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The Art of Teaching

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My Recommended Instructional Resources

Teacher Nerds, Unite. If you view teaching as an art, a craft and a science and you are busy with the act of teaching but want to stay informed of the latest new tech tools, current methodology research or professional development opportunities follow Cult of Pedagogy.  The author, Jennifer Gonzalez, began her teaching career as a middle school teacher then moved to teaching undergraduate pre-service teachers.  There she found her passion for providing an encouraging forum for teacher support.  She uses her blog as an innovative place for teachers to support each other, learn about new ideas and share struggles and accomplishments.  Gonzalez has co-authored Hacking Education: 10 Quick fixes for Every School with Mark Barnes.  She also authored The Teacher’s Guide to Tech: A Cult of Pedagogy Digital Binder available on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Her posts offer such a flavorful variety that each month it’s easy to dig into an encouraging post, or links to a technology tool or an easy to use learning strategy.  The Reciprocal Learning Strategy was one such post.  This is a twist on partner work with each student having a set of problems to complete and their partner holds the correct answers.  Partners help coach each other as they work through their problems.  If you’re looking for a variety of posts to hold your attention and keep you excited in your classroom, follow Cult of Pedagogy.


 

The Innovative Educator is written by Lisa Nielsen, the director of digital engagement and professional learning.  This award winning blog is a great place to easily follow innovative ways to reach our students and prepare for the future of education.  Nielsen launched her blog in 2008 and has been recognized as a Top 100 Education Blog.  Currently her blog boasts more than 25K followers.  The Innovative Educator is an excellent source of cutting edge technology resources from coast to coast with topics ranging from Google and Social Media uses in the classroom to Smart-board resources and innovative Personal Learning Network ideas.  This site has something of use for any educator.


 

If you’re looking for a resource with “A view from the Schoolhouse”, you must check out Chris Lehmann’s blog, Practical Theory.  Lehmann provides a powerhouse of progressive science and technology resources.  Building on his role as founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, Lehmann has earned awards, spoken at educational conferences worldwide and has been published in several education publications as well as co-authored Building School 2.0: How to create the Schools We Need. He has a passion for empowering modern learning experiences for all students and integrating technology.  The first clear indicator to me that Practical Theory was a blog I would love to follow closely is Lehmann’s page dedicated to his 18 favorite education theory books.  The second indicator was a series of statements he wrote to end a post from August 2015 titled Professional Development and Collective Wisdom.

 If we want teachers to create collaborative classrooms, we have to create a collaborative culture in our adult learning and problem solving.

If we want teachers to value the ideas and experiences of our students, then we must value the ideas and experiences of our teachers when they come together to learn. 

And if we want our schools to find innovative, powerful solutions to the problems we face, we must all learn to seek out the collective wisdom of the room.

His obvious connection with the delicate balance between respecting our teachers as professionals and the need to use the best teaching practices available have convinced me that this is a blog I am dedicated to watching closely.  I hope you will find some encouraging posts there as well.


 

Use these resources as places to find a professional learning community to support your goals of providing positive, productive educational experiences for our future generations.  Feel free to comment and share your favorite online resources.  Thanks!

 

Introduction

Spicy, flavorful, slap yo mamma it’s so good, Louisiana Gumbo.

That’s how I would like to view the learning experiences I create for my students.  I teach high school chemistry in Southern Louisiana.   A fellow classmate recently shared Walter Brown’s analogy comparing teaching and the creation of a Louisiana gumbo.  The comparison and relationship between teaching and cooking gumbo speaks to me.  I am a Louisiana-born, mud-riding, crawfish eating, LSU Tigers alumni/ die-hard fan – “spicy” isn’t just the way we like our gumbo, it’s how we prefer to live our lives!  Cooking gumbo is a deliberate process unique to each chef, and I hope my students look back on the experiences they’ve had while my student and appreciate the time and effort I put into preparing and executing the best lessons possible.

I absolutely  love the reference to our teaching being like a Louisiana Gumbo!  Notice the reference doesn’t say bland Northern Faux/gumbo – without spice and flavor.  Our classrooms shouldn’t be boring arenas lacking a spark and flavor to grab attention.  Our lessons should engage our students, pull them in and hold their interest.  A gumbo with no flavor will fill your stomach and help you make the energy your body needs to survive, just like lessons delivered without real engagement will present the information.  Boring, rote instruction will give our students the information but they will retain very little of it.  Even worse than bland gumbo is the canned premade gumbo pretending to be the real deal!  I think of the cookie cutter lessons and assessments that policy holders like to pass off as education – just like the canned premade Gumbo.  Teachers rarely take ownership of the education experience when they are forced to teach to the test – just like the premade canned gumbo leaves you disappointed because it’s not the satisfying flavorful real deal!  But…. When we take the time to created a spicy, flavorful learning environment – our students will excel and our teaching experience will be meaningful and successful.

If you’ve never made a real Louisiana Gumbo, you might not jump on this comparison as I have.  A real gumbo is a work of art.  It starts with a beautiful dark roux.  Not the store bought roux, but a well seasoned cast iron pot with oil or bacon grease and flour and the patience to slowly stir and brown the flour to an even dark color.  If you don’t slowly heat the flour and stay with it to watch and stir – you will quickly have a burnt roux that can ruin a gumbo.  I relate this to the planning process.  If we as teachers fail to spend time preparing and researching the best practices for our lessons, our teaching experience will fail.  I can also relate this to the first couple weeks of school when we are setting the stage for the whole year.  How we present ourselves, our expectations and getting to know our students requires deliberate engagement on our part, just like a good roux requires constant attention.

The next step of the Louisiana gumbo is the holy trinity of onions, bell peppers reach it’s flavor potential, something will be missing.  In our teaching we can do the same thing – we can set the stage for a great lesson, then allow it to flop with our lack luster presentation.

After the holy trinity of spices is prepped for the gumbo, then the real personality of the cook comes alive – chicken and sausage gumbo? seafood gumbo with crab legs and shrimp?  Tomatoes? Okra?   Louisiana chefs know that rarely will 2 gumbos taste alike, even if you use the exact same ingredients!  Our teaching can be the same way – 2 teachers can do the exact same lessons and the outcomes be drastically different – the gifts and abilities of each teacher plays a huge role in the educational outcomes.  I think this is one of the main reasons all of the politically driven standards, mandates and curriculums generally fail is because the teacher’s role is largely disregarded.

In my classroom I strive to be the spicy flavorful gumbo that sticks in your memory bank.  I like to include a variety of strategies to engage my students and keep them constantly challenged in the process.  A good gumbo can leave your stomach satisfied and happy.  Sometimes you wish you could eat more because it just tasted so darn good!  That’s the irreplaceable teachers experience – the educators that stick with us and believe in us.

The opposite is also very true.  If you’ve ever eaten a truly awful gumbo, you are not quick to forget it.  Sometimes it’s seafood you’ve added that has turned or maybe you slightly burned the roux or over salted the pot.  When you start to eat a sub par gumbo, you know it.  Not only are you disappointed because you were looking forward to a delicious meal, you are also quickly trying to rid your palette of an undesirable taste – searching for gum, a mint or a toothbrush!  None of us want to be the educator that fails to reach our students, but unfortunately we’ve all had teachers that gave us an undesirable learning experience or discouraged us.

Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that everyday our classroom is unlikely to produce a spicy flavorful Gumbo of learning, but I think as professional teachers we should strive to raise the bar and create as many blue ribbon winning Gumbos that we can!  Sometimes we might even need to step out of our comfort zone and try some new ingredients, you never know when you’ll create something that’s “slap yo momma good!”