Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Observations

I had the opportunity to visit a school just outside of Edinburgh yesterday. While my overall intent was to look at the use of OneNote and Office365, what resonated with me so strongly was the fluidity with which both educators approached their classes.  I admit, I was taking notes furiously.  So much so that I often felt rude because I wanted to make sure I captured both what they said but also what they did and how they did it.
It reminded me of once reading how they built the first bread machines.  Random thought, I know.  The engineer in charge of making a machine that replicated a human baker had, of course, interviewed bakers to get an idea of how they manipulated and molded the dough.  While the bakers had tried to describe in words what they did it was only by watching them intensely and for a long time that they noticed that the bakers hadn't adequately described the "twisty-stretch" that was one of the most important manoeuvres in bread production.
And that was what I noticed about the teachers yesterday.  They talked a lot about the way they used OneNote, how they designed projects, look at ways of assessing, gave feedback, developed a professional learning community. Given my objective, they succeeded in giving me the notes I wanted.  I watch as they interacted with students and as they both implicitly and explicitly managed a classroom environment. All of these are steps well known and universal across teaching programs; either teacher would make a good case study for beginning teachers.
But the "twisty-stretch" that they never vocalized but was clear through observation and listening was the totality of their understanding and passion - likely too strong a word -- they were in their groove. These are professional athletes who clearly enjoy playing their sport. But they weren't just doing a job by following all the steps correctly.  They flowed, deftly, intuitively, making instructional decisions based on tacit knowledge that would be difficult for the non-teacher to see the near-instantaneous reasoning that led to it.
It's why people think "teaching is easy" - because they see situations like this. But they miss out on the hours of preparation, the reflection on student work and the years of experience (and errors!) that led to yesterday.  The value in observing classes can not be understated.
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