This paper contains excerpts summarizing my arts-informed Master’s thesis, autoethnographic reflections in the form of lyric, collage, and personal narrative exploring an inner, emotional journey to regaining strength and rediscovering passion after a period of teacher burn-out.
The Jar as Metaphor: The Heart of My Learning
The role of the Canadian educator has expanded to supporting the whole student. From fear of violence in schools to increased awareness of mental health issues to data-driven school improvement plans, educators in Canada face many stresses. It has become common for educators to experience “burn-out,” to become cynical, or to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be more than an expert in a given field. Today in education we are often supporting students in navigating the human experience.
To build resiliency, educators need to come out of isolation and build communities of trust. We need to be able to acknowledge and express our inner landscapes: the thoughts and feelings beneath the surface of responding to every day routines, events, and duties. For me, metaphor became a way of accessing and expressing what I learned in my early years of teaching.
For this inquiry, jars symbolized the collected stories and emotions of my inner life as a young teacher. By preserving memory and capturing experience in metaphorical jars, I discovered that a teacher can hold a moment up to the light for a closer look through the jar’s transparent walls.
Jars can be used for preserving or collecting or storing or capturing. We purchase things in jars. We give things away in jars. From holding delicacies to treasures to waste to hardware, glass jars have lingered in homes and garages and schools and workplaces since the mid-1800s.
Jars provide form. Jars give shape to their contents. Jars organize. Jars have their limitations too. They can be restrictive and confined, separating and compartmentalizing. Each jar has a limited capacity. Jars are fragile, chipping or shattering when dropped. Glass walls are transparent, leaving the contents vulnerable and visible.
Looking through Glass Walls: The Value of Self-Reflection
Self-understanding is integral to being a resilient educator. To me, education is about social change; it is about tending to community and supporting social justice. We are human first, then educators. Education is broader than the subject, it can connect to the common humanity in learners. We engage in inquiry together, to share diverse perspectives, to become partners in the discovery. A teacher can also be a facilitator, creating opportunities for critical engagement and dialectical thinking. Teachers are more than subject-matter experts. I feel it is the duty as an educator to go beyond the prescribed curriculum, to help build community, to be sure that students learn the names of other students in our class, to provide opportunities for students to celebrate individuality as well as to celebrate that which unifies us as people.
Being an educator can be a monumental vocation when you “begin with the world.” Resiliency is essential.
Teaching in a Bell Jar: My Story
Teacher burn-out does not happen overnight. It is gradual, accumulative. My teacher burn-out was not a direct result of the events of September 11, 2001 but the events hung low like a heavy smoke blanket in my consciousness.
In the days after September 11, I stood at the front of the class unable to answer the students’ questions about the events. I was twenty-six years old. I remember the school had made some announcements about sending prayers to the families of the deceased and the fire fighters who worked diligently to rescue people trapped in the debris. Staff occasionally talked about bits they had heard on the news over lunch. Friends and family exchanged sad comments akin to the mechanical small talk at a funeral. After a week passed, few people talked about the events.
But students in my class had questions. Students talked about relatives in New York. Students wanted to know more about the buildings, the terrorists, the reasons why the events had taken place. Students looked to me, their teacher, for answers. I did not know how to articulate my fear and pain and frustration. I did not know how to support the students. I did not know where to find support for myself.
The first five years of being an educator include many lessons. New teachers prepare unit plans and respond to student behavior while balancing co-curricular activities. New teachers experience, reflect, and change every day. Although learning is integral to the culture of a classroom teacher at all stages of his or her career, the first five years of teaching are paramount. New teachers learn through experience about pedagogy, curriculum, people, workplace politics, and self. Learning occurs in at least two circles: the outer circle of the self as teacher and the inner circle of the self as person. Like a Venn diagram the circles overlap.
While a new teacher learns how to engage students and how to master curriculum in his or her outer circle, what is happening in his or her inner circle? How does he or she change through the process of learning?
As I burned-out, my inner landscape was in trouble. On the outside I looked like a competent teacher. I responded to classroom events following school protocol. I moved through the curriculum while balancing the diverse needs of students. I supported coworkers who were having a bad day or a bad week. I found time to direct the school play and orchestrate the tech set-up for assemblies. I managed student behavior in a Drama room with no desks. Most of the time I was content. Some days I would say to my colleagues at lunch “I love my job.”
