Saturday, October 5, 2013

Helicopter Teachers?

Wikipedia says "helicopter parent" is a pejorative expression for parents.....The metaphor appeared as early as 1969 in the bestselling book Between Parent & Teenager by Dr. Haim Ginott, which mentions a teen who complains: "Mother hovers over me like a helicopter....It can be a product of good intentions gone awry...."

The term is used abundantly in articles about learning and parenting in recent years.  Some of us have known parents who call, complain, email, or text because a test was too hard (or too easy) or their child was unhappy (or not bubbly) because of a new classroom seating pattern.  Some of us have known parents who contact college professors when college texts are too expensive or when an assignment is perceived to be too difficult!  Perhaps these are situations where the best of intentions of parents who care desperately for their children have gone a bit awry.  Perhaps, there are parents who hover over their children and hinder their risk taking and progress; however, this blog entry is not about helicopter parents

The other day, as I reflected on the traits of effective learning, I started wondering if sometimes we have behaviors that might make us something like "helicopter teachers," hovering over students trying to make sure they are happy and successful learners, all the time?  Sometimes, do we guide them towards words, spellings, answers rather than encouraging them to dig and find and make mistakes?  Sometimes, do we stress over their finding the "right" answer to the question?  Sometimes, do we stress over kids who think "outside of the box?"

A long, long time ago, Brian Cambourne wrote about the conditions for learning and,for the most part, we do a really fabulous job providing students with these conditions that research again and again have shown to be essential for learning anything new! 
  1. Immersion—We surround kids with great books and read to them every day!  We fill their worlds with print! 
  2. Demonstration— We model the reading and writing with mentor texts and our own reading and writing behaviors.
  3. Engagement—We set up environments where kids want to read and write with rugs, chairs, pillows, markers, and for some kids, headphones and music!
  4. Expectation—We expect everyone to read and to write, every day!
  5. Response—We conference with them about their reading and respond to their writing.
  6. Responsibility—We give children choices.
  7. Use—We read and write for meaningful purposes all day long.
Yet, I wonder if sometimes, especially in these times of higher than ever stakes learning and monitoring of teachers and students, we might be a bit afraid of the last condition:

     8. Approximation—As we work to assure all students learn everything to the highest standards, it's hard to admit that learning is always a work in progress.  Real learning is challenging and         uncomfortable.  Real learning is messy and can make you feel a bit anxious (in the  elementary years as well as in college). With real learning, there are many, approximations of the goals and quite a few mistakes along the way! 

The message to me is that I need to make sure I do not let my own good intentions go awry.  I need to make sure I am not a "helicopter teacher" hovering over students focused on success rather than on the messy process of learning!  I need to make sure I am not a "helicopter teacher" focused on perfection rather than on the messy process of learning! 


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