In his recent book Creativity, INC. :Overcoming The Unseen Forces That Stand in The Way of True Inspiration, Pixar’s co-founder Ed Catmull discusses how leadership should promote a teaching culture. He states that “As Leaders we should think of ourselves as teachers and try to create companies in which teaching is seen as a valued way to contribute to the success of the whole” (Ch. 6). I see every stakeholder in the learning organization as a potential leader. Therefore, under such a premise, it is the responsibility of all the stakeholders in an organization to create a culture of teaching.
With that said, can you say that your learning organization supports a true teaching culture? Ask yourself the following questions: How often do your custodians visit classrooms to discuss with students how they troubleshoot maintenance issues? Do parents visit your school regularly to talk about their careers and help contextualize curriculum beyond the classroom? How about military personnel, firefighters, police, or town and state officials, are they a presence in your school, teaching students what they have learned through public service? Does staff have dedicated time to learn from one another, and teach each other their most valuable lessons and teaching techniques? Are students provided opportunities to learn from one another? If you answered no to any of the above questions, then there is a good chance you and your learning organization are missing out on an opportunity to create and foster a dynamic teaching culture.
Students’ success cannot rest solely on the backs of classroom teachers. Instead, it must rest on the learning organization as a whole. For this to happen, a culture of teaching must prevail. Ask yourself which “teachers” you and your learning organization take advantage of. I know as I read the questions above that neither my school, district, nor I take full advantage of all the possible opportunities.
I challenge you to identify opportunities that you can create for your students and yourself, then, make one of them happen. Here are a few suggestions to get your wheels turning:
- Send invitations to parents asking them to come in and speak to students about how your content is relevant in their careers. Have them Skype in and talk to the class if they can’t come to the class in person.
- Invite town officials for a panel discussion on public service. Ask them to discuss what skills they see as essential to public service in the future.
- Embed opportunities into the school schedule for students and staff to teach and share new ideas. If your schedule is fixed, try to make this happen once a month. The collaboration and learning that transpires will be worth the effort.
- Organize field trips to various worksites: construction, food service, laboratories, law firms, etc. Successful businesses want to talk to others about what they do. These are authentic teaching moments that students will not forget.
- Switch roles with a staff member. Let the physics teacher teach a music class and explain the physics behind beats. Bring a math teacher into a family and consumer science class create a budget for life after high school. Or, have an administrator take over your class for the day. The outcomes from these switches will not only help students create cross curricular connections, but will cultivate teaching amongst colleagues as well.
- Turn the classroom over to the students. Give them the tools to be successful, and then cut them loose to teach one another. Yes, there still needs to be a system of accountability, but this is less about us pouring knowledge into them, rather students doing the cognitive work required to get the knowledge they need to teach someone else.
Regardless of your position in education, investing in creating and fostering a teaching culture exponentially increases the learning opportunities for all stakeholders. We want our students to become independent learners, with the ability to navigate the learning landscape. In essence, they must be able to teach themselves. So what are you waiting for? Start that list, promote a teaching culture, and make teaching everyone’s responsibility.