My foundational beliefs about education are twofold: I believe that all children can learn - it is up to us to figure out how best to teach them; I also believe that positive reinforcement is the greatest way to shape progress.
All students can learn. Every student comes to us at a different place and from a different background. Our job, as educators, is to meet them where they are and make sure they progress forward. Though expectations should be high for all students, they are differentiated based on these variables. Teaching is part science and equally part art. Neither is more important than the other. Science can guide our methodology, research-based practices should guide lesson plans and intervention, and science tells us how people learn. One great example of the science of learning is that appropriate Response to Intervention (RTI) falls in line with scientific methodology. The team finds an area of concern, uses some type of measure to quantify current level of performance, and determine the variable to be changed. This variable is frequently the type of instruction or the amount of support. The team then revisits the student after a set amount of time to determine the variable’s impact on the learning goal. The RTI team can then determine if the intervention is working, or if another intervention is required, so that the student can learn at an appropriate level. The art of teaching is in the implementation, the relationship building, the understanding of what engages specific students, and in motivating students to take academic risks. The art of teaching is exemplified by the work our teachers do every day. I love to find a time to meet with teachers and ask them about their classes. Once we discuss the classes learning, we go through student by student and I hear about the whole student. Without fail, teachers tell me about what interests students, what outside variables are affecting their class performance, who is a good friend, and who has emerging confidence? This is the art of teaching.
Positive reinforcement is the greatest shaper in life. My time working with Behavior Analysis has led me to the belief that habits, behaviors, and learning can all be shaped through positive reinforcement. One clear example of this is the use of Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) in my school. We provide clear instruction on expected behaviors and then reward students for exhibiting these behaviors. We celebrate student behavior with PAWS stickers, Golden PAWS, Positively Awesome Wonderful Students awards, and countless other celebrations. Students are acknowledged for positive behavior, such as having a positive attitude, acting responsibly, working and playing safely, and showing respect towards peers and staff. In turn, students exhibit relatively few negative, attention-seeking behaviors. When I do have to call home for student misbehavior, I am sure to begin the conversation by pointing out a positive quality of the student’s. This could be the truthfulness of our exchange or the desire to be a good friend. I share this with the parent, and they understand that I see the good in their child that they know is there. We become a team. This positive approach extends into the classroom, as I encourage teachers to find ways for students to succeed through differentiation. All students want to be successful and can be successful. When completing teacher evaluations, I often focus on a few positive points of the lesson and spend time discussing how to build upon this success. Not only do the teachers realize that they are supported, they work on going from good to great and great to exceptional. Finding the good, allows for a foundation to grow upon. Positive growth should always be the goal of a school or institution.