Teaching Teachers to be Critical Thinkers

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Teaching children to think is one of our main goals as educators, but we can only hope to achieve this if thinking is appreciated and encouraged throughout a school system.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of life in schools, it is extremely difficult for teachers to develop this critical reflective attitude. Consumed by both the routinized aspects of the job and the hectic pace of the day, it is difficult to find time for serious reflection. But just as students need to be encouraged toward reflective thought, teachers need to be encouraged by both the school administration and the school community that critical thinking is a vital aspect of professional growth.

What teachers need are opportunities to think actively about their everyday teaching situations. Unfortunately, the most common forms of inservice training and staff development--the after-school workshop and lecture--do not accomplish this. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these formats, teachers are seldom encouraged to participate very much at these meetings. When participation is invited, it is more likely that teachers will be asked to serve as guinea pigs for some new curriculum unit being pushed by the school administration. Teachers are usually simply fed information and expected either to use it (or not) on their own.

This approach to teaching and training--I call it "filling the empty vessel"--is usually vilified when teachers use it on children. So it is odd that we use this method to teach teachers. Teachers, like any students, need to be involved in their own learning if they are to develop as professionals. Teachers are their own best resources for staff development and growth. As John Dewey remarked in 1904:

"Even though they go on studying books of pedagogy, reading teachers' journals, attending teachers' institutes, etc., yet the root of the matter is not in them, unless they continue to be students of subject matter, and students of mind-activity. Unless a teacher is such a student, he may continue to improve in the mechanics of school management, but he cannot grow as a teacher, an inspirer and director of soul-life."

What better time to encourage and provide teachers with opportunities to reflect, to comment, and to write about their experiences and thoughts as educators than right now? If the current "thinking-skills" movement is really going to have an impact on education, teachers are the ones who need to be thinking before this behavior will be noticeable in the classrooms. Together, they can begin to attack what Charles Silberman identified in 1970 as the major problem with schools--"mindlessness."

We must find ways to stimulate educators--public-school teachers, principals, and superintendents--into thinking about what they are doing and why they are doing it. One way is the production of an education journal by a school district. In an effort to provide a forum for teachers in this district (and to develop a link with educators outside of town), a group of teachers and administrators in the Brookline schools has produced an education journal called Reflections.

There have been two issues so far. The first contained summaries of current research in education, book reviews, a section on children's literature, a section focusing on ideas, projects, activities, and achievements by students and teachers, a commentary section, and a calendar of Boston-area events and speakers that would interest educators.

The second, a theme issue, focused on the various ways teachers in our school system teach thinking and problem-solving skills. Already, teachers and administrators from several different grade levels and disciplines have contributed to this publication.

This is not just something that wealthy districts can do. Our costs, which come to about $1 per issue, are met by contributions from a nonprofit group of Brookline parents and citizens.

Teaching tends to be an isolated profession, but we believe that a publication like Reflections helps us to communicate with each other and also informs the staff about activities both inside and outside the system. Through a blending of theory and practice, such a periodical gives us the opportunity to reflect and act in our jobs. The thoughtful and varied contributions of the teachers and administrators provide reassuring and enlightening testimony that not only are thinking and problem-solving skills being taught in the Brookline schools, but that Brookline educators are indeed thinkers themselves.

Vol. 04, Issue 38, Page 23

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