-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah
I believe that the heart of effective teaching and learning is love + content + time, and that all three are necessary to build and sustain effective districts, schools, and classrooms. Here is why:
Love is the starting point of effective teaching and learning. And, while good teachers recognize that love is the center of their practice, teachers are often afraid that this love could be misunderstood. After all, when I say “I love my spouse,” I mean something different than way I say “I love popcorn.”
But let’s get real for a moment—Teaching is a profession that expects an intelligent person with at least one (and typically several) college degrees to help a room full of other people’s children become successful learners and good human beings. In between “I love my spouse” and “I love popcorn” is a type of love that effective teachers understand is at the center of their practice.
|“You look upset. Are you ok?”||“I need you to focus on your work.”|
|“It’s good to see you! You’re running late again. We can make a plan together when you’re ready to talk about it.”||“You’re late again, and now you’re behind the rest of the class.”|
|“Come back to me tomorrow, and in one piece!”||“Pages 4-5 are due tomorrow.”|
|“I want to make sure my students are represented in their learning. That’s why I’m doing so much reading on culturally sustaining pedagogy this summer.”||“I don’t see color.”|
Loving our students and expressing that love in our practice ought to be an explicit part of every educator’s job description and professional preparation program. Nothing-not one thing-happens in a classroom or in a school until students know that they are safe, loved, and cared for.
Content represents precisely what we mean by social, emotional, and academic achievement. The most engaging activity in the world and the most informative text ever written are only useful if the schools and teachers using them understand what students are supposed to learn as a result.
Here are some examples and non-examples of ensuring that all students have access to important content:
|There is a written curriculum, and everyone knows where to find it.||There is no written curriculum, so everyone develops their own materials.|
|“Hey, this fun activity I found on the internet matches where my class is at right now in their science curriculum!”||“Well, this quarter is supposed to be about life cycles, but I really like this activity about fossils. Let’s do it!”|
|“This math lesson is supposed to be hard. We’re learning not only how to use statistics for modeling, but also how to manage stress when things feel overwhelming.”||“Ok, now that math is done, let’s do this lesson on stress I found.”|
|“Ok, team, we’ve got [x] learning targets to master this semester. Do we have materials for all of them?”||“Uh oh…we’ve got three weeks left in the semester, and we only taught half the learning targets. Let’s do a jigsaw for the last three chapters of the textbook.”|
|“Let’s check to make sure that our reading lists are inclusive of authors of color.”||People of color are invisible in the curriculum.|
Please do not neglect the last row in the table. Supporting social, emotional, and academic achievement means ensuring that our students are represented in the content we teach. Otherwise, we risk creating schools in which, as Dr. Jamila Lyiscott warns, “The content of the curriculum ignore[s] the cultures of their communities” (Lyiscott, 2019).
To become successful learners and good human beings requires that students leave our classrooms each day equipped with knowledge, understanding, and skills that they didn’t have before. While it’s possible (and typically dangerous) to teach students something on accident, students achieve more when everyone involved is intentional about what the point of each lesson, unit, and course is about.
The level of learning that happens in our schools and classrooms depends on the level of love our students experience, the level of clarity regarding the content they are to learn, and finally, the way we view time as a resource for learning.
Time is more than just a thing we all feel we need more of. Yes, we need time to collaborate, plan, teach, and reflect. All the grading, assessment, and stuff our principal or superintendent needs us to do takes time. However, when the only thing that matters in a school is what happens in this period, this semester, or this academic year, time will never feel like an ally.
I know this is a bit meta, but when we think about supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement, time isn’t really about the minutes in a period we have to teach today’s content. Rather, time is the medium through which growth happens.
Think of it this way—If students were like a packet of sunflower seeds, we could predict how fast each seed ought to grow, what kind of light they need, and how much to water them. Truthfully, our students are more like a packet of assorted seeds from apple, orange, and peach trees, with a few acorns tossed in just because. We don’t expect a peach pit to turn into a mature tree by the end of a semester or even an academic year. To do the same for our students just makes everyone frustrated.
When we expand our timeframe for our work, we can see ourselves as part of a system meant to help students learn and grow over a lifetime. We also see that our role in supporting our students’ growth changes depending on where they are at in their learning. Whether we are building better schools by becoming trauma informed, enhancing our curriculum, or learning to use a new computer intervention, time is always on our side.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone has a right to waste a minute in the life of a child. Time is precious. What I am saying, though, is that if we see our students as trees rather than sunflowers, we can also understand that the time frame for our work is far bigger then a single lesson or even a school year.
Sometimes, students respond to our love and our content with indifference. Sometimes they struggle with concepts far more than we wish. All too often, brilliant students are told that they are not that brilliant because of a yearly test score that can’t (or won’t) see them as anything other than a number that’s not high enough yet. But we can learn to view time differently, and if we can help our students to do the same, we can also learn that what we do today matters even when we can’t see the change right away.
I’d like for you to check out Higher Ground, an organization that has always understood that all children are worthy of love, all children deserve to be taught how to be a person of character, and that all children have a right to their own time.
I’d also invite you to read Dr. Lyiscott’s book, Black Appetite. White Food. Lyiscott, Jamila. (2019). Black appetite. White food. Routledge.