Yesterday was a Great Day

Picture from the Rocky View Symposium (click to enlarge)

Yes, yesterday was a great day and exactly what I needed. I got lazy over the holiday weeks as I began to plant roots and embrace routine. I remained busy, working on presentations and writing code, but I wasn’t listening or reading, and I was beginning to feel a bit stale (which is not necessarily unpleasant). Brenda had to shove me out of the car at the Raleigh Airport on Friday, with me pleading, “Please don’t make me go!”  It was a real scene 😉

But rediscovering why I love what I do happened quickly and simply yesterday morning as I shared, with Penny Milton, the limo ride from the Calgary Airport Hotel to the event venue.  Penny is the former CEO of the Canadian Association of Educators and currently semi-retired. The event we were both speaking at was a learning symposium organized by the Rocky View School District, and the theme was engagement, enrichment and empowerment.

Penny has been involved in a project that seeks to understand engagement and to find ways to promote it in Canadian schools. She told me that there seem to be three kinds of engagement,

  1. Institutional engagement,
  2. Social engagement, and
  3. Intellectual engagement,

..the last of which being their major focus — the one that consistently scored lowest on the survey instruments that they developed.

Their findings fell into an x/y continuim of challenge and skills. The higher the challenge of the learning experience and the higher the skill sets required and developed, the more intellectually engaged the learner was. But what really wrinkled my brain was the methodology.  During our ride, Penny said that they found that if they shared the resulting survey data with the teachers AND THE LEARNERS, and facilitated conversations about engagement that included both groups, change seemed to occur much more rapidly and deeply. This is a powerful idea and something that I know a lot of educators are experiencing, as they invite learners into their planning and policy conversations.

Another idea that woke me up was shared by Dr. Dennis Sumara, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Calgary. He presented research about teachers and teaching, reminding us that the number one factor, hands-down, that determines success among learners is the teacher. But what I found interesting was what, according to Sumatra, made “good teachers.” It is NOT..

  • Graduate degrees
  • High IQ/SAT
  • Extroverted nature
  • Politeness
  • Confidence
  • Warmth or
  • Enthusiasm

Although these are all important qualities, what seems makes good teachers is

  • A capacity to improvise
  • Participation in professional development
  • Deep learning (as a professional)
  • High complexity
  • A growth mindset
  • Expansive consciousness, and
  • High PCK (?)

I’ll hope to expand on some of these qualities in a future blog entry.

12 thoughts on “Yesterday was a Great Day”

  1. Levels of engagement has been an issue that has been up for discussion for so long on my campus. Many teachers claim that when you convey excitement for the content your students will reciprocate and learning will take place. However, your mentioning of the qualities that constitute a good teacher (i.e. capacity to improvise, participation in professional development and deep learning) are synonymous with my sentiments, especially since I am currently attending classes once again after teaching for eleven years. My learning and the thrill that I have experienced with the construction of new knowledge is contagious as my students are asking me (almost on a daily basis) what else I have learned. I believe that engagement stems from curiosity about a subject or content and a desire to know more. I want to say that my enthusiasm about what I have learned has sparked my students’ curiosity and serve as a model to them as to what continued learning looks like.

  2. Levels of engagement have been an issue that has been discussed deeply on my campus as a lack of motivation and student apathy is prevalent. Many teachers define engagement when educators exude excitement about the subject at hand and believe that their pupils will reciprocate and learning will take place. However, your mentioning of the qualities of a good teacher (i.e. a capacity to improvise, participation in professional development and deep learning) are synonymous with my sentiments as to what constitutes an effective teacher who motivates and engages students. In my experience as a student again after eleven years of teaching, the thrill that I feel from constructing new knowledge is evident to my students in the way I teach, explain and reinforce. My students inquire (almost on a daily basis) what else I have learned and what struggles I had. I believe that in showing them that learning doesn’t stop and sharing with them the growth that I have experienced, my students have a model from which they can emulate. Kids want to know that they are receiving the best and when teachers can share with them the newest, most innovative and researched-based strategies, students will generally attend closely to the lesson.

