A Distinct Sense of Community

Building learning communities requires a shift from the paradigm of schools as bureaucracies to a vision of schools as communities.

– Roberts & Pruitt, 2009

I attended a private Catholic school for both my elementary and high school education. I remember how, back then, parents have little involvement in the planning of activities.  They were allowed to air out opinions only during Parent-Teacher Conferences and the closest thing to a home-school partnership was every quarter during Report Card Day.

As a teacher now, I can say that parents have become more involved in their children’s education. Sure, there are still Parent-Teacher Conferences and Report Card Days where they are expected to attend.  But nowadays, parents now have their own family council which help foster a strong home-school partnership.  In my school, events and seminars are regularly organized by the school and by the family council, either joint or individually.

Due to the current shift in curriculum, parents have also been actively updated by the school and a system of transparency is more evident. Parents, alumnae, as well as retired personnel are also often invited as guests and resource speakers in many of the school-wide activities held throughout the shool year.

This contributes to the sense of community spirit that pervades the academe as this promotes a sense of inclusion of all stakeholders: administrators, faculty, staff, auxiliary personnel, parents, students, as well as the nuns who originally run the school and the board of trustees down to the retirees.

As part of the faculty, we are given formation sessions that allow us to grow spiritually, personally, and professionally. Sharing of best practices is encouraged and is typically part of workplace conversation. Recently, we have looked into the conduct of action research to help guide instruction, especially as we prepare for the opening of the senior high department next year.

All this creates our own brand of a professional learning community that seeks to carry out the school’s mission and vision of a transformative Christianized education.

 

Reference:

Roberts, S. & Pruitt, E. Z. (2009). The professional learning community: An overview (Chapter 1). In Schools as professional learning communities: Collaborative activities and strategies for professional development (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, pp. 1-25. Available from http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/27683_Roberts_Chapter_1.pdf

Creation Spirituality: Taking a Cue from the Dumagats

Last Thursday, several of my colleagues and I went to Camp Explore in Brgy. Calawis, Antipolo City. It was part of our school’s formation session for faculty with the idea of helping us reconnect with nature and interacting with Dumagats living in that area of Rizal. We were supposed to go back to town and spend the afternoon of Thursday through Saturday on formation sessions about cosmogenesis and interconnectedness. Once we were there, however, the formation masters decided to just stay at Camp Explore until the weekend.

What started out as a planned half-day interaction with the Dumagats became a three-day getaway of sorts. There was no cellular signal in this part of Rizal, which was situated near the foothills of Sierra Madre. Many of us showed mild signs of withdrawal: sweaty palms, anxiety, and a need to climb up the higher peaks just to get good signal and maybe send even just one text home. By the afternoon though, we all settled into the relaxing tempo of the camp.

You might be wondering what all of these have to do with teaching. The tree days I spent with them gave me a perspective which is always important in the classroom.

It was a lesson on innovation: we were dazzled by how the Sierra Madre inhabitants created fire from bamboo shavings, cooking pandan-scented rice and bilukaw-soured pork sinigang in bamboo segments.

It was a glimpse of our rich history: we listened to stories of how the inhabitants used to live near the sea (dagat in Tagalog. Hence the name, dumagat, literally “people from the sea”) and how they retreated to the mountains when the “lighter ones” came.

It was about the plight of a people: how interaction with the taga-kabihasnan and education has taught them to dream, the tradeoffs being better lives and better opportunities, but loss of heritage and a unique culture slipping into oblivion.

It was about celebrating tradition and custom: we had to take off our shoes or slippers before going inside the mess hall or our cottage. Though we were provided with spoons and forks, we were welcome to use hands when eating.

It was about reconnecting with nature: we were fed sumptuous meals, always with a salad freshly-harvested from around the area. Our cottage, which was made out of wood, nipa, and bamboo – as was most of the structures there – was situated beside a flowing stream. The two nights I spent there were probably the most restful I have ever had in a very long time.

It was the resourcefulness of the Dumagats and how they live in harmony with nature that fuels their innovativeness and creativity – something that is essential for their survival. Conversing with them, listening to their struggles, and learning about their stories is very inspirational and so grounded in the interconnectedness of things that is truly inspiring for a teacher – one who strives to be creative and who tries to let students see how subjects in school relate to each other and to the world. It also was an eye-opener for most of us, listening to how people with a “better” education had driven them from these lands they once owned and called home. It challenges me as a teacher to not only teach my students knowledge of the world, but to equip them with hearts that would truly make them better stewards and advocates of the least, the last, and the lost.

