How to Add Creativity and Teacher Autonomy to Instruction
With a diverse population of students in schools at present, students must learn from standards that reflect and support the individuals they are. The old-fashioned means of teaching status quo standards to all students have failed to promote academic excellence of students across the board. All students, especially Blacks and Hispanics, as indicated by common research, need a teaching approach that is understood and make sense to all different types of students.
In order to teach all students appropriately and effectively, the required standards must be tweaked and sprinkled with creativity. This requirement would challenge administrators to allow teachers to have autonomy and to practice knowledge they have acquired pertaining to teaching and use their own ideas to enhance instruction that they, themselves, believe will help all students.
Research supports that “Educators can create new paths to learning standards by providing more learning options for students. Not all children learn in the same way, or in the same time. By offering more routes to the standards, teachers enable more children to reach them.”
In support of the above quote, the writer of this blog highlights research-based ideas presented by seminal legwork for administrators and teachers to transport to ameliorate their schools for student effectiveness. The research ideas are delineated as written, and, by this writer, an enhanced method of the same idea is recommended.
According to research, school administrators can take the following steps to produce high-achieving schools:
* Create professional development plans to ensure that teachers receive best practices training.
Enhanced: Allow teachers to choose their own topics for professional development. Research shows that many teachers are bored participating in professional development programs that have very little impact on their teacher-influence or on their student-learning. Teachers will be far more appreciative of professional development if they undergo training they need and will indeed use. Besides, only teachers know of skills they need in which to improve.
* Provide time for teachers to work together and coach each other in applying effective instructional techniques.
Enhanced: While teacher collaboration is a good idea for meeting teaching and learning goals, administrators should make sure that teachers placed in groups have learning ideas in common and that they respect one another as individuals and will add to teaching ideas to make them effective for students and for schools. Human nature and the psychology of people can affect scenarios negatively if the right chemistry or the right growth mindsets of teachers collaborating are not in harmony.
* Hire reading specialists to address the needs of struggling readers — especially in the early grades.
Enhanced: Hiring reading specialists is a good idea to aid elementary students, where evidence shows that children learn best in the first three (some research says six) years of their lives. However, by middle school, and most especially by high school, administrators should hold their English teachers accountable for helping students become more proficient readers. Reading is in fact literacy. Reading is in fact an element of language, and English teachers in fact instruct language. Therefore, if given autonomy of being creative to reach their own assigned students’ learning needs, teachers should not need reading specialists’ aid because teachers would have been empowered to intervene in the reading process of learning in a creative and helpful manner.
* Hire highly trained teachers to provide intervention for at-risk populations.
Enhanced: To hire trained teachers should be the goal of every administrator; yet, in times of immediate need, administrators may not be able to locate the perfect teacher for teaching at-risk students. Therefore, administrators must hire the best of the applicants that reveal themselves. If selecting the best applicant is not familiar with teaching at-risk students yet is inclined to teach them, administrators may use this opportunity to offer immediate training in working with at-risk students. This idea will be a bonus for administrators because they will be able to discern the extent of the potential hired teacher’s work ethic. Thus, there is hope in finding inclined teachers to teach at risk kids, especially when they have administrators’ support, yet administrators must act prudently in making this important decision.
* Provide high-quality summer school programs with follow-up intervention during the school year.
Enhanced: Summer school may be helpful, yet overall it can be a waste of time for all personnel involved. A better strategy to consider is to be proactive during the school year by ensuring teachers are meeting teaching expectations and students are learning. A type of micromanagement might be necessary in this particular case. Once teachers and students are held accountable throughout the school year, an opportunity for summer school will not be necessary because students and teachers will have met recovery of learning by being proactive, not reactive, during instruction.
Teachers can do the following to bring about successful learning environments.
* Use creative and flexible scheduling to extend learning time for students who need it.
Enhanced: Extra-time should entail students’ own time. Whatever students are unable to complete during school time should be allowed for students to finish for homework. To enforce completion of homework, however, a students’ parents should be notified to ensure their children complete the homework. In any case, teachers will be able to document opportunities that students were offered extra time to complete classwork. A note of caution, nevertheless, is that administrators should be careful by adding extra time to teachers’ already busy schedules unless teachers volunteer to help. A better idea to consider is for teachers to maximize their time in the classroom by working in the zone and providing motivation for students to complete their assignments.
* Create classrooms that accommodate different learning styles.
Enhanced: Good idea. Yet, classrooms do not have to be singled out for learning styles. In other words, sections cut out in the classroom to indicate certain learning styles should not become the norm. An idea to consider for learning styles is to allow students to create their own responses to assignments. For effectiveness of learning, however, students must be retaught the same lesson regularly and should be presented in different ways. This idea will also give teachers different styles of lessons to assess, which will guarantee smiles on their faces and alleviate boredom from having to grade many similar-in-style-assignments.
* Use ongoing, performance-based assessment to guide daily teaching decisions.
Enhanced: Absolutely! An ongoing assessment from teachers should transpire in classrooms and at students’ homes with their parents’ aid. To add to this assessment, teachers might wish to consider mini-rewards as incentives for students to persevere in learning to determine the extent applied to enforce successful outcomes for student performance-based assessments. In the end, nevertheless, the only important benchmark to meet will be the identified scores that students should have earned. This goal of excellence can happen when administrators grant teacher autonomy to allow teacher creativity to guide daily teaching instructions.
Teaching diverse students is a challenge for all schools; no novel idea should be shunned to help meet students’ need. Allowing students to discover lessons in their own way will inspire them to attempt lessons and give teachers something tangible to assess in order to motivate students to persevere. While the research-based ideas presented herein (italicized) are valid and helpful, extending teachers autonomy to be creative to meet all their students’ needs are even more helpful.
Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D. (2020)
Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction
Presenter of Professional Development