The Craft of Teaching
At the heart of educational innovation is the teacher. Strong teachers create magical worlds of learning that are powerful, meaningful and memorable. But, how do teachers develop their process to create meaningful learning environments. I was talking about this idea with my wife who recently became a school librarian. She teaches lessons to preschool and elementary students in her library and has been spending a lot of time over the weekend planning lessons. She sometimes asks me questions as she is contemplating the flow of a lesson. My wife’s other career is being a children’s author focusing primarily on middle grade books. I can’t help plugging her latest amazing book: I Know your Secret by Daphne Benedis-Grab
Anyway she told me about a conversation she had with her fellow writer friends about the craft of writing. Each person in the group had a different process. Some writers created a careful outline of the entire story and then revised it over and over before starting to write. Others just start writing with no outline and let the process of writing drive the story. While some of the authors focus on revising the first draft meticulously until it is ready to share, others used their writing circle to get feedback as they developed their ideas and modified the story as they went. My wife added that during her MFA degree she was told that she should change her writing process to what was considered the ‘correct’ way to write a book. After completing her degree she learned to trust her instincts on how to craft writing and realized the importance of individuality in the process. In fact Stephen King has famously written that while there is plenty of advice out there on how to write, ultimately it is up to the author to figure out what works through trial and error. When something is helpful King advises the author to add that strategy to what he calls the tool belt. I really like this idea of a tool belt because it honors individuality in how you construct the belt and it recognizes that multiple tools are needed to accomplish a complex task.
As my wife was sharing about the craft of writing I immediately thought about the craft of teaching. There are many overlaps. While there is plenty of advice out there or even definitions of ‘correct’ teacher planning, ultimately each teacher needs to develop an individual process to develop lessons and plan curriculum. I worry that not enough space and attention is given to the important development of this process for teachers. The ultimate measure of the process is what happens in the classroom, what is experienced, what is learned, and what is remembered. If we want to promote innovation in education we need to start by encouraging teachers to share their craft just as my wife’s group of writers did. Each teacher can share aspects of their tool belt in developing lessons, units and courses. These stories will be rich sources of information on what is effective and impactful in the teaching process. They will also promote the needed connections between teachers and ideas to drive innovation in the classroom. Each educator needs to ultimately find their own useful approaches, but through expanded sharing of craft we can learn from each other and get deeper into what great teaching is all about.