This nice article from Maria Deblassie’s: Enchantment Learning Blog
April 12, 2013
It is no surprise that Jeff Tuttle, teacher at Monte Vista Elementary and speaker at this January’s TEDxABQED won the Golden Apple Award for teaching excellence. His recipe for success? Treating people as people.
His TED Talk focused on reforming the education system through valuing the professionals and students that make up its core. Many reform agendas focus on refining the system itself; Jeff suggests that while a system can be infinitely refined because it is not dynamic, it is the incredibly dynamic and powerful human element that has the potential to produce long lasting progressive changes.
One of the ways Jeff feels we can change the profession is by creating an open source textbook for teachers. The idea is to take all the money spent on textbooks and testing and give it to teachers who can then use their years of experience and expertise to develop an open source curriculum. In essence, the curriculum is developed by teachers for teachers (and their students!). If you want to see what an open source textbook looks like in action, check out Jeff’s Libros Libre, his own website that is currently looking to pool together a variety of lesson plans for teachers to utilize. By valuing the profession of education and those who choose to devote themselves to it, we can then have a system that celebrates and helps create innovative thinkers.
Jeff was kind enough to show me his classroom at Monte Vista—or what I call “the genius room”—and talk with me more about how valuing the professionals in turn helps produce more effective teaching methods and more creative, critical thinking students. When I entered the classroom, I felt the movement of the day—the pile of plants in one corner, the melted Salvador Dali-esque clock, the many posters and write-ups on the walls, the stack of learning knick-knacks and half-done projects on students’ tables. This, I could tell, was education in action.
I asked Jeff how he created this education reform on daily basis in his classroom. He said that his first focus is in building a community between himself, his fellow classroom teachers, and his students. The key is to allow students to understand the diversity of the classroom, including a range of learning needs, and to respect everyone’s role in that community. This helps students escape the “I can’t do this” mentality, Jeff explains; they simply work together and help each other master the learning concepts.
What I really love about this is that for these students, as Jeff puts it, there is “no pressure from outside labels, which frees students to be human.”
Daily classroom activities that move away from traditional textbook teaching also allow him to reform the system. Class activities include the Daily Pilot event in which one student gets to show the class about a place they have been or would like to go; the student has to research the history and geography of the location in order to give the class a tour via Google earth. Jeff also said that with the support of his principal he abandoned the traditional math textbook in favor of integrated math activities in the classroom. Every class member has a job where they can earn money for their services, like selling and tending to plants for example. The students get to use math to buy supplies, collect fees for their work, and borrow money to start their own businesses. They even have their own checking accounts that the balance every day!
Because of this inclusive environment and innovative learning strategies, Jeff has seen students outperforming expectations of what traditionally works in the classroom. And the students feel it too. One student wrote him a thank you note that simply said, “Thanks for giving me math.”
In short, education reform occurs in teacher’s daily actions, the unquantifiable classroom moments that help kids eventually learn how to tell a knock-knock joke correctly. It’s about letting people be people.
If you want to read more about Jeff’s insights and the power of classroom innovation (and really, who wouldn’t?), check out his blog Tomorrow Trees. In the meantime, stay innovative!