To keep American innovation strong, we must instill in students a passion for new ideas
Why Great Teachers Are Also Learners
You can inspire students to learn with simple demonstrations of your own curiosity
As a teacher, the most important asset I can teach my students is a love of learning. In my 10 years teaching high school, I have found that making a deliberate and transparent effort to continue my own learning allows me to inspire my students to follow my footsteps.
Here are some best practices that I have created for myself, to facilitate both my own learning and my students' passion to learn.
1 - Spend 15 minutes 3 times a week learning new things
The first step is making a genuine effort to learn things that will make me a better educator. I call this "intentional research and development," mimicking the language that businesses use to describe investing in knowledge. With this set time I look to expand my own knowledge in ways I can bring back to the classroom. No mindless surfing here. On most days, I read blogs, newspapers, and Google searchers in areas that interest me. At the end of my 15 minutes, I make sure that I have a list of the next three things I'm curious about, which I use to guide my next session.
2 - Talk about the new things you're learning, and let your enthusiasm show
When I learn something new, I let my students know. For example when Apple released the new iBooks platform, I downloaded the interactive Yellow Submarine book from the iBookstore and hooked it into my projector to explore it with my class. We were all excited and learning, and the students and I engaged in a discussion that motivated them. They even asked me to have the curriculum director come to class the next day to hear their thoughts on incorporating technologies into coursework. This discussion has directly influenced the technology plan at our school.
3 - Share your questions about topics that interest you, and ask for student feedback
When I don't understand something or have an issue that is bothering me, I'll mention it to my students or even ask them to explain it to me. For example, when Facebook timeline first came out, I invited my students to show me how they were using it. They gained confidence from teaching me something valuable, and I gained helpful insights from them--and I demonstrated the value of asking questions and collaborative learning.
4 - Show students that you're willing to investigate
There are times when a student poses a question I don't know how to answer. When this happens, I'll make a note to investigate, and I'll let my students see me doing this. Then I make sure to come back and tell them about my new findings. This demonstrates to students the power of inquiry-based learning: They see that I have unanswered questions. I admit that I don't know everything. But, then they see me learn and share. I become a model of learning in action.
5 - Let students see you learning leisurely on your own
I purposely take time during the school day to learn in a way that is quietly visible to students. last weekend, I started reading Tom Peters' book The Little BIG Things on my desk and am reading a bit every day. When students ask me about the book, I explain what I learned and we have conversations. The message that the students receive is this: She doesn't have to read. It's not her homework. She wants to read and she gets excited about what she reads.
I want the students to see this.
This week, I'm learning how to use Pinterest. I've created a board called Big Little Things to Improve Education and I'm talking with students about the difference between Pinterest and other social media sites. Through these conversations they are seeing me learn. In this particular situation, they witness me combining content knowledge (discoveries I make about learning about leading and teaching) and with technology findings (Pinterest). Technology is such an important part of students' lives, so it is good for them to see the two mix.
6 - Let students hear you talk about learning
When my curriculum director comes in the room, I intentionally talk to her about the new things I'm learning and what I'm excited about. I know the students are listening and she does too. We don't care. There are no state secrets we're sharing, just a mutual love of learning. Let them overhear you and other teachers talking about what you've learned.
7 - Let students see you proudly sharing your learning
When I learn something new, I blog it, Tweet it, Tumblr it, or Google+ it, and eventually I put some things into the books I write. Sharing is part of learning. When you share, others will share back. In today's world of social media, the world helps those who are helpful. If I can foster an attitude of sharing, my students will reap the benefits.
8 - Involve students in on-the-fly learning
When Conde Nast contacted me about testing a new app (Ideaflight) for them in my classroom, the students were excited to give their feedback. I decided that instead of filtering student answers back to the publisher, I would schedule time for the whole class to skype with the Conde developers. It worked beautifully. The students were beta testers, and they took ownership. I've also had my students skype with BBC reporters and present online and face to face in conferences. With this kind of involvement students become excited about sharing their learning, and they see the value and relevance of learning in real life.
9 - Give students opportunities to share what they are learning
My friend Angela Maiers who is researching struggling schools in Hawaii alerted me to a practice having success there. Those schools begin with each teachers and students sharing something they learned the previous day. Inspired by this example, I make it a point to set aside specific learning-sharing time several times a week.
Getting excited about learning is why I'm teaching! Let's hear from other teachers. How do you inspire lifelong learning in your classroom? How do you light a fire for learning that will continue throughout a child's life?