I am a teacher. So, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app, I am “a person… that teaches something”. I am “a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects”. I am a person “whose occupation is to instruct”.
I am a teacher. What does that mean to me? It means that I am to lead by example, to exhibit respect, to spark curiosity, to foster imagination, to encourage play, to promote risk taking, and to be a constant reminder that if we fall down, we get back up. If we don’t do something right the first time, we try again.
I am a teacher.
I’ve spent a great deal of time researching the many learning theories that are out there, trying to see where I fit in as an educator to early childhood children and where I fit in as a continuous learner, myself. Do my practices fall under the Behaviorist, Cognitive, Humanistic, or Constructivist theories? I’ve realized after researching these theories, that before I can “categorize” my learning philosophy, I first need to reflect on my personal learning experiences in life. Notice, that I say I need to reflect on my personal learning experiences in life, not just in school. For me, this is an important point to make, because a lot of my life’s learning experiences didn’t just happen in the traditional classroom, and I think this stands true to today’s generation as well.
When I reflect on significant learning experiences in my life, there are a few instances (and people) that immediately come to mind. I’ll talk about one experience that I like to call Coach Hawley. Yes, Coach Hawley is a teacher. In fact, he was my Bible teacher in High School, although the valuable lessons I learned from him weren’t from his ability to simply relay information about the Bible in front of the classroom- although he was great at that, too- but it was from the example he set for everyone through his actions. From Coach Hawley, I’ve learned the importance of giving back. He didn’t just tell us to give back, he did it. I’ve seen the difference that he, and the group he works with, have made in Honduras and in Haiti through their Mission Lazarus and Hope For Haiti’s Children projects. Because of him, my children are now picking up pennies, nickels and dimes from the floor to put in their “Honduras Bottles”. I also remember how Coach Hawley would have all the boys in the class stand up the moment a young girl or lady would enter the classroom. These are simple acts of kindness and respect that, to some extent, have dissipated over time, but ones that Coach Hawley strives to keep alive.
“In a world where I have plenty, many have almost nothing.” – Steve Hawley
The learning experiences that I’ve taken away from Coach Hawley might fall under the Social-Cognitive Theory, in which people learn by observing others. There are a few assumptions that accompany this learning theory, one being that learning is an internal process. Through the observation of actions, the desired behaviors may or may not happen at all (Study.com). There is also this assumption of goal-directed behavior. We might set goals for ourselves in hopes of meeting those goals by exhibiting the desired behaviors (Study.com). Although thousands of students that have seen and heard the difference that can come from picking up loose change from the floor, this may or may not push them all to do the same.
When I look at myself as a learner, I know that learning is more meaningful to me when it is engaging, when it is purposeful and when I am actively involved in it. I cannot just sit down and listen to a lecture for hours on end, I must be actively involved because if not, I’ve lost interest. I do, however, feel it is important to relay factual information to students, but we need to do so in a way where we’ve engaged our students. In their report, How People Learn, The National Research Council noted that students come into the classroom already disengaged with their own preconceptions of how the world works (Donovan, Bransford, Pellegrino, 1999). Because students are already coming into the classroom tuned out, we have the task of drawing out those pre-existing understandings and allowing them to discover new information so that they can see where their new findings take them in relation to their preconceptions (Donovan, Bransford, Pellegrino, 1999).
I would say that there is a mixture of a couple different learning theories that play a part in my learning philosophy. I do consider myself to be a Constructivist in that I encourage my students to explore the world and to learn through discovery (Culatta, 2015). When working with very young children, there are many things we do in the classroom that they may have never done before at home. This can sometimes lead to timidness and/or fear, and so we encourage them to discover things on their own and to form their own opinions, questions, and hypotheses. I do also believe it is important to tie in technology, when applicable. Technology has made a vital impact on learning and education in the past two decades. Notice, that in my opening statement on the definition of what a teacher is, I went straight to my smart phone instead of a dictionary in book form. The advances in technology have created great opportunities for learners in that it has become highly accessible to everyone, it has the ability to updated almost instantaneously, and no longer are we confined to a room of four walls for learning to take place. We are now connected to a network of individuals, not just one person (Siemens 2005). For these reasons, I see myself also identifying with the Connectivism Theory. Also, as a mother of two young children and a teacher to children in their most prime years, I strongly believe that children learn valuable life lessons in Respect, Gratitude, Perseverance, Courage, Compassion, and Integrity from their immediate role models, which is why I also identify with the Social-Cognitive Theory.
I have found it interesting when thinking about how these theories apply to me in putting my innovation plan to work. I will be very much embracing a Constructivist and Connectivist Theory when piloting student ePortfolios in my middle school class. Since I will be the first to do this at our school, it will definitely be a discovery process for me and my students. We will be figuring out, together, what platforms work best, and I will be giving my students freedom in creating their websites, within a set of boundaries to keep them engaged. They now will be apart of a network of students, of all backgrounds, and of all passions, and their learning will have extended out of the classroom.
Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., & Pellegrino, J. W. (1999). How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Retrieved June 8, 2016, from http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9457.html
This was the first piece of research I came in contact with and one of the most important ones in shaping my learning philosophy. I identified, greatly, with the three Key Findings that their research uncovered and find it more true with my middle school students than with my 3-4 year olds. The main takeaway, for me, is to continue to foster engagement across all ages of my students and to draw out any preconceptions they may have upon entering the classroom.
Hawley, S. (2015). By Bread Alone. Retrieved June 11, 2016 from http://stevehawley.blogspot.com/2011/02/by-bread-alone.html
This is the personal blog of Coach Hawley, whom I referenced above as an important role model in my life. Based on my learning experiences from him, I have tied in a Social-Cognitive Learning Theory in my learning philosophy.
Hurst, M. Social-Cognitive Learning Theory: Definition and Examples. Retrieved June 10, 2016, from http://study.com/academy/lesson/social-cognitive-learning-theory-definition-and-examples.html
I stumbled upon Melissa Hurst’s work while researching “Learning by Observation”. In my own personal life, I have found that many of my learning experiences have been from a Social-Cognitive standpoint from specific role models in my life. I believe this to continue to be especially important when teaching children at very young ages, and have included this in my learning philosophy.
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory For the Digital Age. Retrieved June 8, 2016, from http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm
Siemens’ work has put into writing the undeniable impression technology has had on learning and on education. Just as I did at the beginning of my post, students now have answers right at their fingertips. Smartphones and other devices have given us 24/7 access to information that was once bound to the classroom. It is my hope to be able to tie in technology with learning in a meaningful way- one that engages my students and continues to challenge them.
Teacher. (2016). Merriam-Webster, Inc. (Version 3.4.3) [Mobile Application Software]. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/teacher
I used the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app to quickly look up the “official” definition of what a teacher is at the start of this blog post, for two reasons. One- to reiterate how quick and easy it is for people to go straight to their smart phones to find answers and two- because it really was quick and easy to go straight to my smart phone to find this answer. Technology.