Tips for teachers from Sir Ken Robinson
By Janet Steffenhagen 23 Aug 2011 COMMENTS(8) Report Card
Filed under: Vancouver, teachers, education, Sir Ken Robinson, heart and mind, Dalai Lama Centre
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sir Ken Robinson in advance of his talk this week at the Dalai Lama Centre. (Find details here.) Anyone who has heard him speak knows he is highly entertaining and engaging. No less so during our 30-minute telephone conversation. His speech Thursday, Educating the Heart and Mind, will delve into his contention that schools kill creativity with their focus on standardization, a narrow curriculum and test results. My story, which you can find here, mentions his response to my request for three tips for teachers trying to personalize learning and encourage creativity. Here is his answer:
"The first thing I always want to say to teachers, and I work a lot with school systems, is that they have more freedom than they often think. We can talk generally about the education system and about national priorities and national problems, but in the end, as far as any given student is concerned, the education system comes down to the school that they go to, wherever that is. When the door closes on the classroom, and the teacher is with the class, as far as the kids are concerned, that is the education system. It's not what happens in the corridors of our government buildings or the committee rooms of the Education Department.
"When the door closes, what the teacher does is up to the teacher. They have a lot of freedom. . . . [here, Robinson gives an example of a teacher in a low-achievement area of Los Angeles who had remarkable success with his students primarily by teaching them Shakespeare]. "Nobody told him to do that but nobody told him he couldn't either. Once he closed the door, he started to do his own thing. I know teachers who do that in math, in chemistry, in dance - they decide, OK, this is my space. It's like when you sit down to write an article. You can write any number of different articles. You have lots of discretion and choice. You've got to hand it in. You have deadlines to meet and all the other pressures on you to meet the standards that you know you need to meet . . . but you have huge freedom once you sit down to do it. And that's true of teachers. There is a curriculum, there is a framework, but how they do it is up to them.
"The second thing is that teachers have to take care of their own creativity. They have to enjoy what they do. It's like any job - if you enjoy it, then you'll overcome all kinds of obstacles. But if you feel it's drudgery to start with, then you're probably better not doing it. So my second suggestion is, are you sure you're doing the right thing? Is this the life you want? Is this the job you want? Some people love it and some people don't. People who don't love it are often not terribly good at it in the long run. They're not bad people, they're just not good teachers. They should do something else. But if you are interested, then treat your art form seriously. Take time to study techniques of teaching, look at other teachers, be prepared to have people come and look at you, and do what people in other fields do: Be open to criticism and be open to learning and growing. If you're a writer, you spend time reading other people's work, you're in the public domain, people will comment and you'll be self-critical. It's true if you're a musician or a scientist. Often teachers end up living in their own world because that's how schools work, so open yourself up to collaboration and be prepared to learn and take risks and challenges.
"The final thing is be prepared to learn from the kids. Kids are often full of ideas that they're willing to offer if you create the right culture in the room or the school for them to (do so). The history of education is peppered with wonderful, groundbreaking, inspirational teachers who did all of those things. If they can do it, you can do it."