March 10, 2022/
Categories: NHLI Blog
By Karen Thompson Curriculum Director, Hinsdale School District
My Philosophy of education is shaped greatly from my personal life experience and my experiences in my practice over the past 35 years. I believe that life experiences are the greatest teachers and that we shape our practice by those experiences. I believe that life makes every human a lifelong learner and that education should be an active, changeable, exploratory discovery of processes and content that assist our development, our growth and our individualism.
The 3 R’s of education have followed me through my learning and my career as an educator. Relationships, Relevance and Rigor.
When I think about my role as an educator the one thing that has remained a constant for me is building relationships.
Relationships- The common denominator in all areas of success that I have had in my career has been when strong relationships have been at the foundation of those experiences. Relationships matter. Theodore Roosevelt once said “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. I want school to be more of a community and less of a class and I want that community to be built by our students in a way that makes them feel safe, comfortable, appreciated, trusted and respected. I deeply believe that inside of all of us is a desire to feel connected, heard, and valued. Relationships are built on these connections. In order to understand our learners, we must first stop talking and start listening to who they are. We must listen to their stories and then build curriculum that incorporates their voices and weaves throughout their entire school experience. When I am guiding learners, I want to be a listener first, a cheerleader second and a coach third. In “The Field of Dreams” movie, we heard, “if you build it, they will come.” I believe that to be the case with relationships with our learners. If we build them, our students will come along on the learning journey with us. Relationships are at the very core of every learning experience.
Relevance– Learning experiences for all learners need to come from an authentic place. The delivery of content needs to stop looking like the real world and start happening in the real world. Traditional school can often make lessons look real but that is not good enough, we must do better. The world is an ocean of resources. Schools and curriculum need to start swimming in that ocean. We must package up the neatly developed lessons and units and embrace the messy opportunities that the world has to offer. Learning must first hold meaning for our students. It must connect in some way to the student’s world. They must be able to make that connection before they truly apply it. Teachers must be flexible in how they are delivering content and must have autonomy in their learning spaces to create opportunities that meet the needs of every learner. John Dewey says “education is not preparation for life Education is life itself”. Every learner has a life story from which much of their knowledge is built. We must listen and engage in collaborative conversations. We must build relationships and then build curriculum that has relevance and make learning personal to each and every student. We must trust our students to direct their own learning by letting them tap into their life experiences and we must give teachers the space to follow their students’ learning journeys. I believe that a person’s deepest learning comes from their own authentic experiences. The world outside of the four walls of a school could be the most important classroom our students have.
Rigor– While I believe that rigor has its place in education, I think it is misunderstood or overemphasized. Rigor is often equated to making things harder. The dictionary defines it as A condition that makes life difficult, challenging or uncomfortable. That is not what rigor should look like in any part of education. It is our job as educators to use our own creativity to lead students through a process of inquiry where they can refine their depth of understand and their depth of knowledge. We need to challenge our learners thinking in new ways that will lead to curiosity and discovery. Rather it be a teacher or a teacher leader I want us to be able to stretch our learners thinking through engagement and collaboration. I want teachers to be able to feel safe to lead students down a path of inquiry and towards an understanding of fundamental ideas that play a part in shaping their excitement of learning.
In conclusion, I believe that at the center of every learning experience lies a relationship that matters to the teacher and the learner. My role as a leader in any situation is to build a foundation of trust, mutual understanding of each other’s ideas and a collaboration that is designed with individual needs of all learners I encounter. When we make the decision to become educators, I believe that is our responsibility to know our students first and know our content second. I believe that we should hold our learners to a high standard and we can only expect them to achieve that if we allow them to be unapologetically, relentlessly authentic and true to themselves. I am a product of this relentless authenticity and although it does not always come easy in a world that would rather embrace the status quo, I hope I can inspire others to embrace their authentic self and then to pay it forward.