27. Expanded Thinking and Beliefs

Because of her state-of-the-art teacher education program, Mary knows the difference between mere tweaking of an academic program and substantive improvements. Substantive improvements go to the heart of who teachers are and what they believe.

Her “prime the pump” service is essential to the language arts subject area committee.

While it may seem ludicrous that a young woman new to teaching and professional education plays such a strong leadership role, this is a story based on personal observation.

Our culture today reveres the benefits of maturity and vast experience. And to some extent that is a good thing.

But history also shows us the most dramatic improvements in human existence often come from people in their early adulthood or even late teens.

Scientists, composers, political and military leaders, inventors, artists, writers. And educators.

They are so young, the idea of failing or being wrong is inconceivable to them. Many do fail, of course, but even that experience is more instructive than demoralizing.

Mary and Barbara are smart, insightful, well- prepared formally or informally, and female role-breakers. They are risk takers and appropriately ambitious. They are filled with vision and resolve.

Mary’s Story: The Next Chapter – Part 3

I took a deep breath. The district mastery statement was deep and comprehensive in ways I had not expected. Transcribing it to fit a language arts mastery statement was challenging and time-consuming.

But the effort markedly broadened my perspectives.

My task ahead was to help members of the language arts subject area committee experience what I was experiencing. And to transform themselves into becoming students of pedagogy in its best application. An art or science of teaching that goes way beyond the mere coverage of subjects, skills, and knowledge areas.

Below is a continuation of my analysis and interpretations:

Element of District Mastery StatementInterpretations and Ramifications for the Language Arts Curriculum
ask good questionsToo many teachers believe teaching and learning are about information giving and skill building. Providing answers to students who have no questions. As learning theorists and researchers have long known, that belief is fruitless. Learning depends on curiosity and inquiry.
accept diverse ideas in which feedback is vigorous and stimulatingDiversity is more than cultural or racial. Freedom of speech calls for different opinions and interpretations — a willingness to enter a vigorous discourse that stimulates new perspectives. That principle is central to a quality language arts curriculum.
gain self-confidence through experience with widening groups“Widening groups” is the key element here, which involves student ability and willingness to engage others both orally and in writing. Interactions must be more than simulated, as confidence grows when conversation is real and challenging.  
take meaningful initiatives (reach out)While simulations and role play are effective, real opportunities to reach out to others in the school and adult community must be included in the language arts curriculum. That “reaching out” can be oral or in writing and as interactive as possible.
receive consistent encouragement from respected associatesPositive reinforcement of learning is the best way to cause long term retention. Encouragement from teachers is important with young students, but older students need the recognition of peers and others in the school or community they respect. Significant support.
practice mindfulness in clarifying priorities and actions each day“Mindfulness” means sensitivity. In this case, students are capable of habitually prioritizing actions and responses in ways that support their own learning and assist in the learning of others. Typically involving effective oral and written communication.
be open to others from different backgroundsA strong acceptance of diversity’s importance culturally and racially. Ramifications in terms of age, gender, religious beliefs, political opinions, and socio-economic standing. Stories, documentaries, historical works, and other projects play a significant role in language arts.
understand and work to achieve self-discipline and personal valuesFamilies play a more significant role in guiding young people in terms of self-discipline and values development. But the language arts curriculum contributes through the study and discussion of literature and compositions about how people attain success in their lives.
create and maintain the convictions to pursue these valuesCan “conviction” be taught? It is hard to know how someone’s sense of conviction develops, but it almost certainly starts with an eye-opening experience or the introduction of a convincing new way of thinking or acting. Literature can underscore conviction, especially when it is powerfully written.
speak and write effectivelySpeaking or writing effectively requires many opportunities to do both. In settings that promote feedback and intellectual interactions. Teachers must agree where those activities start and in what ways they evolve through the grade-to-grade spiraling process.
know how to make all people feel at ease “Making people feel at ease” is more than the exercise of charm. It is a genuineness of behavior characterized by listening and showing interest in another person’s ideas and values. How to initiate interactions can be taught.
enter conversations with othersSocial awkwardness in adult settings is common. The formula for overcoming that problem is not clear. Even the most adept social butterfly or conversationalist can get off on the wrong foot. Studying what others do through literature and visual media can be instructive. Example: Eleanor Roosevelt and how she conquered extreme shyness.
show genuine interest in the ideas and activities of othersListening to what others say and showing informed interest in their observations is an important skill. Emulating behaviors of characters found in literature or in visual media and having those behaviors critiqued, are important elements of a language arts curriculum.  
grasp that problem solving is a complex and interactive system“Problem solving” is frequently defined as dominated by mathematics and logic . However, problem solving is most often related to untying social entanglements. Literature frequently explores those interactions, giving insights as to how they are resolved.
problem solve through collaboration of all disciplinesProblem solving in the four primary school subject areas is clearly interdisciplinary when applied to real world settings. Examples involve law (social studies), research (science), engineering (math), and personal/family relationships (language arts).
define intellectual passion in terms of knowledge and its significanceIndividualized instruction is challenging but more important than ever. NCLB destroyed the middle school movement which featured exploratory curricula. Preteen and early teen students need curriculum to search for and identify endeavors in which they are passionate.
communicate expressively both orally and in writingOur free enterprise society depends on expressive writing and speech to persuade, convince, and encourage others commercially, politically, and academically. “Expression” courses were once required in a language arts curriculum. They should be reinstituted.
accept that life is an assortment of valuable experiencesA valuable experience underscores who a student is and will become. All of us can pinpoint a time in our lives that changed our thinking and aspirations. Teachers, through language arts, can expand options from which to choose.  

This way of achieving consensus is not perfect, nor will it lead to absolute agreement between and among those serving on the language arts SAC.

But it is a beginning toward initiating reflectiveness about what we are trying to do as fully professional teachers.

It is also a way to lay the foundation for developing our own language arts mastery statement. That it is the next step in the subject area committee’s work.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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