Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between student learning and teacher learning, and students’ sense of thriving and teachers’ sense of thriving…
A couple of years ago, I found myself going down a research rabbit hole on the construct of thriving
. Thriving, as it is defined in psychological literature, is related to personal growth and has dual dimensions of vitality (affect) and learning (cognitive). While the construct of thriving has not made it into my own research, I keep coming back to it like an itch that I can’t quite scratch. I think what fascinates me about this seemingly simple construct is that it is so hard to find working adults –– especially in the teaching profession –– who would describe themselves as thriving.
Teaching, as most of you know, is a very high stakes
profession: Teachers have the futures of not only individual young people but our entire nation and world in their hands. Teachers today might feel this more acutely than ever before thanks to standardized testing that (albeit problematically) quantifies how successful they are at their jobs and how successful their students will be going forward in their lives. Unsurprisingly, this can make the vitality dimension of thriving something that many teachers find lacking in their professional lives.
Beyond this, opportunities for purposeful, teacher-driven learning can also be fairly scarce in teaching.
Not only is there a cultural expectation that teachers are supposed to “already know everything” (afterall, they already went to high school, and anyone who was successful in school can teach!), but they are often isolated inside of their own classroom, with little to no opportunity to receive feedback, observe others, or have adequate time to collaborate.
So, if thriving is hindered by high stakes and the sense of imminent failure, accompanied by little opportunity for purposeful and personally meaningful learning (as I have described for teachers), then aren’t students experiencing the same crisis as teachers? Where do students have opportunities for purposeful, personally-driven learning in math class?
I think my obsession with the construct of thriving is rooted in the idea that teacher thriving and student thriving are inextricably connected, and that until we address issues of teacher vitality and learning, we might be somewhat chasing our tails with all of our focus on student learning (of course, we cannot stop worrying about student learning and JUST focus on teachers!).
I wonder about how to consistently open up vitality-giving (i.e., enjoyable, rejuvenating) learning opportunities for teachers. Here are a few ideas:
virtual coaching, where teachers record their classrooms and have coaches or peers watch and give them feedback through digital conferencing? New technologies (e.g., Swivl) exist to make this process streamlined, and researchers (the SIGMa group at Vanderbilt
, the Project SyncOn at the University of Rochester
) have been exploring this as a viable means to support teachers in learning how to grow their teaching in ways that matter to them. This is also being explored in the field by people who do the work of teaching and coaching everyday (e.g., CPM’s coaches are beginning to explore virtual coaching with Swivl technologies in order to reach rural teachers).
supporting teachers to develop and/or use rubrics to assess their students instead of assigning mastery grades to many required projects/assignments, so that the stakes are lowered and interest and learning might be raised for both students and teachers. How can we help teachers easily navigate the tension between assessing in ways that support their own and their students’ sense of thriving (without diminishing rigor) and creating grades that are required by the system?
approaching remediation as a task of re-invigorating student curiosity through rich tasks that invite exploration rather than going back-to-the basics? This last one might sound very pie-in-the-sky, but there are math programs (such as CPM for 8th grade
and Carnegie Pathways for post-secondary
) that are trying out such ideas, creating entire curriculums for math intervention courses that centralize exploring the big ideas of mathematics and start with sparking student curiosity.
When do you feel a sense of thriving in your teaching? Does the connection between teacher and student thriving resonate with you? What ideas do you have to support both teachers and students to experience both a sense of personal growth along dimensions of both vitality and learning in their daily rounds in the school house?
Written by Lara Jasien