Pride and shame prevented me from reaching out as a young teacher. I did not want to appear incompetent or incapable or unsatisfactory. I pretended to know how to respond. When I was asked how things were going in my class I replied “fine.” If witnessing a fight in the cafeteria while on duty bothered me, I kept quiet. I showed up to work and I smiled. I tried to focus on the positive things like the talent of the students in my classes or the small kindnesses I watched staff exchange each day.
The more I repressed my feelings the harder it became to smile. It felt like I was taking in all the pain and sadness my students shared about their relationships, academic pressure, conflicts, and addictions. As more students reached out for help a little more air was pumped out of the bell jar. I did not know how to help the students nor how to protect myself from their pain. My empathetic nature internalized their sadness.
To be resilient I needed to learn how to manage emotion. As the air was being pumped out of my bell jar I did not know that I was the one who was holding the vacuum.
Filling the Jar: Life and Research Intersect
David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle includes experiencing, reflecting, theorizing, and applying. Like many other educators, I experienced burn-out so I used my experience to explore the research. Through the healing process I reflected on what made me feel defeated in an attempt to make meaning out of the experience. Then I consulted doctors, counsellors, friends, and books to extend my understanding of burn-out. Finally, I created and implemented a plan for change. Kolb’s experiential learning cycle provides a framework for demonstrating how I learned to turn defeatism into resilience.
Mary Catherine Bateson described learning as a spiral. Placing this idea alongside Kolb’s learning theory I can see how similar cycles and spirals can be. Kolb’s theory spiralled through my relationships, career decisions, and self- awareness. Cole and Knowles explained the experiential learning cycle/spiral: “Experience or practice provides the basis for reflection and analysis, which in turn informs future action.” Throughout my career, learning to be resilient will spiral through large and small events.
The spiral started somewhere in the middle of my every day, going up, down, this way or that way. It seemed a light moved through the spiral itself like a dancing ball in a tube to show me where I have been, where I was in the present, and where I needed to go. The spiral had warm and cool spots, clear and foggy spots. What surprised me most was that everything connected in the spiral; everything was a part of everything else. Even in Kolb’s learning cycle all of the learning is informed by prior learning, everything connected.
Marilyn Taylor’s model of the learning cycle suggests that learners begin with a disorientation phase or destabilizing experience. When I began my career I enjoyed teaching. I became disoriented when teaching became difficult and I lacked the inner strength to cope. Subsequently, I reached my saturation point and burned out. After I started asking for help and beginning the healing process, I had arrived at the Reorientation phase of Taylor’s cycle.
Learning is change. Change is difficult. Learning how to overcome burn-out and develop resiliency was hard and slow. It took three years to move from realizing I needed help to regaining my zest for work and my confidence in responding to conflict.
When I examined old journals I was surprised to discover two entries from 2004 that identified the problem and a solution. My writing revealed my growing apathy for teaching a “subject,” my sensitivity to personal relations at work, my draining energy from perceived monotony and poor self-care. It also listed my needs for teamwork, later mornings, a life outside of work, enthusiastic mentors, creative projects, and a deliberate approach to self-care.
As Taylor’s cycle suggests I recognized that “the learner is where the learning happens and the learner’s own views and judgments are centrally involved.” To move into the next phase I needed to better understand how my perspective of the teaching environment became distorted, gain insight on how the pattern played out in my life, and apply the new perspective.
If we layer Taylor’s more emotional cycle over Kolb’s experiential learning cycle it is clear that learning was happening on many levels. As Taylor’s cycle indicates I had the experience of burning out. For two years I reflected on what upset the balance in my life and began to ask questions about how I could develop inner strength. I began to make meaning and conceptualize what was happening. To shift my perspective I needed a catalyst.
When I learned how to trust my community of friends, family, and colleagues, my engagement in teaching could feel reborn. Both Kolb’s experiential learning cycle and Taylor’s learning cycle fit naturally with learning that occurred before I knew of their cycles. Learning processes were at work in my life even when I was not aware.
The Fairy Tale: Life as a New Teacher
Once upon a time a teacher gets a first job. He has always wanted to be a teacher. She is thrilled. He works hard. She loves her work. He says yes to supervise dances, attend parent nights, coach basketball, moderate the Eco Club, and run the school’s recycling program. Life is good.
One day she gets tired but she does not take time to rest. He adds more supervising and coaching and moderating to his schedule. She thinks about her students when she is at work and when she is at home. His life becomes his work. Then she burns out. He feels defeated. She prays for strength. He starts to resent the time he spends at school. She responds in cranky tones when students ask for help. He carries the weight of his work on his back and does not even stop to use his health benefits for a massage.
