This post’s title is a line from T S Eliot’s The Waste Land
It also features in the book The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers. This book explores the other side of ourselves that we keep hidden, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unconsciously. What aspects of ourselves are always walking with us yet may be unrecognised until something happens that makes us realise we carry such baggage with us all the time? What baggage do we bring into our classes? What baggage do our students carry with them into every class; are there certain items of baggage that only get brought into the maths class? If we, as teachers, don’t understand what it is our students bring with them emotionally and psychologically then their education will, indeed, prove to be a waste land…we cannot lay seeds and expect them to grow in earth that resists nourishing them.
I have recently read a couple of papers put out by the Centre for Strategic Education (CSE) that yet again emphasise the importance of personal qualities and the impact they have on success, satisfaction and happiness in our lives.
The first is titled Values Education: Working Towards a systematic, balanced approach written by D Trinidad Hunt.
In this paper, the author notes that the word education comes from its Latin derivative educare (meaning ‘to draw out’). She argues that students will come into classes with habits of approach and mind that may not be conducive to the ‘drawing out’ of quality learning.
Mathematics, sometimes much more than any other discipline, takes students out of their comfort zones. In order to truly engage and understand the subject, students need to adopt a more ‘risk-taking’ approach (in an academic sense). Teenagers, in particular, do not like to feel awkward and will avoid placing themselves in situations that induce such feelings. As the author says: “We all resist failure, or being seen to fail, yet giving into the fear of failure leads to stasis”. How can we, as educators, assist students to ‘have a go’ at things and feel more comfortable with not knowing the ‘right’ way to solving a maths problem;being more prepared to ‘play’, make errors and learn from them? She suggests small steps. Provide the opportunities and scaffold the approach so that it becomes a habit and students will then naturally adopt this approach whenever they are confronted by something that challenges them.
In order to assist such a scaffolding approach to educating, D Trinidad Hunt asserts that teachers should adopt a more socially responsive set of skills for the classroom that involve inspiring rather than instructing, eliciting/inviting dialogue rather than telling, involving rather than controlling (hmmm…will have to work on this one, myself!!) etc.
“….free them emotionally then you can go wherever they want intellectually”
The second paper is Michael Fullan’s Change theory: A force for school improvement.
This paper addresses a favourite theme of Fullan’s: the way change strategies in education can be flawed and therefore will be ultimately unsuccessful no matter how carefully and thoughtfully they were produced or how much money went into their development.
No change strategy in education will lead to authentic changes in teaching practice unless teachers believe in it.As he says: “I am not saying that standards, assessment, curriculum and professional development are wrong things to do. I am saying that they are seriously incomplete theories of action because they do not get close to what happens in classrooms and school cultures”
He goes on to say that the current trend for developing “professional learning communities” in schools is admirable in its intent but can be seen by staff as just another innovation to be implemented that will pass in time. To develop successful learning communities, truly collaborative cultures the build the capacity for continuous improvement (and know, and have access to, the tools by which this can be accomplished) are established over time.
Too many professional development sessions for teachers of mathematics, in my view, focus on technical skills of teaching mathematics and insufficient on the pedagogy of the teaching of mathematics. I applaud the recent efforts of the Mathematics Association of Victoria (MAV) in their efforts to revamp their approach to the professional development of teachers.
We, as teachers, also need to be mindful of the baggage we bring into our classes – in terms of what we believe about the pedagogy of mathematics education – and how this impacts on our students’ ability to be more resilient learners and learn effectively; especially given that they, too, will come into the classroom with their own set of luggage!