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Valuing Critical Thinking in Teachers

Teachers Critical Thinking

One of modern education’s top goals has been to imbue our students with critical thinking skills, yet teachers aren’t encouraged themselves to think critically about the curriculum and pedagogies.

According to Ruenzel (2014) writing in Education Week, “. . . too much of the discussion about the common core has focused on what students are going to have to do — and not enough on the fact that the standards can succeed only if teachers become the critical thinkers we now expect students to become. There is no other way. Teachers cannot push students to think more deeply unless they do so themselves.”

Teachers only seek cooperative behavior in their students to free them to be creative and to express their opinions and ideas in a constructive, courteous manner. Paradoxically, those same teachers are too often expected to follow directions without any of their own respectful autonomy and reasoned input.

Too many teachers have been laden with massive binders and webpages filled with the latest edicts and editorials on what, when and how to teach. They have spent too many precious instructional days away from their students so that they could be in-serviced — a great deal of which is ignored by many when they get back to school.

In addition, some people who were once good teachers have become the bane of their colleagues by taking on coaching positions that amount to little more than being part of the curriculum police. Why has compliance been valued more than creativity and quality in teachers? Would we ever want to treat our students in such a way?

Teaching as an Art Form

Teaching is an art form, and a fascinating facilitator doesn’t paint by the numbers. We’re teachers, not technicians. Collaboration between teachers is a wonderful and useful thing, but it’s only part of who we are because each teacher brings his or her unique perspective and passion to their instruction.

The passionate teacher’s bottom line is: I cannot be fascinating if you will not let me be free; and without respect for my professional judgment, my students will never be fully engaged or invested.

Where is the creativity and innovation in instruction going to come from if all teachers are teaching the same thing, in same way, on the same day? Haven’t we already accepted that all kids can learn but not necessarily the same thing on the same day in the same way?

Force is Unnecessary

The reality is that when truly effective strategies are presented to teachers, they always fall all over themselves to incorporate those sound and practical ideas into their own classrooms. No one has ever needed to force a teacher into using a brilliant technique. Just try to tell a teacher not to use a sensible strategy they just learned. Why can’t any new ideas and strategies simply be presented to teachers? Then if the new way is really so wonderful, teachers will beg to use it!

The moment teachers are truly respected and valued is the moment they become even more open to listening to new ideas, methods and curricula. Conversely, the more teachers are restricted and disrespected, the more resistant, cynical and non-compliant they actually become.

The very same is true of our students. The more a teacher uses dry, repetitious instruction paired with tedious assignments, the more they tune out and turn off. Engagement and meaning are crucial for both teacher and student.

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Teacher Trust

This all comes down to a matter of trust, and two simple questions to those in power will suffice:

  1. Do you trust me to make excellent curricular and pedagogical decisions for my students?
  2. Do you consider me a part of the solution or part of the problem?

If school boards and administrators don’t trust their teachers implicitly and thoroughly, then they have nothing. Teaching has never been just a job or a paycheck to any of teacher of integrity. It will, though, if teachers continue to be directed to death. A respectful amount of self-governance must be returned to teachers.

The question “what’s in it for me?” is not a selfish one; it is an elemental and vital question for both teachers and students to continually ask. For without it, invariably the answer is, “Nothing. There is nothing in it for me.”

And if no one finds any meaning, who is going to put out any more than minimal effort, if that?

About the Author

Robert Ward is a public middle school English teacher in Los Angeles enjoying his 26th year in the classroom. He is also an award-winning blogger and the author of three books for educators that advocate for honoring the needs of the whole child. Robert embraces a teaching approach that attends to each student’s social, emotional, soulful, and academic needs. Since all four aspects of child development are equally important and inextricably intertwined, teachers must daily capture their students’ hearts, hopes, minds, and manners. This crucial balance creates a classroom of willingness, wisdom, wonder, warmth, and worth! Learn more about Robert on his website.

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