She finds a pamphlet in her mailbox at work about the employee assistance program. He talks about how tired he is and how hard it is to say no. She wishes she worked at the bank. Now he also moderates the school’s breakfast program. Her work and life are out of balance. With the help of his friends, his family, and his bulldog named Lucy he makes changes. The changes are small at first.
She goes for walks every morning. He goes to bed earlier so he can read his favourite Canadian authors like Joseph Boyden and Yann Martel and Alice Munro. She takes a break from coaching. He declines hosting the department party. She needs space, just for a year. He needs to get the house ready for when his baby is born. She joins recreational volley-ball in the evenings. He learns how to landscape. She has movie night with the girls. He has Saturday morning coffee with the guys.
Then, like magic, she likes teaching Creative Writing again. He laughs with the students every day. She wakes up before the alarm clock. He looks forward to marking because he is curious to know if the students are learning. She is proud to be a teacher. He applies for a job as department head. And the students and teacher lived happily ever after….
The story does not end here. Our lives do not follow a three act structure. The end of burn-out does not guarantee everlasting happiness and peace and passion. Likewise, every story is as unique as each individual teacher. After a teacher experiences burn-out she may choose to make changes. If the teacher is a reflective practitioner, he may use the experience as a learning opportunity. Healing after burn- out can take weeks or months or years.
But a teacher can choose to burn-in. Burning-in is about finding a mind, body, ground, sky connection. It is about listening to an inner voice, living in the present, being aware of intention, and finding passion in work. It is about dreaming and creating and listening and giving and feeling. Through burning-in I gained a deeper understanding of self, affirmed my calling as an educator, and developed resiliency to cope when the work became challenging again.
Defining “Burn-In:” We Have Choices
Writing allows me to take a moment and put it in a jar. Then I hold the jar up to the light and examine it, see how it can be changed when different elements are added or taken away.
To burn-in is to look inside oneself for wisdom, for direction, for strength. To burn-in is to connect to the fire in one’s belly that motivates and inspires. Engaged in a continuous cycle of praxis, reflection and action, our inner worlds change.
Toward the end of the summer of 2004 I had developed an action plan that included regular self check-ins, attention to self-care, a better work-life balance. But it also listed healthy ways to express and cope with emotion, how to safeguard myself from the negative energy of others, how to resist over-committing to demands on my time, how to transition when a dread of returning to work settled in on a Sunday night, and finally how to remain connected to my preferred, balanced, seemingly in control self.
Metaphor and Inquiry: How Metaphor Helped Me Make Meaning Out of Experience
Sunshine in a Jar is a symbol to represent the inner life. It is an ideal state of being. It represents creativity and spirit and passion and resiliency and interconnectedness and love. This metaphor served as the entry point to the inquiry. I had many questions. How does Sunshine in a Jar connect to my identity and perspective? How does the metaphor connect to and reveal my inner life? Could metaphor be used as a tool for gaining a greater understanding of self? What is the value of a personal metaphor? What are the stories or events in my life that demonstrate the significance of Sunshine in a Jar?
The use of arts-informed inquiry opened up and represented my inner life in ways that surprised me. It gave me access to memory and emotion. As the work evolved, a definition of Sunshine in a Jar surfaced as a symbol of resilience and passion. I wondered how I could use my story of developing resiliency and rediscovering a love of teaching after a period of burn-out to support other young teachers. I wondered if by sharing my journey, by articulating inner learning, I could share possibilities with other teachers experiencing burn-out. Arts-informed inquiry could accomplish two things: represent the inner life of an educator and appeal to a wide audience.
When I think of Sunshine in a Jar I think about light, creativity, enthusiasm, insight, vocation, and love. The image embodies my understanding of resiliency. The glass jar is the form, the container that permits me to capture things or ideas that seem impossible, and to carry them wherever I choose. The glass jar can also preserve brightness and strength. I can take the lid off whenever I want to let life, people or feeling into the jar or out of the jar. It is a personal metaphor, its meaning can change as I change.
Many teachers experience burn-out. Many teachers have developed resiliency as a result. The importance of the inquiry was not just about telling a story of burn-out and resiliency. Rather, it was an opportunity to learn how to articulate the experience in order to share it with other teachers, to represent story from the inside-out.
Who are Resilient Teachers?
