Being the principal of a Title I school with fifty-two percent of our students coming from impoverished backgrounds has been a challenge, to say the least. Three years ago, we began our journey making sure all teachers clearly understood the learning standards. We expanded the second year to include some quality training in small group instruction, higher level thinking strategies, and writing. This third year we have really worked on understanding our students, especially those who come from backgrounds that may be very different from our own. It has become clear that relationships are key, and to develop relationships and give feedback in ways that are meaningful, you must truly understand the one that you are giving the feedback.
As we have entered the second semester of our third year, I have been amazed at the progress I have seen in such a short time. Teachers and staff are teaching our students skills at deep levels. Not only are they able to apply it in the context of the classroom, but the students are also starting to be able to transfer their learning into abstract testing situations. It was looking at our last round of data that got me pondering.
Yes, all the things we have intentionally worked on as a school are important. But I have to admit that there was something present that allowed these initiatives to be successful. At their core, the staff members in my building exemplify the characteristics of strong learners.
- Curiosity and Desire to Learn- Teachers who are learners continually assess their current situation and the factors that impact it. They ask questions like “why?” and “what if?” to help them make sense of their world. They are not satisfied with someone else’s definitions for understanding, but must experience them for themselves. Their classrooms are an experiment of trial and error to find what works.
- Grit in the Face of a Challenge- Teachers who are learners recognize that failure is a part of learning. Even when you have a path of steady growth, there is eventually a plateau or even a dip in progress. Teachers who are masters of learners accept this as a part of the growth process. When faced with a challenge to their progress, these teachers persist, taking risks to find new ways to overcome the challenge rather than accept defeat.
- Growth Mindset to Continue to Improve- Often, once we as educators learn a strategy that works, we cling to it, even when it is no longer effective. Teachers who are learners recognize that the goal is to perfect the craft of creating learners, not a strategy. Teacher Learners are continually reflecting on their practice and learning so that they keep up with the needs of their students. They know that the need to learn is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength in that they recognize the power of continually evolving.
I think no matter the circumstances: whether students come from affluent, middle-class, or poverty backgrounds, to grow children into learners, you have to possess those characteristics. When you have these traits of a learner yourself, and you understand your students you can instill these same qualities in them. How can you help another person achieve this level of learning if you haven’t experienced it yourself? It really does “take one to grow one”!