Monday, 12 May 2014

Knowing The Learner

He Tangata, He tangata, He Tangata 

 In my reasonably short time teaching I have identified two aspects of teaching practice that are keys for me when forming relationships that allow me to really get to know the learner. One of those is a structural function at a school-wide level and the other is a set of personal practices that give me an edge.  I believe that knowing the learner and forming effective relationships within your learning communities are essential. 

 Over the few short years of my teaching practice I have endeavoured to engage with learners through building Whanaungatanga, which is simply the building of and maintaining respectful, familial relationships. The task of relationship building within the schools I have worked at has been made relatively easy by the use of structures called Learning Advisories or Learning Hubs. These structures coupled with Restorative Practice is a formidable learning beast, in that ,it is powerful, awesome and excellent, but let’s discuss Restorative Practice at another time.

These core structures in our schools have been set in place with the specific function of forming effective relationships between the teacher, who fills an advisor/mentor role, and the learner. The Hub members are groups of 10 – 14 learners from across all levels of the school who are together for a significant amount of time each week. This time is two regular scheduled classes of 90 minutes and 30 minutes on the other mornings. This scheduled time provides us with a clue of the importance that our school places on this aspect of learning. There are many functions associated with the advisor role and they can include academic and personal advisor, counselor, ally, agent, sounding board, collaborator and friend, just to name a few. These roles can actually reduce the load or even the necessity for other major roles and structures within schools such as Deans, Truancy officers, Peer and other support programs. 

 During my involvement with helping to develop and engage with these important Learning Hubs in schools, I have seen first hand the effectiveness of healthy learning relationships and the essential role they play in empowering great learning. If we take a good honest look at the learning interactions between learners and teachers we know that most learning issues arise or exist because the knowledge of the learner and their needs has not always been the central focus and this is usually because of or evidenced by a breakdown in the learner/teacher relationship. If you have learning issues in the your school/class I recommend that you work on whanaungatanga and if those issues are still evident then I recommend that you work on whanaungatanga, and if that still fails, work on whanaungatanga again. 

 The second aspect of teaching that enables me to get to know the learner is simple, but requires me to do some homework and a lot of practice but I assure you, it is worth it. I’m 50 this year. Most kids consider me to be an old bugger but they seem genuinely surprised when I tell them my age. The main reason I think they act surprised is not because of my youthful appearance or stunning manliness, but it is because I choose to learn about and become proficient at many aspects of youth culture. I am a musician, so it would be remiss of me not to know about new songs, bands or trends in music. To ‘bust out’ and acoustic version of ‘Everything is Awesome’ form the Lego movie or perhaps an alternative version of ‘Imagine Dragon’s latest hit usually generates a healthy respect from teenagers. I have also made a point of being able to ‘Rap Battle’. I have developed and attitude of respect for this genre as being a legitimate form of poetry and is another way of delivering ‘the goods’ educationally. This has only ever resulted in the forming of positive outcomes for me simply because the students at least respect someone who tries. 

 We all have something that we are able to do well or are passionate about and if I have learnt one thing about the learning process it is that our students are drawn to passionate people not good teachers. If you write, then do it well and explore teen writing culture. If you make things in technology, then make things that matter to students. If you bake or cook, dazzle them with how you should be the next winner of Master Chef NZ. Everyone should know what the latest dance craze is and imagine the response if you can nail it! If you want to know your learners then don’t just be a good teacher, be a passionate teacher especially with regard to teen culture and interests, because they are the ones who our learners will share themselves with unreservedly. 
 Oh yeah, that’s right, it helps to have one of those 'snotty' things at home called a teenager.

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