Connected Learning for Teachers in Scripted Times

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Photo by omran.jamal

We are now about two months into the school year and, having been in teacher education for about 8 years now, what continues to strike me is the degree to which scripted learning and teaching is going on in the majority of classrooms where I support new teachers. And when I write ‘scripted’, I mean the teacher was handed some curriculum that was built for thousands of students, the directions remain the same for all teachers and they are typically expected to follow it faithfully. While it might be argued that new teachers need such scaffolds to provide models for ‘good’ teaching and learning, these models I am seeing are mostly rote and uninspiring and, of course, teacher autonomy is all but lost. The progressive and critical pedagogical principles that are so central to how I understand ‘good’ teaching and learning are being challenged during most observations and visits I make to my teachers’ classrooms. What’s more is that the majority of these classrooms serve non-dominant communities.

My observations above are certainly not new knowledge but this presents a particular design challenge for myself as a teacher educator. How do I work this tension (as I advise my teachers to do)? What does it look like to structure teacher education and, indeed, my practices around learner-centered and critical ideas that work to disrupt the common narratives that organize classroom life for teachers and their students (I.e. Script it all)? What does this look like with primarily new teachers who struggle to gain any sense of autonomy in their work? The philosophy of Connected Learning (CL) seems a great place to start. Built around six core principles

  • Interest-powered
  • Production-centered
  • Peer-supported
  • Shared purpose
  • Academically oriented
  • Openly networked

CL seeks to create classroom spaces that are all but scripted. These are spaces where students and their interests are truly centered, where shared goals are developed, community resources are tapped into, and technology is used as a way to connect seemingly disparate groups. At it’s heart, then, Connected Learning is driven by principles of equity and justice. Within the past year, a Connected Learning in Teacher Education group (#CLinTE) emerged to start thinking more deeply about what this means for doing this work with teachers. Nicole Mirra’s emergent work also suggests that there be a particular framing around this work with teachers so that key moves (and they may be small, but radical, as she notes) can begin to happen to create agentic and authentic spaces for students.

This is inspiring work. It’s work that adds to my knowledge base around teacher education, particularly in terms of how to use technology to augment Connected Learning. A recent connection with one of the organizers of #CLinTE sparked ideas around working together in the Spring to connect our teacher education candidates through platforms like marginal syllabus. This reminds me that CL, and particularly CL for and with teachers, must be about getting folks connected to one another so that what is pedagogically possible starts to open up.

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