demonstrated the behaviors of a transformational teacher. He made the curriculum come to life when it came to the way he taught and how he facilitated our interactions with peers. Mr. Merritt embraced a constructivist approach. Constructivist pedagogy consists of teachers facilitating hands-on learning where students construct understanding and meaning from their experiences. Mr. Merrit immersed us in a culture that valued meaningful conversations around thought provoking topics and events. Rather than simply transmitting information to us to regurgitate later, he was an artist when it came to how he cognitively engaged us to analyze, synthesize, defend alternative perspectives and reference background knowledge. As students, we were provided choice to demonstrate our understanding of the content.

 

Being a transformational teacher means supporting students to take ownership over their learning and becoming invested in the process. As educators, how do we teach the skills that lead students to seek ways to further their learning without constantly holding a carrot out in front of them?

 

Transformational Teachers Support Students To Thrive By:

  • Fostering a collaborative classroom community through experiential community building protocols and debriefing the process, interactions between peers and emotions.

  • Developing a candescent culture of Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® where students learn to embrace one another’s strengths and support each other using strategies modeled by their teacher when their peers struggle.

  • Empowering student voice and providing choice in how students learn as well as demonstrate their understanding.

  • Collaborating with colleagues to create dynamic learning experiences using backwards design such as the Understanding by Design Framework.

  • Scaffolding learning of developing skill sets to engage in productive struggle.

  • Involving students in understanding the content standards and learning outcomes in addition to involving them in goal setting and reflection.

  • Infusing technology in a purposeful way to deepen the learning experience and amplify student voice along with enhancing the 4Cs of learning (creation, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking).

  • Embedding the Habits of Mind to support learners to listen with understanding and empathy and take responsible risks, to name a few.