Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Good Teaching

Sometimes reading twitter can make me feel like I'm being attacked.  In reality that is foolish, though it does occasionally, happen.  I have to remember ideas from gaming, where you know that a lot of people say a lot of things to you or about you or your philosophies that they would be unlikely to say in person, or at least not in the same ways.  I once believed it was because of anonymity, but I think it is the distance thing.  If I offend someone 2k miles away that I am unlikely to encounter or work for or with, it seems to have less repercussion than if I offend someone across the hall or in another school in my own county.

Being a proponent of the "flipped classroom" model of late brings out a lot of criticism on Twitter.  There are a lot of reasons for that, and no model or philosophy of teaching should be denied criticism, we need that, and I am certainly critical of my own methods on a daily basis.

What irks me occasionally is that folks seem to get upset about the flipclass model not being anything new and that it is being presented as new, or especially that the goals are just "good teaching" and shouldn't be under the mantle of "flipped classrooms".

Someone tell me what "good teaching" is. It's one of those things that we all recognize, but is notoriously hard to quantify or put down firm rules for, which is one of the reason why modern movements of evaluating teachers tend to be so controversial I think.  I could lay out some things that I believe are good teaching like student centered, higher-order, students creating, etc.  Lots of folks would agree with many of my bullet points, but a lot wouldn't.  

Good teaching isn't a formula, a step by step process, and it doesn't look the same in every classroom, in every school, in every district.  Just because I have something that works for my classes this year doesn't mean that it will be good teaching even next year, and it definitely doesn't mean that it will be good at a different school, or a different grade level.  Yes, there are principles that can carry over, the pedagogical ideas of student centered learning being at the center, but at the same time, I believe that methods vary widely and wildly.

I see folks that claim that their own favorite vehicle is the absolute best, that they would never switch.  I'm wary of that.  I believe pretty strongly in the flip model I'm using right now, but I won't be upset if I find something new in 5 years (or tomorrow) that I think helps my kids more.  Guess what folks, there are very good, old school lecture teachers, whose kids learn a lot.  There are a lot of constructivist teachers whose students have a lot of fun and are interested, but may not "learn" a lot either.  I have seen a lot of that in my career.

Back to the flipclass hate....

Yes, there are questions to be asked. If you are in a #flipclass chat, or talk to people in the community, we ask those questions.  I haven't met anyone in the community yet who feels they have a lock on "the one way" to teach.  It works for them and their kids.  It has also inspired them all to branch out and find other ways to teach, other methods to bring the knowledge to their kids.  

Before you attempt to run it down as the latest fad though, go look at some folks who represent what is going on, observe some classes, or at least actually talk to people who do it.  

Does it threaten you personally, does it make education worse, is it hijacking your own pet hobby horse?  Listen, if you believe that it is inferior to your own model, fair enough, but does that mean it doesn't work for other kids?  A lot of us believe that there are different ways to reach different kids, but everyone seems to think you have to teach one "correct" way.  If I use modeling, does that mean that my neighbor teacher who doesn't is terrible?  Am I better because I use the flipped model?  The answer is no of course.

These are just vehicles, searching for the way that works in our situation, for our students, at our school.  If you believe that your way always works, you must have not had the experience of different environments.  I've taught for 13 years in schools of 4600 and schools of 300, public and private, affluent and not.  Some things stay the same (the base content, my love of the students) and some things don't, in fact, a lot don't.  When I went back into public ed in a low SOSE school, I had to adapt.  And I kept adapting....and guess what, I'm still adapting.  I don't think flipclass is the end goal, but as discussed in other posts, it is where I'm at now, and it is driving a renaissance of thought about my pedagogy for me and for a lot of other teachers.  That alone makes it worthwhile in my book.

Is it good teaching?  I think so, but I think more to the point, it has help me to do good teaching.  I think I've always been a decent teacher, but flipclass has spurred me on to be a better teacher, one striving to be the best, for myself personally and professionally, but more vitally, for my students.

So the next time someone throws out the term good teaching, I just want them to stop and consider their own baggage and definitions of that term, and realize that we don't all use the same suitcase to carry our teaching tools!


  1. Great suitcase analogy. As long as the destination is a well educated student who can find and evaluate the validity of information to create new ideas, the path taken doesn't matter! It can be varied, detoured, rerouted, and a time for exploration.

  2. This post totally rocks. Thanks for sharing this with the greater community. I do believe that all good teaching starts with quality relationships with between teachers and students. That I feel is the one constant. What method you use to get to that end point can be many and far between.

  3. Favorite part: "is it hijacking your own pet hobby horse?"

    How often when people come in contact with something that is different do they become abrasive instead of (and here's a new word for ya) embracive? Imagine if all approached new or different ideas with an "embracive" mindset: embrace the possibilities, try it out. No need to corral education into one area!