My Commencement Speech

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by pidoubleg

I read a fantastic post today. If you take anything from reading this, go read this post entitled “The Pedagogy – Public Opinion Gap” by Johnny Bevacqua. I could go on for days about how much I liked this post and how many different blog post topics it inspired in me, but I won’t. Instead I’ll try to break it down to it’s essence, in case you don’t go read it (shame on you). Johnny defines the gap as:

“The gap in understanding between what professional educators and researchers, who work with students on a daily basis, see as “best practice” in education (teaching, learning and schooling) and those “outside” the world of professional education – whose ideas, understanding and opinions about teaching (pedagogy), learning and school are formed, primarily, from their own personal experiences and memories.”

Johnny is spot on, the more research is done and the more our practice improves from the previous long-enduring factory model, the more we run the risk of widening this gap between our communities and our educators. Johnny finishes the post with a final recommendation of embracing and working to improve our communication with the public:

“What I have found, however, is that any communications plan is as effective as the quality of the one on one conversations we have within our communities.   It’s about responding to questions, providing exemplars, painting a vivid picture of the preferred future, explaining our “why“, deep listening, admitting our mistakes, documenting our struggles, successes and doubts”

Reading it, I felt it was a great post for any new teacher to read entering the profession. I thought, Johnny is someone who should be speaking at graduations of future educators. I also thought there were many other messages those students should hear, especially from people that currently work in the system. I started to daydream about what I would say if I was put in front of a Graduating Class from the Faculty of Education of a University. With that, I had my favorite inspiration for a post, here is what I would say to those about to become educators in our system…

Good afternoon and thank you for allowing me to address this special group of young men and women about to enter the most important profession on the planet – Teaching.

I felt as though I should provide a meaningful message to you, as I currently work in the education system, and ensure that you are clear about what you are about to get into. I’ve narrowed it down to five key points that I hope will help you with some direction as you begin what we all hope will be a rewarding journey full of positive influence and impact. 

1. Get Connected, Stay Connected and Never Stop Learning

You are leaving a place of learning, a place where you more than likely have a number of friends you share ideas with, you debate with, you dream with and you reflect with. You are about to disconnect from a network of passionate idealists and head out to your positions all over the map.  Ironically, the most important thing you can do now is connect yourself to a new network. Through Social Media, you need to go, connect and stay connected. You need to find a network of educators from all over the planet that can offer their experiences, their ideas, their feedback to you, because let’s face it, you still have a lot to learn, and guess what, you always will. Your job is not to be an educator, your job literally is to be an amazing LEARNER. Your job is to pass on to your students a love of learning, your job is to show students how to learn and your biggest responsibility is to model learning.The best way to ensure you will be a learner in your last year of being an educator is to get started right away in your first year, and the best chance you have to make that happen is to develop a network that you can always learn from in a meaningful way.


2. Educate Your Students and Your Parents

The parents of many of your students are more than likely not going to understand much or any of what you do, but that doesn’t make them stupid, and you can’t treat them as if they are. Almost everyone who isn’t an educator forms their understanding and opinions about education from their own personal experiences with it. Parents who did well on multiple choice tests and achieved high percentage grades probably created children that would have done the same, so understand that if you are a part of changing that system, those parents may see you as a threat to their child’s success. Honor their concern for their child and don’t dismiss them as naive or stupid, they probably aren’t either. Similarly, the parent who constantly felt stupid and lost in their education experience will come to the table with apprehensions that their children may have to go through the same horrible feelings they did. When you talk with them, your job isn’t to talk down to them, your job is to help them understand what their children are doing in school and show them that you won’t be putting their children through the same torment they fear and look to protect their children from. There is NOTHING that we do with students that we should hide from parents, and from day one, try to embrace that thought and help parents understand what it is your doing. To be able to explain what you are doing, you are going to have to really know what your are doing, remember that.


3. It’s Ok to be Over An Educational Trend and MOVE ON

In your next job interview try to avoid the following statements “Learning should be messy”, “Teachers should be guides on the side”, “Technology is just a tool” and “That you want to foster lifelong learning”. These statements are used so often they are almost gaining a cliche-like status. Most of us have all heard these ideas before, and those educators I admire are already looking past them to what is next. Our profession and our system should be designed to help students learn about their world and how to interact with it. If our world is constantly changing and now more rapidly than ever, our system and profession should be constantly changing as well. That means we can’t hang on to every idea for years, let alone a hundred years. Explore good ideas, work with them and work well, then look to improve, not every ten years, or every five years or even every year – CONSTANTLY. Flipped Classroom, 20% Time, Portfolio Assessment, whatever it is, don’t assume it is the long term saviour of education, most ideas have an expiration date. If something works for you and your students, do it, but don’t stop looking for what other idea might also help your teaching, and may even improve or replace one of those old “good ideas”. Its ok to move past Finland, and Sir Ken Robinson and the iPad, and don’t feel ashamed to admit you are. 

4. Don’t Wait For Change, Create Change

No one knows how your students learn better than you do, so why would you expect some Earth-shattering learning experience to come from your Department of Education? By the time a government gets around to implementing an educational practice, some visionaries have been out there making those practices a successful reality in their classrooms as they refuse to wait for anyone to create the change they want to see. Try things, explore ideas, take risks and while you are doing it, share what you are doing with everyone – students, parents, colleagues, admin and your PLN. Most of the great ideas I have come across and tried in my career came from practicing teachers not from curriculum documents, education books or from so-called “experts”. Sure, we all have to play the contract game and being new, you have it the hardest when it comes to gaining and securing employment, so start relatively small. Experiment with the things you have control over – your classroom layout, your lessons, and the way you celebrate your classroom successes to name a few examples. Show people you aren’t going to go through this career as part of the status quo. If you are practicing the same way in your last year as you did in your first, you have done something wrong, and so has the system that let you.


5. There Has Never Been A More Exciting Time To Be A Teacher

The education system has remained the same for over a hundred years and NOW it is starting to change. So three or four GENERATIONS of teachers have come and gone and didn’t get to be a part of what you are about to be a part of. We will look back on this time and talk about the monumental education reform that occurred and you will have had a front row seat for all of it. Report cards seem to be living on borrowed time. The amount of student choice and control over their education is increasing every day. Instead of buddying up your class with the one down the hall, you’ll be buddying up your class with one on another continent. You are living through the renaissance of our profession, and like the renaissance there is going to be a lot of people doing a lot of amazing things. You can be one of them, the climate is right, but change will occur with or without you.

Embrace the time you live in and the time you will get to educate in, and then choose to be part of the change.   

These are just my thoughts, but I wonder what would you say to the education graduates of 2013 who will be entering the profession this fall? If you could tell them anything, what would it be? I’d love your thoughts on this topic, and getting the chance to discuss those thoughts as well.

One thought on “My Commencement Speech

  1. Pingback: These Are Not Optional | Opening Doors and Turning On Lights

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