The Need to Understand

“To teach is first to understand.” – L. Shulman (1987)

About a couple of months ago, I, together with other Science teachers in my department, were invited to a half-day training by PASCO Scientific (a company that offers software and hardware geared for the instruction of science). The school where I worked had just acquired additional software and hardware from PASCO and the technicians came over to help us familiarize ourselves with their use.

I remember how my coordinator told me that we will get to “play with our new toys” – she was so excited about how these new gadgets can help our students have a better appreciation of science.

During the training, I was surprised at the existing PASCO gadgets we had. I was unaware that we had those “toys”! For a while there, I thought about the times that I could have used them in my classes. However, I was just glad that I finally know that we have those probes and sensors to use in my future classes.

I was excited because we have a new digital microscope that will allow us to project specimens onto a screen. The software bundled with the microscope could even take pictures of the specimens! There were also sensors for gathering different data that will be useful when conducting investigatory projects.

During the demo, I realized that besides having new gadgets, it was also crucial for us to not only understand how to operate them, but also to know where they can best be used. It was a good thing that the software bundle also came with suggested activities that can be modified and adapted in the classroom.

The half-day training spent with PASCO also made me understand all the more how important it was for teachers to understand the content of the subjects they teach. This way, we can plan our lessons and activities better for the benefit of our students. This will also help us choose which tools we can use in the classroom that will help us impart knowledge effectively and that will fit the needs and skills of our students.

This experience brings to mind Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) idea of TPACK (technological pedagogical content knowledge) which basically states that “[q]uality teaching requires developing a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy”. Understanding content and knowing which strategies to employ is the first step towards teaching effectively. Understanding and using which technology works best will further enhance and enrich classroom experience.

 

For more information on PASCO products and services, you may visit http://www.pasco.com/

References:

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9620.2006.00684.x.

Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-21.

 

Teaching Approaches in Literature and Movies

This week, for my Principles of Teaching course, we read about teacher professionalism. Like any other profession that requires a license, the teaching profession is governed by an organization that assures its members abide by a Code of Ethics. However, unlike other established professions like Nursing and Medicine which has full autonomy and characterized by a set of skills, competencies, and knowledge, the teaching profession, I came to understand, is also subject to government control and policing.

This Friday was also the deadline for our first assignment for the course – writing a reaction paper about an education-related article. I decided to write about classroom instruction which is usually divided into two paradigms: teacher-centered and student (or learner)-centered approach. This is what I thought of focusing about this week.

I admit that in the four years that I have been teaching, I have come across these two terms and have wondered what they actually mean or how I can adopt them in my classes. Reading through articles describing the two types of instruction invariably led me to two analogies.

If you are a fan of J. K. Rowling, you have probably heard about Professor Binns. Somehow, the term “teacher-centered” calls to mind an image of this History of Magic professor in the Harry Potter series. In the books, he is described as a ghost who conducted his classes with such lassitude. Professor Binns would go droning on and on about his subject, mindless of whether students are still listening or daydreaming. Once, when he was asked a question, he had seemed surprised at the intrusion, and was only too eager to go back to his lecture. This gives a picture of teacher-centered instruction at its most extreme where the instructor talks and students are expected to listen.

On the other end is student-centered instruction that encourages more active participation on the part of its students. It brings to mind lessons peppered with activities that stimulate student curiosity and learning by discovery. This approach makes me think about Kung Fu Panda and how Po discovered his abilities through the different tasks given to him by Master Shifu during his kung fu training.

It also brought to mind learning theories that I have learned about in my past courses (Constructivist, Behaviorist, and Social Learning theories, to name a few). The article I read for the assignment, Teacher-Centered, Learner-Centered or All of the Above (Weimer, 2013), suggested a combination of the two paradigms.

I believe that teaching has always been a combination of the two, though in varying degrees, depending on the topic to be discussed. I have come to realize that in my own lessons though, I am confined to a teacher-centered approach, despite my attempts to make my classroom encounters as student-centered as possible. One culprit I have come to identify for this imbalance in my teaching approach is the time. Often, the need to cover content for a given specific period ends up with me doing lectures most of the time.

However, reading through Weimer also assured me that teacher-centered activities are best-suited for mastery of basic skills (Weimer, 2013) which is important for my Grades 7 and 8 students. It is my approach in the higher grades that I need to reassess and revise if I am to help them develop critical and higher-order thinking skills.

Reference:

Weimer, Maryellen (2013). Faculty Focus Teaching Professor Blog: Teacher-Centered, Learner-Centered or All of the Above. Retrieved 22 September 2015, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/teacher-centered-learner-centered-or-all-of-the-above/

Styles and Perspectives

Online classes have started. As a preliminary activity for the first module, we were asked by our instructor to take two short tests in order for us to find out what our teaching perspectives and styles are.

