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We Did it Ourselves

Posted April 16, 2013 in Community Blogs, Urbandale

One of my favorite leadership quotes goes like this: “The wicked leader is the one the people despise.  The good leader is the one who the people revere.  The great leader is the one where the people say, we did it ourselves.

This quote reminds me of what it is we are working to accomplish in Urbandale through the transformation of how we work as a school district, for I believe there are multiple leaders in our district – including our teachers. While the quote indicates that with a great leader people have a sense of self-accomplishment; that does not mean the leader is doing nothing.  Rather, the leader uses his or her influence in a manner that teaches and empowers others to be successful.  While the leader is often behind the scenes, his or her influence is widespread throughout the organization.

As we continue to transform our district to better meet the needs and prepare our students for the future, we consider teachers to be leaders of “learning systems,” a.k.a. their classrooms.  This necessitates a different role for teachers as they focus their efforts on student learning.

In these “learning systems,” teachers work to understand what students need in order to be successful learners.  We call this formative assessment.  Sometimes the need is:

  • Direct instruction
  • Finding a resource for a student
  • Pairing students together to learn with and from one another
  • A listening ear followed by guidance

Whatever the situation, the teacher has a hand in designing and guiding all that transpires within the classroom.

What we are working to accomplish in Urbandale is a vastly different and improved system for learning than most adults experienced in their own educational careers. It’s the difference between our teachers asking themselves, “Did I teach the information?” compared to “Did students learn the information?” The first is about sharing information and the second is about facilitating learning. Both are very distinct styles that produce very different results – either diminishing or cultivating joy in learning over time.

So what does this type of learning environment look like? Here are a few examples:

  • Teachers request feedback from students in order to adjust their teaching methods to better connect with students and increase quality learning.
  • Teachers still provide direct instruction to students, however it may take place with smaller groups of students at a time so as to better provide what each student needs in the way of support.
  • Formative assessments and student feedback guide what type of direct instruction is needed by students, and in so doing, the teacher more effectively provides support based on student need.
  • Teachers create or find appropriate on-line resources or instructional videos.
  • Teachers request that students demonstrate learning by leading class discussions about select topics that they have prepared for ahead of time.

This type of a learning environment, instead of a teaching environment, may vary from day-to-day, but one thing remains constant: visitors will see highly engaged students who are not only mastering the required skills and content, but also learning how to learn and manage their own learning.

As a teacher builds structures and provides students with more and more opportunities to be self-directed learners, students learn that:

  • They are to take greater responsibility for THEIR learning
  • Their own efforts are responsible for their achievement
  • They are capable of higher levels of learning and greater accomplishments (than they were ever able to demonstrate in the traditional way in which a school/classroom operates)

Urbandale teachers continue to provide supports necessary for student success, and the students are the ones who begin to see the power they have within to learn and grow. Facilitating learning in this manner is a much more challenging task, but the rewards for students are greater and deeper.  Students learn to master the content and gain the skills and confidence to be life-long learners.

To connect the quote at the beginning… the good teacher is one who the students revere and believe is responsible for their success.  The great teacher is the one where the students will say, we did it ourselves.

Urbandale is working toward creating learning systems where the students, with appropriate support, will say, “We did it ourselves.”





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