The 95 Theses of Progressive Teaching

I have had the busiest and most productive summer of my life. I have created a lesson planning wiki, a technology integration wiki, the beginnings of a district Edusphere, and a bloated furl account. I have been thinking both big and small about the new school year that is now upon me. This post represents the broadest thinking I have done this summer.

Martin Luther had this idea first, but I’m sure he won’t mind if I borrow it. I kept thinking that progressive education needed a good rally cry, a belief system that we could all debate, discuss, and eventually agree upon. So I decided to start this project. Here are the first 50 theses of progressive education. I have categorized each of my beliefs in order to organize my thoughts and prevent any redundancy. Please write your ideas and additions into the comments for this post.
Change:

1. Teachers should be the change they want to see in their schools.
2. Teachers should constantly reinvent the wheel to make it ride smoother and faster over any type of terrain imaginable.
3. Teachers should never teach the same things the same way twice.
4. Teachers should see tradition for what it is: the hope that things will stay the same forever.

Collaboration and Community:

5. Teachers should be a part of a supporting network of dedicated fellow teachers who challenge each other to be better.
6. Teachers should accept advice, encouragement, and feedback freely from anyone who has their best interest in mind.
7. Just like teachers should never write off a student, they should also never write off a fellow teacher as incapable of change or merely incapable.
8. Teachers should never assume that their ideas will be adopted or believed even if they have research on their side but they should always try to convince people anyway.
9. Teachers should evangelize what they believe, but never prescribe it as a program for other teachers to follow verbatim. All teachers are different.
10. Teachers should not fear certain subjects of conversation with colleagues; all teachers deserve to be challenged in a way that they can understand and accept.
11. Teachers should never participate in anything in their classrooms, departments, or districts that can’t or won’t be shared with others and perhaps improved upon.
12. Teachers should be honest and open about what they excel at and what they need help with.
13. Teachers should be addictive personalities.
14. Teachers should never have to worry that someone has their back.
15. Teachers should see gossip for what it is: the nearly irremovable wedge driven between teachers to cut off all collaborative possibility.

Curriculum:

16. Teachers should be an integral part of all curriculum decision.
17. Teachers should never merely teach their content; they should teach the usage of their content in new and different situations.
18. Teachers should disarm racial, gender, and class biases in themselves and their classrooms by always speaking honestly about the corrosive effects that these biases can have on every question asked and curricular decision made.
19. Teachers shouldn’t see a difference between teaching to the students and teaching to the test. They should trust their methods to get students to where success lies.
20. Teachers should never give an assignment that they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves.

Teaching/Learning Theory:

21. Teachers should always have a good answer for the question “Why is this important?”
22. Teachers should find their inspiration for lessons in anything they want. There are infinite entrances to learning.
23. Teachers should learn.
24. Teachers should never think for their students.
25. Teachers should know that they have effects farther reaching than this year’s classroom, and should teach accordingly.
26. Teachers should be an expert in what they teach, but not the expert.
27. Teachers should allow a specific entrance to every student for their curriculum, thus creating universal access to learning.
28. Teachers should promote the complex and sometimes ambiguous nature of problem solving and real world application by bringing it into the classroom and showing students how complexity isn’t a vice, but a virtue.
29. Teachers should use theory only as an avenue to creating real lessons and activities that are student-centered instead of using it to create more theory (application instead of abstraction).
30. Teachers should learn from their students all that they can about student learning, teacher practice, and the next generation of life.
31. Teachers should know who their students are, and because of this, know what they need to learn.
32. Teacher should know what is unique about their school/district, and they should use these things to add idiosyncratic interest rather than jumping on a curriculum bandwagon.
33. Teachers should never frame their days by asking, “What can I fill this time with?”
34. Teachers should be ready to influence minds at a moments notice by asking students questions and learning something from the answer.
35. Teachers should anticipate anything but assume nothing.
36. Teachers should find solutions the same way that they find problems, by looking for them.
37. Teachers should preserve their individuality because it is the only way that they can preserve the individuality of their students.
38. Teachers should be prepared for, have an affinity toward, and see the value and beauty in the inherent difficulties in teaching one child, let alone 120.
39. Teachers should use the language of their craft in their classroom, encouraging their students to know the content more intimately, but they should never shirk their responsibility to be an adaptive translator of their content language.
40. Teacher should blend who they are with what they do. Teaching should be an authentic act for the teacher, not just the student.