- Have a sense of self-efficacy and ignite a sense of efficacy in others.
- Acknowledge the inner life and draws on inner strength in times of difficulty to perspective can change, life can change.
- Feel comfortable with not knowing all the answers.
- Are prepared and flexible.
- Understand that they cannot always be in control.
- Put their trust in others, including students, colleagues, administrators, and their personal circles of influence.
- Trust their intuition.
- May be afraid, but they do not let fear prevent them from doing what needs to be done.
- Show up, they open the door even though the writing on the wall does not match their expectations.
- Understand the rewards of being still, of careful observation, and of curiosity.
- Try to live in the moment. The past does not define the future. Rather, the past and future inform the present.
- Seek learning opportunities in large and small events.
- Understand that inner strength develops within community. Teaching and learning can be limited in isolation and can be enriched by solitude.
- Take risks.
- Listen to their inner voices.
- Are reflective practitioners.
- Recognize moments of insight.
- Make decisions rooted in purpose, passion, and integrity.
- Respond to the world around them.
- Understand interconnectedness, cause and effect, and the greater good.
- Choose to turn adversity into opportunity.
Like a child who enters the backyard on a beautiful day with an empty jar and a curious mind, this inquiry welcomed surprise. Above all, to be resilient educators need to have open minds. What does your jar look like? What do you keep inside? Open the jar.
- Myles Horton inspires me: “Go to the people. Learn from them. Live with them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But the best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will all say we have done it ourselves” (Horton & Freire, 1990, pp. 247-248).
- Boal and Freire inspire me to facilitate for the purpose of connecting learners to the world, to each other: “For Freire, humans can lift themselves to a higher level of consciousness and become subjects to the extent of their interventions in society, their reflection on this intervention, and their commitment to this engagement in society” (Elias & Meriam, 2005, p. 154).
- To be thoroughly, humanly ‘with the world’ means that people would have developed a critical perception and would have taken collectively their environmental, social, political, and economic destiny into their own hands. To begin that struggle is to begin with the world” (Mojab, Winter 2011).
- “Most of [first year teachers] describe their first year of teaching as positive, reporting the experience as excellent (32 per cent) or good (47 per cent) and their professional satisfaction as excellent (28 per cent) or good (40 per cent). Similar numbers report that their confidence level is excellent (29 per cent) or good (45 per cent). Almost half (48 per cent) give an unsatisfactory rating to their job security. And yet, almost four out of five (78 per cent) say they are optimistic for their professional future” (McIntyre, 2011).
- “Lessons too complex to grasp in a single occurrence spiral past again and again, small examples gradually revealing greater and greater implications” (Bateson, 1994, p. 30).
- (Cole & Knowles, 2008, p. 94)
- “If the change is experienced as disconfirming, that is, one that disconfirms one’s self-system or personal model of reality, then the individual is thrown into a disorientation phase in which confusion, anxiety, and tension increase and the learner experiences a crisis of self-confidence” (MacKeracher, 2004, p. 64).
- (MacKeracher, 2004, p. 67)
- “Most of our life we’re put in a cage, where we sing the same song day in and day out. But life is not about being caged, life is about flying” (Heward & Bacon, 2006, p. 132).
- “Resilience, defined as the capacity to continue to ‘bounce back,’ to recover strengths or spirit quickly and efficiently in the face of adversity, is closely allied to a strong sense of vocation, self-efficacy and motivation to teach which are fundamental to a concern for promoting achievement in all aspects of students’ lives” (Gu & Day, 2007, p. 1302).
Bateson, M. C. (1994). Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.
Castro, A. J., Kelly, J., & Shih, M. (2010). Resilience Strategies for New Teachers in HighNNeeds Areas. Teaching and Teacher Educa;on, 622N629.
Cole, A. L., & Knowles, J. G. (2001). Lives in Context: The Art of Life History Research. Lanham, MA: AltaMira Press.
Cole, A. L., & Knowles, J. G. (2008). ArtsNInformed Research. In J. G. Knowles, & A. L. Cole, Handbook of the Arts in Qualita;ve Research (pp. 55N70). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage PublicaXons.
Cole, A. L., & Knowles, J. G. (2008). Researching Teaching: Exploring Teacher Development through Reflexive Inquiry. Halifax, Nova ScoXa: Backalong Books.
Esquith, R. (2007). Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire. New York, NY: Penguin. Gu, Q., & Day, C. (2007). Teachers Resilience: A Necessary CondiXon for EffecXveness.
