Following on from my previous innovation in education post, I wanted to share another thinker with you. John T. Spencer is a teacher from Phoenix USA who has become Twitter famous overnight. John used to write a blog called Adventures in Pencil Integration, and a couple of years ago, he turned it into a book called Pencil Me In. The book substitutes a modern-day teacher trying to use technology like laptops, iPads, and smartphones for an early 1900s teacher trying to figure out how to meaningfully use pencils in a classroom. Someone recently tweeted Spencer about reading the book, he dashed off a few tweets with the hashtag #pencilchat in response and “it took off.”
More interesting than this latest Twitter phenomenon however, is John’s teaching philosophy which he shares with us on another of his blogs: Education Rethink.
“I believe that true impact occurs in a paradox. The more I try to “make an impact,” the less I impact a student. The more I try to teach to the test, the worse students do on the test. The more I focus on changing behaviors, the worse students behave. The more I try to be relevant, the more irrelevant and hopelessly “uncool” I become. Yet, when I teach to the student, I find that they often pass the test, think well, treat one another with respect and find my class to be relevant.”
John also shares his thoughts on the value of regular and meaningful student conferences in the classroom; why he’s starting the pre-occupy movement for those of us too busy to sit around just occupying Wall Street and why the kill and drill components of standardised tests are testing us to death.
The Hollywood prototype of Silverscreen Superteachers presents a mythology that the best teachers are those who go into rough areas, make a huge difference and tell their stories in the process. The goal is to make a difference and change the world. After awhile, it becomes a mask that teachers wear – a mask of professionalism, of authority, of knowledge and expertise. Unfortunately, masked crusaders are not what children need. They need alter-egos more than superheros – regular people doing great things when they stop trying so hard to do bigger things. What if more is not better? What if changing the world is not a better goal? What if the best way to teach content is by teaching less? What if the best way to lead a classroom is by serving it? What if the solution missing in most of educational reform is not “more” but “less?” This is the main premise of a paradox of humility. It is the notion that learning increases when teaching decreases. It is the idea that teachers who quit trying to change lives are those who end up changing lives. It is the belief that the best way to achieve is by de-emphasizing achievement.
For those of you interested in education and let’s face it, who isn’t? Run your peepers over this man’s pages. He’s a terrific contributor in the education debate.