As a teacher, I want my students to have as much enthusiasm for my subject as I do. Whenever I find that kids have a hard time understanding lessons, I take the time to revise my plans and have a lot of activities that will help tem master the concepts and skills they need. This is because I want them to be well-equipped and prepared for when they step out of high school and go out into the world.

I also model work attitudes and remind them about being passionate with whatever they do. I sometimes use personal examples to help students relate better with what I am trying to teach and to help them understand better. I also draw from their own experiences and realities in order for them to be able to make sense of topics and concepts.

According to the Teacher Perspective Inventory, I have a dominantly Apprenticeship perspective which is why I try my best to come up with authentic tasks set in real-life situations. My nurturing perspective influences how I relate to my students and my developmental perspective fuels my desire to see them become skilled and competent.

Ideologies often influence how we see the world. In this case, my perspectives in teaching inspire my teaching styles in the classroom. It is important for us to take a step back from time to time and assess how we our performing and how well our audience – that is, our students – are learning.

As a Science teacher, I encourage my students to think outside the box to find new and better ways in doing things and solving problems. In my classes, I get a mix of students with different learning abilities, intelligences, styles, and needs. Being open to other perspectives and teaching styles is important if I am to address my students’ needs as effectively as I can.

You can take the Teacher Perspective Inventory (TPI) here and Grasha-Reichmann’s Teaching Style Survey here.

 

Looking to the Finish Line

I have been an online student for about 2 years now. It has not been an easy journey as asynchronous discussions have their own pros and cons. This added to the fact that I am also working full-time has proven both challenging and satisfying.

Thankfully (and hopefully), this is the last pit stop towards getting my eligibility to take the Licensure Exams. For the next three months, I will be writing reflections for this, my last course for my Professional Teaching Certificate course, EDS 111 (Principles of Teaching).

The introductory module for the course had us take a few online tests to help us become more aware of our study habits. I am quite proud to say that my test results have indicated that I have good time management skills, am self-regulated, and good study habits. What I think I need though are stress management skills. J

This school year will prove to be challenging as we fully implement the K-12 program in our school. Aside from this, I will be undergoing therapy for a herniated disk in my spinal column. This means I will have to manage my time better as I juggle work, online class, and therapy sessions for the next three months. But this, I pledge, that I will do my best and give my best to make this pit stop the best.

Nearing the Finish Line

For the past three months, I had been posting about reflections regarding my current course in Distance Learning, that of Instructional Media Resources. The term will officially end tonight at midnight and there is relief in knowing that I am very near the finish line.

Truth be told, I had my worries regarding the amount of work that the subject would entail even before term officially opened last May. I once had a colleague who took a similar class on website design and I had seen how complicated his assignments had been. Having little or limited knowledge in working with the different software available now, I had dreaded the subject.

Sure enough, week after week, we had to answer forum questions, submit activities, create eJournal entries, and respond to posts not to mention read through several resources for each module. On top of these requirements, the new school year brought about changes in terms of a modular approach to the subject I teach as part of the K-12 curriculum. This not only meant adjusting to a new load, it also meant paperwork and deadlines.

Saying that I was stressed out would be an understatement. I think the most frustrating part was finding out, at the onset, that the major requirements in class were to be done by group. Being enrolled in an Open University meant that my group mates could be anywhere in the globe and that we won’t be able to set a common time to log on the internet so we could all effectively plan together. I usually map out my week depending on the tasks that I need to work on, both in school and at work. I had dreaded the idea of conducting asynchronous group discussions because it meant the possible disruption of a well-planned personal schedule.

I guess one of the things that I have to learn is to understand that not everyone is wired like me. The one good thing I can say about working in a group though is that of knowing that there are at least five of us who have pending requirements.

In terms of the things that I have learned in the course, I think the one thing that has stuck with me is the way I should design my instructional resources. In the course of my teaching practice, I have come across websites that were developed by teachers specifically for their students. I would also like to make a similar endeavor for my students. The assignment on Multimedia Resource had me seriously considering putting up a website that my students can access offline (as we are discouraged from giving them homework over the internet). Should our policy on internet use change, I hope that I can put up an interactive website for my students which include practice drills and activities that will help stimulate higher order thinking skills.

In the end, I am also hoping that the past three months have also made me a better teacher. I am already applying most of the principles that I have learned in the course when preparing my PowerPoint slides. Now, only time will tell if they are as effective as I hope them to be.