Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, February 13, 2006


by AJ

"A school has to be a living organism. It has to be changing all the time and be ready to change at any moment. A great school is like a successful business in that it keeps looking at itself, questioning its operations, and making adjustments accordingly: when the students change, when the technology changes, when priorities change, when new research findings suggest a better way. There can't be one specific curriculum.

At my school, we make small changes every day. Every student's learning plan gets changed when the student discovers a new interest. Contrast this with a traditional school, where a student might fail the same grade three times, and each year come back to the exact same curriculum. Nothing changes.

Most schools need drastic change. To truly meet students needs, there must be a major paradigm shift. And all of us must constantly question what we are doing. We must keep asking questions about learning, structures, assessments, curriculum, and teacher roles. The constant readiness to change does no frustrate me or make me uncomfortable, as it often does others. It makes me excited that I always have a chance to find new ways to do my job. It is very exciting to be learning every day how to educate our students better. It will always be a struggle, but to me, its an exciting struggle."

--Dennis Littky

I agree, its an exciting struggle.. but only if you have the freedom to engage it. There is nothing more frustrating than working in a broken school you are powerless to change. Based on many of the emails and comments I receive, this is a common problem. Many teachers complain that their administrators simply are not open to change. They complain that they cannot innovate because they will get in trouble... that they cannot deviate from the "required curriculum". Im afraid Im not very helpful to these folks. My usual advice is "quit your job and find a better one".

But everyone is not as mercenary as I am. So here's Littky's advice on how to change the culture of a class or school:

1. Concentrate. Figure out what you stand for and try to make it a part of everything you do regarding your school. Put your philosophy up on the wall, if that's what it takes to keep it in focus. Explain to people why you're dissatisfied with "business as usual". Don't let the conflicting demands and multiple distractions of day-to-day school affairs make you stray from your vision.

2. Commit. Change doesn't happen easily or quickly.

3. Conversation. Frequent, forthright, and humane conversation is the lifeblood of school reform.

4. Collaborate. Schools are bastions of isolation. Teachers often work separated from colleagues; students feel alone in the classroom; principals are often rarely seen.

5. Care. What a school is depends more on how people treat each other than on anything else. That old adage "relationship first, task second" applies equally to a class or a committee.

6. Have Fun. Its all well and good to articulate a philosophy of school reform and pursue it in a concentrated and committed way. But somebody's got to buy the pizzas, bring in the birthday balloons, and spice up the meetings with lousy jokes. Conviviality is a quality of acceptance, geniality, and good-naturedness. Its creating a culture where people are known and valued for who they are, not just for the work they do.

I like this list.. especially number one. Why not a personal vision statement for each teacher (or school, if you've got a cool school)?

What would my own be? "Authentic Language" perhaps. Thats certainly my main focus from a linguistic point of view. I want to teach my students functional English as it is actually used. What frustrates me most about textbooks is their uselessness. Nobody speaks like that. If, as small children, we tried to learn our native languages with a textbook.. we'd all be mute!

Other possible "vision statements": " Effortless learning" (thus this blogs title)... "Passionate Learning".....

How about you? How would you sum up your teaching priorities? What is your greatest strength?

Write it down. Post it in your classroom. Incorporate it into everything you do.