Teaching and Teacher Educa;on, 1302N1316. Heward, L., & Bacon, J. U. (2006). The Spark: Igni;ng the Crea;ve Fire that Lives Within Us
All. Toronto, Ontario: Doubleday Canada. Horton, M., & Freire, P. (1990). We Make the Road by Walking: Conversa;ons on Educa;on
and Social Change. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Leithwood, K., & Riehl, C. (2003). What We Know About Successful School Leadership.
Opening the Jar/Outram 20
Philadelphia, PA: Laboratory for Student Success, Temple University. MacKeracher, D. (2004). Making Sense of Adult Learning (Second Edi;on). Toronto, Ontario:
University of Toronto Press Incorporated.
McIntyre, F. (2011, March). Transi;on to Teaching 2010. Retrieved May 23, 2011, from Professionally Speaking: The Magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers: hep:// professionallyspeaking.oct.ca/march_2011/features/T2T.aspx
Mezirow, J. a. (2000). Learning as Transforma;on: Cri;cal Perspec;ves on a Theory in Progress (Josse Bass Higher and Adult Educa;on). San Francisco, CA: JosseyNBass.
Mojab, S. (Winter 2011). Adult EducaXon Without Borders. In S. Mojab, Introduc;on to Adult Educa;on Winter Session Course Pack. Toronto, Ontario: Department of Adult EducaXon and Community Development & Counselling Psychology, OISE, University of Toronto.
Nagel, G. (1994). The Tao of Teaching. New York, NY: Primus.
Outram, Jessica (2011). Opening the Jar: Autoethnographic Reflec;ons on Teaching and Developing Resiliency. MA thesis. Toronto, Ontario: Department of Adult EducaXon and Counselling Psychology, OISE, University of Toronto. Web. University of Toronto Research Repository.
Palmer, P. J. (1998). The Courage to Teach. San Francisco, Ca: John Wiley & Sons.
Pink, D. H. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why Right[Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
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Public Agenda. (2007). A Mission of the Heart: What Does It Take to Transform a School? New York, NY: Wallace FoundaXon.
Thorpe, K., & Chenier, L. (2011). Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces: Perspec;ves of Canadian Workers and Front[Line Managers. Oeawa, Ontario: The Conference Board of Canada.
Today I taught my first primary lesson. My background and experience is as a high school teacher and administrator. Now that I’m in my second year as an elementary principal I wanted to get into classes more, to become more familiar with curriculum in the various grades and subjects, and to explore different research-based teaching strategies.
In mid-September I invited classes to choose any subject for me to come in and teach one lesson. My stomach did flip flops at the thought of teaching grades and subjects that were new to me–and in front of my staff. But this was important to me. In exchange for the lesson I asked that the class and the teacher give me feedback on my teaching.
The first class to request a lesson was Grade 2/3. They wanted music.
The students know I am a singer (at our first assembly last year I sang Katy Perry’s “Firework” for them). I was thrilled to begin this journey with a subject I felt confident in so I could focus on teaching strategies.
To begin my work I reviewed our school board resources on assessment, including creating learning goals and success criteria. Then I reviewed the Music curriculum for Grade 2 and 3. The biggest challenge was to think about how to plan a stand-alone lesson with learning and assessment for a 50-minute period.
My learning focuses were creating a high level of student engagement, using learning goals and success criteria to design the lesson, and using a 3-part lesson.
After checking in with the teacher about what they’ve already learned in Music I decided to focus the lesson on singing the blues.
When I arrived I gave the teacher a copy of my lesson plan (as though it was my turn for a performance appraisal).
We are learning how to use music to bring people together and express emotion.
- I can use my feelings to generate ideas for a blues song.
- I can describe three characteristics of blues music.
I also wanted students to begin playing with composition and apply elements of music when singing but thought it would be best to share two with the students since it was only one period.
- Included links to three strands:
- Creating and Performing
- Reflecting, Responding, Analyzing
- Exploring Forms and Cultural Contexts
- Dynamics and expressive controls.
- Form (phrase, simple verse, and chorus).
- Sing in unison.
- Apply elements of music when singing.
- Create simple compositions for a specific purpose and familiar audience.
- The Blues Lesson Powerpoint slides (Email me if you want to PPT presentation. The file was too big to post here).
- Scroll through five items on the Smartboard: Harmonica, guitar, fedora, sunglasses, blue
- What do these items have in common?
