Good Teaching Translates into Any Language
I recently had the good fortune to be invited to present at the Hawker Brownlow Education Thinking & Learning Conference in Melbourne, Australia. I had never been to the Eastern Hemisphere before, but at least the language would be familiar to me so I wouldn’t be too much out of my comfort zone and so was very much looking forward to the experience.
When I arrived Down Under, I noticed that there were slight differences between our cultures. For instance, there are small changes in the names of products. I saw the familiar icon of the Burger King sign, only to see that here it was called Hungry Jack’s. In the cereal aisle of the grocery store, I was perplexed at the box that said Rice Bubbles instead of Rice Krispies. When I ate in a restaurant and received my bill, there was no spot for me to add a tip. The money was made of plastic, and it took me forever to figure out that the smaller, gold coins actually represent dollars and the larger silver coins are worth far less. And I won’t mention my panic when, on arrival at the airport terminal, I sincerely thought our bus was going to crash into an oncoming car. Driving on the other side of the road would take some getting used to – fortunately I wouldn’t be climbing behind the wheel on this trip!
Different hemisphere, same challenges
When the conference started, I was working with teachers on a variety of topics including gifted education, project-based learning, authentic strategies and 21st century skills. There were times when I would state something and I would get corrected in a friendly manner. “We actually do it differently here,” I was told when I brought up something that was fairly common in the States. But the more I worked with these teachers, the more I realised that despite slight differences, the practice of good teaching was exactly the same. Although our content standards and system of assessment might be slightly different, we could still talk about how to ask higher-level questions to challenge students, and recognise universal challenges in marking student work fairly. I even learned that the motivational issues that we in North America call “senioritis” are an all-too-familiar experience for Australia’s Year 11 and 12 teachers.
It was reassuring to meet so many talented and bright teachers with wonderful ideas. One woman who had come from Perth shared with me that it was quite common for students to put their bags outside of the classroom. The problem was that the local crows would swoop down to steal the shiny bags of chips and other things from the students’ packed lunches. These crows were so adept that they had figured out how to unzip the student’s bags in order to steal the food. I have not travelled all over the United States, but I cannot seem to recall any school ever complaining about problems with crows. And yet, by applying problem-based learning strategies, this teacher was able to take the situation and turn it into a challenge for the students to try and solve, giving relevance to what they were learning.
Wanting the best for kids is universal
Ultimately, what I realised is that I could have been talking to teachers at a conference in Japan, or Dubai or Kenya, and we still would have spoken a common language – the language of doing what is best for our kids. Sometimes, schools are not always as supportive as we hope when we try out new strategies and approaches. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that we cannot open another section of a challenging class because there wouldn’t be enough students to fill an entire class, or that it would not be cost effective to have a teacher with only fifteen students. I have seen schools discontinue excellent programs because it was not in the budget. These teachers had similar stories and concerns.
I left the conference rejuvenated by the fact that I know there are teachers out there who are going to try and do right by their kids, despite the barriers that are often placed in their way. I saw that good teaching translates anywhere, especially when it is aimed at doing what is best for our students.
Todd Stanley Todd Stanley is the author of many teacher-education books. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years and is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife and two daughters. Read more articles by Todd Stanley