Professional Development and Administration Support:

41. Teacher should be confident enough in their knowledge and teaching craft to justify any decision to a parent or administrator.
42. Teacher should know that new ideas exist, and should actively search for them in colleagues, both near to and far from them.
43. Teachers should never hide behind educators’ jargon and acronyms to make it appear as though they have a monopoly on knowledge.
44. Teachers shouldn’t be forced to choose “or” instead of “and” when it comes to resource needs in the classroom.
45. Teachers should read widely from both new and old media specific to their own interests in education, rather than read teacher books from someone unconnected to the classroom.
46. Teachers should never form an adversarial relationship with their administration; no sustained curricular or pedagogical decisions can be made only at the classroom level.

Reflection:

47. Teachers should know what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t work in their classrooms.
48. Teachers should collect anecdotes as data just as often as they collect test scores because more people are convinced when stories are connected to numbers.
49. Teachers should see honest reflection as the main avenue of change in teaching.

Technology:

50. Teachers should see technology as being as integral to learning as pen and paper, an aid to but never substitute for good teaching.

I know that this list needs a lot of work. Please help my far reaching attempt to give modern educational belief a clear and powerful voice.

0 Comments

  1. What an interesting list. As the school year (and with it, the school drama) starts to really gain momentum, it’s nice to read something so reflective and inspiring of reflection. Well done.

  2. Since I was asked–in a most professional and courteous email, I might add–to explain my differences with the list above, I’ll do so here. However, as today was my first day back at work as well as my first day back at getting up at 5:40, I’ll only address the first four. Then I’m off to bed!

    1. Teachers should be the change they want to see in their schools. What the heck does that mean?
    2. Teachers should constantly reinvent the wheel to make it ride smoother and faster over any type of terrain imaginable. Why? There’s another sensible saying: if it works, don’t fix it. This doesn’t mean that teachers shouldn’t practice a critical pedagogy to determine if their instruction is meeting the needs of the students, but change for its own sake seems a tremendous waste of time to me.
    3. Teachers should never teach the same things the same way twice. See #2.
    4. Teachers should see tradition for what it is: the hope that things will stay the same forever. This is the most insidious. Tradition isn’t the hope that things will stay the same, it’s a link between the past and future. It gives us a foundation, a rock, something upon which to build. Graduation exercises are a tradition we have–should we get rid of them out of some belief that they’re stale or out of date? That’s not progressive, that’s destructive.

    We’ll see how I feel about addressing so many of the others over the course of the weekend. Good night!

  3. Tina

    Number 7 struck me as well… not because I disagree with it, but because it made me take a harder look at myself and how I look at some of my colleagues. I sometimes “give up” too quickly. I don’t ever give up on students and I should apply the same thinking to my colleagues as well. Good call. (Although it’s damn hard at times!)
    I want to ponder this more and get back to you…

    What will be Number 51? I’d make it have something to do with balance… teachers do tend to have addictive personalities and can spend their days in “teacher-mode” without remembering to exercise, laugh, play, and drink a beer. : ) (Can you tell it’s Friday and I’m tired of grading essays????)
    (Sounds “petty”, I know, but this is one of my biggest pieces of advice to new teachers… we’re no good to anyone if we’re not good to ourselves first–I know we all know this but why do we forget it so easily???)

    I’m going to re-read these this weekend and get back to you…. Thank you for making me think. Especially on a Friday.

  4. Let it suffice to say for now that any random five of these items gives ample reason why my wife, my son and I commute over two hours each day to his modest private school. His school is a cornucopia of diversity; each class in his three years there has been filled with students from across the globe. At the end of first grade he was reading at a fourth grade level and he was by no means the best reader in his class. They are busy mastering subject matter while their public (and many private) school counterparts are being subjected to “an environment that encourages life-long learning”.

    Our nearest public school is 600 yards away from our house.

    Public education has been in the stranglehold of the “progressives” for what…about 100 years now?

    And this is what you have to show for yourselves?

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