- What type of music do they represent?
- What do you know about the blues?
The students liked trying to solve this puzzle. I scrolled through the items slowly. Most students guessed “rock and roll.” After we discovered the lesson would be about the Blues, only one student said she had heard them before “playing in the square in town.”
- What are the blues?
- Sing “Bring it on Home to Me” to the class as an example. Talk about the voice as an instrument. Sing the same lyrics in a couple different styles (opera, country, rock). Talk about how the blues use a belly voice or chest voice. Invite class to activate their belly voices by doing a simple warm-up, holding their stomach and saying “ho ho ho” like Santa Claus. Remind them that when they sing the blues they need to feel it in their tummies.
- Blues songs tell stories about life experiences, particularly about love and hard times.
- Blues songs use pianos, drums, guitars (rhythm and bass).
- Blues songs use repetition, improvisation, strong belly voice, and they express emotion.
Students sat straight up and their eyes popped out when I sang. It was fun to see them react this way. I used a big, deep voice. It wasn’t a classroom sing-song voice but a full blues belting voice. They enjoyed doing the warm-up and feeling their bellies move when they used their voices. One student said, “The blues sound like a lullaby.”
- What’s hard about being a kid?
- Brainstorm together
- Aim for details
- These ideas will be used to improvise verses for our blues song
My chart paper skills are definitely lacking. The students had so many ideas I couldn’t keep up with them. I think they could have gone all day sharing what’s hard about being a kid. (The stick figure in the center is supposed to be a kid).
- The Colborne Blues
- The Colborne Blues: I wrote a little song using the background track in the YouTube video below. I taught this chorus to the students and then improvised verses based on the ideas the students had given me. Then the students took turns improvising lyrics. (Sing starts at about 17 seconds.)
The students picked the tune up really quickly. All students sang or hummed along.
After singing through this together a few times I taught them how to use their voices to create a blues background track. Students then split into partners with person A singing the background beat and person B singing the Blues, either the song we learned or one they made up. Then we invited the pairs to sing their song to the class.
Here is a sample (featuring a couple students):
We needed more time! This was a good introduction but a week would have really helped them develop their vocal and improvisation skills. Mostly I wanted to see how open they were to experimenting with voice–next steps with this lesson would be giving them feedback to improve vocal quality and to have them spend time writing the blues before singing.
- We reviewed the learning goal and success criteria, discussing our learning so far. What impressed me most was how the students spoke about their learning–they are becoming more confident with this language.
- Then students watched The “Time-Out Blues” and answered these two questions:
- What is this song about?
- What makes this a blues song?
At the end of the lesson I asked the students for feedback. They asked me to come back–and I will. Next time I plan to bring a musician with me so they can hear some blues instruments. The teacher reminded me I need to leave more “think time” before calling on students, building in ways for them to brainstorm and practice independently. She’s right–I just saw all the eager hands and jumped into responses.
I’m looking forward to my next lesson. I’m not sure what it will be. A number of classes are struggling to reach consensus. The students are debating over Music or Healthy Active Living. One class said I could choose the subject (but three other students chanted “Gym” in the background.) I’m surprised they’re not trying to make things harder on me by picking subjects that are challenging.
I’ve learned so much from this about primary teaching and learning. This experience reinforced the idea for me of assessment over time and the importance of time for going deeply into a topic. It also took a lot of time to utilize learning goals, success criteria, and the 3-part lesson but all three were essential in grounding the lesson in learning, in being intentional about our limited time together.
One of our beloved researchers in education is John Hattie, the mastermind behind the visible learning movement (to me it really feels like a movement). Hattie’s research is the culmination of over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement. This means his research is about most of the other research out there. Here are five things I’ve learned from his books:
1) Students need to be confident and accurate when estimating their learning.
Hattie calls this “self-report grades” and it is the number one thing to impact student achievement. Teachers need to provide students with tools to measure their progress, outlining clearly what they are learning (the goal) and how they will know they are successful (the success criteria).
Hattie: “Educating students to have high, challenging, appropriate expectations is among the most powerful influence in enhancing student achievement.”
INSIGHT: It’s not just about reflection for reflection’s sake. It’s about accurate, purposeful reflection.
QUESTION: How can educators measure how accurately students are estimating their learning and predicting their success?
2) How students learn is as important as what students learn.
