Teaching & Learning
August 18, 2017
These terms are often grouped together as if they are one in the same. In educational settings you often hear statements like, “we need to improve teaching and learning,” “we need to focus on teaching and learning,” we need professional development in teaching and learning,” etc. While teaching and learning are undoubtedly linked, after over 20 years as an educator, I’ve come to recognize teaching and learning as two very different components of the educational process.
Teaching is an art and craft that is honed over time, with purposeful practice. Excellence in teaching isn’t instantaneous. It’s a journey, often a career-long one. As people we can only teach what we know. So, as we age, gather experience, learn from our mistakes and from the students we teach, and assimilate new curriculum, methods, and standards (that are ever-changing), we refine our skills and get better at our craft.
Imagine spending seven straight hours, five days a week, for 180 concurrent days, with your own children… trying to keep them on task, ensuring they are growing and mastering needed skills, and being held accountable for their progress in multiple areas of development. Some might say that is one definition of parenting. Now, add an additional 20+ children to the mix (an approximately class size). As a parent, I think this would be very challenging for all involved.
Still, every day we have dedicated professionals who step into a classroom with dozens of other people’s children because of their calling to serve. To teach. Keeping all of the students on task while helping them progress in math, reading, writing, social studies, and the social, inter- and intra-personal skills and more is an arduous undertaking. A calling, really. It is not for the faint of heart and excellent teaching continues to be the aforementioned journey. Teaching, boiled down, in its simplest form, is acting as a facilitator for information not known and giving children the opportunity to be expertly led toward, into, and through that new information.
Learning is something entirely different. It can be just as difficult and challenging as teaching. It is also a journey. It takes patience, persistence, and risk-taking. It also should be a joy; something that helps progress a child toward personal improvement, well beyond a letter grade. Learning is tricky because we all know things. Some children arrive with a plethora of experiences, pre-existing information, and developmental skills mastered. While others come to the classroom with very little experience or mastery, hungry for information and tools to help them mine their own potential.
We spoke of excellence in teaching being an evolving journey. Excellence in learning is more a journey of joy, curiosity peaked, a sense of self and ability, and a respect for differences. There is no one excellent way to learn; simply by participating in the process, children experience an “excellence”—a sense of possibility and purpose—that hopefully stays with them for a lifetime. Learning, in its truest form, allows for each child to progress—to participate—regardless of their beginning point. As Superintendent of Forest Ridge School District 142, I am consistently amazed and humbled by our students as I observe the work they put in, trying to grow and mature and… learn.
Teaching… and then Learning… separately, are critical success factors for schools. By appreciating the work that takes place on both sides of the equation, our schools will be better environments for the growth and development of both our teachers and our students. I feel incredibly fortunate to be sharing this journey with our students, parents/guardians, teachers, and all staff at Forest Ridge School District 142. Witnessing the call to serve in action, reflected in a child finding joy in learning… well, it makes me want to continue to strive for excellence, while I continue to learn and grow.