  3. Hello,
    I am currently a student at the University of South Alabama. I am a part of an education class – which you can visit at The EDM 310 Class blog – that is incorporating technology into the classroom so as to enhance the learning experience for future educators and their students. I have been assigned to follow your blog over the next two weeks, and will be summarizing what I have learned on my personal blog during the first or second week of February.
    Because my current knowledge of Education is limited, I am very eager to learn about how a teacher should behave in order to be successful. Needless to say I was excited to find that your post contained information about what a “good teacher” is – something I have personally been contemplating this week.
    The list from Dr. Dennis Sumara stating what a “good teacher” is, contained many common labels about the profession; and the list of what “good teachers” ought to be is so dynamic and, well, unorthodox to most. Admittedly, I have fallen into the mindset that “good teachers” are only successful if they are enthusiastic or have a high I.Q. However, I am intrigued by this new list of what “good teachers” really are. I have never thought of an educator in any of those ways before, but now – thanks to this post – I am thinking in new ways about my identity as a future educator.
    The only question I have is what High PCK could possibly mean, otherwise, I am looking forward to a future post expanding on this topic.

  4. David – that acronym with a question mark (PCK) is probably Pedagogical Content Knowledge, based on the context of your post.

    We’ve been having the same discussion lately around ongoing professional development that emphasizes PCK, but also includes the need for educators to be active learners through the affordances of online communities.

    I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but each time I talk with a group and ask them how they are collaborating with other educators outside of their school, I get blank stares.

    The mindset that we see quite often is that professional development is something that is scheduled FOR them rather than something that they seek out themselves. That is a rather limiting mindset and does not bode well for any type of appreciative change in our education system.

  5. As a professor “selling” graduate degrees, I found it interesting that graduate degrees were on the list of the less important stuff. There should be (but isn’t necessarily) a strong correlation between graduate degrees and all the stuff on the bottom. Our goals are to foster deep learning, high complexity, expansive consciousness, etc. This kind of list is a good reminder to graduate instructors and graduate programs (and based on what you said, graduate students) that’s it’s not the degree itself that’s important but all these other things that are hopefully what lead to the degree and beyond the degree.

  6. As a person who “sells” graduate programs, I was interested to see graduate programs on the list of less important things. Our goal in graduate programs is to provide deep learning, high complexity, expansive consciousness, etc. This is a good reminder to graduate instructors, graduate programs, and graduate students that it’s not the degree itself that’s important but the things that lead to and beyond the degree.

  7. A good teacher is a good learner. Are we approaching a “tipping point”? Technology can provide a community not limited by location or the professional journals we read. How will we help our schools embrace these tools so that the qualities that support good teachers will be transparent and easily available?

  8. The teachers that I learned the most of when I was in college for a brief stint where those who were engaging, passionate about their subject and had the ability to improvise. They were able to explain things in different ways if we didn’t grasp them the first time plus they were creative and weren’t afraid to take the class to a different point if we veered off-subject and started discussing something else equally interesting.

    A high IQ isn’t necessarily correlated to being a great teacher or a great lawyer or doctor except the skill to pass an IQ test. To be “great” in any job requires a lot more than just high IQ or a graduate degree.

  9. As someone mentioned (PCK) Pedagogical content knowledge, TPCK is an interesting individual focus.

    I find in talking to my colleagues that taking a graduate course is more about filling requirements than actual changing teaching practice. They don’t find value in the classes. especially if they disagree with the philosophy of the professor. However, just like the students we teach, school is not a place to debate topics, but rather a place where we fulfill requirements.

  10. I would like to see the research that Dr. Sumara uses to support his conclusions. I like the direction that he takes and would like to read more on the topic. Do you have any links to it David?

  11. Hi,
    I have been on the same discussion of ongoing professional training that emphasizes PCK, but it also includes the need for educational trainers to be active learners then only this program is going to be a big success and come to limelight through the affordances of online communities. I gathered information about this and very sorry to say that most of the persons are not able to catch the information they are just showing a blank faces.


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