Students may think differently than teachers because the mind of a child is developmentally different than the mind of an adult. Lessons should challenge student thinking, encourage dialogue and collaboration, and give teachers time to listen.
Hattie: “The message is that we must know what students already know, know how they think, and then aim to then progress all students towards the success criteria of the lesson.”
INSIGHT: When I was a teacher I often planned my lessons based on my understanding and how my mind organizes information. I needed to spend more time learning how my students think.
QUESTION: How can high school teachers shift from seeing themselves as content experts to instructional experts?
3) Technology can increase learning but it’s not guaranteed.
Good teaching is good teaching with or without technology. For example, iPads in the classroom are not effective by their presence alone. The “how” students learn is determined by the teacher’s strategies, the quality of peer learning, the helpfulness of the feedback, or the opportunities for students to practice.
Hattie: “It is critical to realize that the computer is not ‘the teacher.'”
INSIGHT: I need to better understand technology as a tool for learning, synthesizing my understanding of teaching strategies and lesson design with the opportunities in technology devices and apps.
QUESTION: How can I collaborate with other educators in learning more about how to use technology effectively as a tool for teaching?
4) A learning leader can make an impact.
School leaders are reinventing their roles to align with research. From the leader who motivates and inspires change to the leader who attends to the quality of student learning, principals are now responsible for much more than the daily operations of the school. While the teachers examine what they teach and how they teach it, school leaders need to ask what is the evidence of student learning and how can it be used to improve instruction?
Hattie: “What is needed is more space for teachers to interpret the evidence about their effect on each student.”
INSIGHT: I need a solid understanding of what “evidence of student” learning looks like and a process for tracking it efficiently and effectively in my school.
QUESTION: How can I measure my impact as a leader on student achievement?
5) Students want to know how to improve their work to be able to do better next time.
Teachers say that they give lots of feedback. Students say they don’t receive enough. There is a gap. Negative feedback can cause problems, misunderstandings, and apathy. Teachers need to balance negative and positive feedback, match feedback to knowledge level, providing assurance when students are on track. Focus on how the feedback is received.
Hattie: “As a professional, it is critical to know thy impact. It may seem ironic but the more teachers seek feedback about their own impact, the more the benefits accrue to their students.”
INSIGHT: When I first started teaching high school English it didn’t occur to me to ask students if the feedback I was giving them on their essays was effective. I learned that giving useful feedback is hard work, but important work.
QUESTION: How can I inspire staff to reflect on what feedback they give and to measure its impact on student learning?
This book offers a theory about how writers learn. Using the contributions from thirty emerging and experienced writers, The Writing Spiral demonstrates the way learning about creativity, courage, solitude, community, ambition, perseverance, curiosity, and love develop mastery—to make an expressive, inspired writer.
- How do you balance writing with your job and family?
- When is the best time to write alone?
- What do you use to combat writer’s block?
- When is it time to take risks?
- How do you publish?
- Why is vulnerability a blessing?
- How do you learn best?
- What is your relationship between what you learn and what you write?
A comprehensive learning program designed to call writers to action, this book utilizes research-based learning strategies, humour, metaphor, and interactive exercises to awaken the learner in you. To become a better writer, you need to become a better learner.
A diverse collection of poems, stories, memoirs, and essays The Writing Spiral promises to take you on a journey around layers of experience, knowledge, and inquiry to awaken your writing core.
The Writing Spiral offers a new vision that encourages us to define our writing spirals: to embrace reflection and analysis, to love learning, and to courageously write our truths and share our stories.
Jessica Outram, M.A., is a principal in Northumberland, Ontario. A writing teacher and former high school English teacher, Outram is also a playwright and a publisher.
Thirty writers share poems, stories, memoirs, and essays as demonstrations of the themes. The contributors include: Lynda Allison, Kelly Babcock, Erika Bailey, Mona Blaker, Ken Bond, Helen Chenier, Heidi Croot, Phyllis Diller Stewart, Sacha Farrell, Catherine Graham, Barbara E. Hunt, Shane Joseph, Ruth Latta, Andree Levie-Warrilow, Nancy Melcher, Dee Miles, M.J. Moores, Lori Pearson, Gwynn Scheltema, David Sheffield, Felicity Sidnell Reid, Pat Skene, Lesley Strutt, Erin Thomas, Lori Twining, Christina Vasilevski, Lynn Vieira, Ruth Walker, Brenda J. Wood, and Collette Yvonne.
Cover art by Livia Tsang
Book design by Janet Boccone
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