Teaching teachers? At least model good teaching

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It’s bad enough when someone puts up a PowerPoint and talks at me for an hour about a dull topic like ACT test prep, choosing a textbook or the school’s new tardy policy.

But when a conference presenter who promises a session on “inquiry learning” puts up a tiny-font PowerPoint and lectures me about how to use active learning in my class, I honestly want to scream. If your method is effective, use it! The irony is killing me.

This weekend, at the National Conference for the Social Studies conference in D.C., I saw a number of incredibly engaging sessions and speakers, but still too much of this kind of “do as I say, not as I do” professional development.

This is a serious problem because we need to move away from using PowerPoint/lecture/notes every day in our classrooms, but we are never going to get there if the folks promising to train us in new strategies do not know how to use them – or simply neglect to do so.

The best session I saw was run by a history professor who asked us to write a few paragraphs about what had happened to us that morning, then proceeded to tear up our papers for various reasons — your records got lost; your records were damaged in a flood; your records were burned in a war. He did a fantastic job helping us think about the incomplete historical record and why only certain stories are told.

I also heard a few amazing speeches – the best by Bryan Stephenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, whose personal stories of both injustice and hope were detailed and deeply resonant.

The worst session was run by an economics teacher who kept fiddling with his PowerPoint and telling us how we could use inquiry-based learning, without actually doing it. At one point, he even told us about a teacher he’d observed and how many of the students were dozing off during the lecture – not realizing that his audience was just as tuned out. I had to get up and leave.

I admit I’m impatient, and it doesn’t take much for me to walk out of a session (or tune out, if it’s something I have to be at). But judging by the faces around me in various sessions, most of us have a very similar response.

We don’t want to be told what to do; we want to be shown, involved, immersed. We want to brainstorm the research questions, discuss the text and participate in the mock trial (we did!) – so that we know what to expect when we try it at home.

Change is hard enough. Don’t expect us to do it alone.

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