Pokemon Evolve, so can Teachers

Change processes are well researched and documented but I wanted to explore my own experience with significant change in the context of my teaching practice. I started my career five years before the start of the Pokemon craze, but the idea of evolutions (though far less dramatic) seem suitable for describing professional growth.

I began my career in a departmentalized junior high model where cooperative learning was de rigueur. I myself experienced that model as a junior high student so it was familiar and comfortable.

Fast forward a decade and I find myself in a real, honest-to-goodness middle school complete with home rooms, goal setting, portfolios, self assessments, student-written report cards, and student-led conferences. Philosophically and practically this was a tremendously different teaching space than I had ever experienced before. Despite my 10 years experience, I felt like a novice again. The way I taught did not fit with the assessment methods used at this school.

Staff at the school were very passionate, knowledgable, and shared a core philosophy that guided practice but still gave room for individual processes. Thus began a period of radical change.

I began simply by using the forms other people used. I adopted their assessment scales. Students kept finished work in folders and identified them as best, most challenging, hardest, etc. I started the process as a mimic dressed up like a middle years teacher and acting the part, I then sought to understand the purpose for each strategy.  

The importance of this stage is simply engaging in the process. Trying things out gave me the vocabulary and experience to know what questions I should even be asking. By the end of the year I was reasonably confident with the process, had aligned my planning and organization to fit with this style of assessment. I evolved from mimic to practitioner.

A few assessment cycles later, I felt comfortable enough to start adapting others' assessment material to suit my own situation. I knew the rationale for each phase of the assessment cycle, and had an ever-growing understanding of the philosophical underpinnings upon which it was built. My own created tools gave me a context for further exploration of those ideas and I continued to experiment. This is the evolution from practitioner to innovator.

Now, another decade later, I work with others helping them to understand the reason behind the method, the philosophy driving the process. Working with teacher candidates allows me to spend time each day reflecting and articulating my knowledge illuminating the process for the student, and deepening my own understanding at the same time. Evolve: innovator to mentor.

Mentoring is not the final stop - there is always more to learn and new innovations can influence our thinking and practice. Committing to a philosophy is not an exclusive practice by which we dismiss other modes of thought, rather it is a measure by which we evaluate new processes. Philosophies themselves are subject to evolution in the early days of their formation. Through reflection and testing it is molded in increasingly subtle ways becoming more complete. I love new ideas, methods and practice; considering how it fits with my own philosophy and how it may inform my practice, influence my understanding, or even shape my philosophy. With each encounter comes the opportunity to reflect and grow.

What do you think? Share you thoughts below...

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