“[Young people] not only learn from what we say, but from how we do”
- Gert Biesta
What does it mean to be an educator? To quantify it has been the work of organisations such as AITSL and registration boards across the globe (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2014). In a short advertisement for Flinders University on “why study teaching?” I shaped a fifteen-second articulation on the reasons teaching resonated with me. Although the final product was a hybridisation of my priorities and the university’s goals, I was confident that what follows is true to my purpose as an educator.
“I choose to do something that matters. To help the quiet find their voice and the small to be big. To help people see and be seen and shape the future in the present. I choose teaching because it matters.”
For a long time, people have been saying that the school system is broken, that it doesn’t do what it is designed to do and is no longer fit for its purpose (Robinson, 2006). This is both true and false at the same time. There is nothing inherently wrong with the system as it stands. It does exactly what it set out to do. The issue is that the world has changed, and the system has remained the same. The graduates the system produces no longer meet the complex needs of our emerging world.
In a world where change happens instantly, rewriting the social narrative and our perspective on what is true, how do we prepare young people to harness empathy, kindness and compassion and mould the universe in a more equitable direction? We need great educators. Educators that can do what we ask young people to do every day. Learn, unlearn and relearn to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to shape their sphere of influence in their chosen direction (Klein, 2008; Oparinde, 2021).
To be human is to be in relationship.
This is critical in a learning environment where we ask young people to make mistakes and be vulnerable daily. My relationships with young people don’t presume a starting point or a finish line. They are responsive, dynamic, and individualised. I work alongside all young people, supporting them in developing their best self (Duchesne & McMaugh, 2018). Through strong assessment methods and powerful questioning, I can learn alongside young people about their passions and interests, guiding them in directions that will help them grow daily into the people they want to be (Tomlinson, 2003; Tomlinson & Moon, 2013). Through self-reflection and evaluation of my teaching strategies and pedagogies, I will support all young people in the learning environment (Britzman, 2003). My learning design accounts for all learners within my classroom, ensuring no one is disadvantaged. Parents and carers are the young people’s first teachers, and I strongly believe in preparing young people to talk through their learning and progress with the people who are important to them. By fostering clear and open communication channels with parents, carers and young people, they will be better prepared to articulate their learning journey in a way that reduces value-laden judgements from the educator and better aligns with emerging global best practices on narratives of success (Gibbs, 2022; Moravec, 2008; Noel & Liub, 2017).
To be human is to be curious.
Many approaches to learning tend to reduce the curiosity of our young people (Jirout et al., 2018; Shenaar-Golan & Gutman, 2013). We continue to presume what types of knowledge and ways of being are more valuable than others while also saying that we are preparing young people for a future that is yet unimagined (Zhao, 2015). If we are working to prepare young people for a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, then our static definitions of knowledge and truth need reimagining (Mack et al., 2016). I teach with young people as my greatest resource. Young people come to the classroom with deep funds of knowledge; they are not blank slates or boxes in which to deposit discrete pieces of information (Freire, 1994; Gay, 1964). Rather, they are integral to the learning experience and essential in developing a meaningful curriculum. By weaving learning through integrated cross-curricular projects, I can ensure that young people build strong understandings of content that allow them to apply their thinking to a range of new and dynamic contexts (Kuhlthau et al., 2007). By promoting agentive learners, I can ensure that my learning design is shaped by what is meaningful to the young people (Education Review Office, 2017).
To be human is to be located in space and time.
Learning is done in context, not isolation (Smyth et al., 2014). We are always forming and being formed by the environment around us (Peltier, 2021). Young people can shape an inclusive future by drawing on their rich histories and stories (Styres et al., 2013). I create learning environments that celebrate all stories, ensuring that young people feel safe to be themselves and take risks (Pransky & Bailey, 2002). Providing opportunities to expand young people’s experiences and thinking in new and different ways is the best chance of developing learners responsive to disruption. As someone immersed in learning, learning design, and reflective practice across the education ecosystem, I model what it is to be an effective learner. I know where to seek ongoing development, evaluation, and challenge to be the best educator I can be (York-Barr et al., 2006). Through engagement with emergent and research-informed practise, I can support young people on a journey of discovery sensitive to the needs of the broader school community (Biesta & Lawy, 2006). Providing meaningful real-world engagement with the community provides an enriched educational context for young people (Procee, 2006).
For a long time, learning has been about what we know. The rote regurgitation of facts to secure our place amidst the mechanistic story of progress. Time passed, and ideologies shifted to what we did with what we knew. What changes did we cause, what wonderful creations did we make, and how much did we achieve. With the rise of post-modernism and the breakdown of objective truth, perspectives shifted. We are interested in who we are as we go about our doing. We are human beings, not human doings.
This, then, is my philosophy as an educator. To walk alongside young people as they discover their being and shape the world around them for the better.