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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Be a Teacher-Thinker

“Most children are taught early on that thinking is dangerous,” (Hooks, 2010, p.8).

Please answer the following questions on a sheet of paper or mentally if you prefer:

  1. Have you ever accepted a teaching pedagogy (shared with you during college coursework or during a professional development training) at face value, without questioning it?
  2. Have you ever implemented a practice—perhaps even your own idea for classroom management, instruction, etc.—without reflecting on how it went?

If you answer “yes” to either of these questions, you might suffer from a lack of critical thinking within your practice. I know that might sound a little harsh, however, for the purposes of this blog, it is paramount that you consider your thinking process as it applies to teaching. Ultimately, I want you entertain the idea of becoming a “teacher-thinker”—someone who continues to question, to reflect, and to ponder. An intellectual educator who is never satisfied with the status quo.

Why? Because first, thinking is hard work. According to Hooks (2010), by the time most of us enter college, we come to “dread” thinking. Through a system of compliance and conformity, we lose our ability and desire to think deeply. This means we must make a consistent, conscious effort to think regularly about our classroom practices. But the payoff could be immense. By continuously thinking, we can improve our practice and become better and better at what we do. Loughran (2006) writes that new teachers, for instance, who practice inquiry-based learning grow to become autonomous and inform their practices through their own experiences.

Secondly, if we want our children to be thinkers, then should we not reflect this type of thinking in ourselves? We must be role models of deep thinking. The students will pick up from our language and behavior our thinking habits. And in turn, hopefully practice those thinking habits themselves. But it’s quite unfair to expect your students to do some serious thinking if you are not willing to do it yourself.

The concept of critical thinking is a muddied domain. Scholars do not agree on a universal term. But if we examine the common definitions we can see some similarities. For instance, Paul (1993) defined critical thinking as the ability to reach conclusions based on information and observation. Beyer (1983) explained critical thinking as the ability to assess the authenticity, worth, and accuracy of knowledge. Metacognition—or thinking about one’s thinking—is also associated with areas of critical thinking (Callender, Franco-Watkins & Roberts, 2016). For a teacher, this might mean regularly reflecting about one’s practices (e.g., instruction, classroom management, student interactions, parent communications) and based on our own conclusions in those areas, make necessary adjustments and take appropriate action.

Regardless, all of this is just theory unless we are provided some concrete strategies or actions to take.

Be a Life-Long Learner

Yes, this sounds cliché, and it’s something we repeat to our students, but I can think of no better advice to continue your own education. As Hooks (2010) advised, to help your students reach their full potential, you have to work on your own self-actualization. When you constantly seek out new learning and knowledge, whether that’s through reading, attending higher education courses, conferences, or professional development trainings, you’re confronted with new ideas, new approaches, new theories and models, and this forces you to think—sometimes to reconsider your current beliefs towards teaching. Engaging in discussions with other educators, who perhaps hold different perspectives, will push your thinking to new levels.

Write/Journal

Writing or journaling is thinking on paper. The process helps you clarify thoughts and contemplate issues and topics in more depth. It’s kind of like having an in-depth discussion with yourself. And it doesn’t have to be elaborate or time-consuming (because I know teachers don’t have the luxury of sitting down and writing for long stretches). It could mean writing a quick reflection during your lunch or the end of the day about how class went or about a question or problem you have. You might set aside one day per week where you sit down and write for a half-hour or so. Blogging is another excellent way to journal as well as share your ideas and thoughts in a public forum.

Research

As a teacher, one of the best ways I engaged in critical thinking was through research. I conducted several pilot studies with the elementary students I was teaching. While undoubtedly time-consuming, the research prompted me to dig deeper into issues, to reconsider how I was teaching, and to read relevant literature. The process also led to publications which helps build your expertise within your field. I would also share my findings with parents—which better informed them about their children. However, you don’t have to conduct full-blown studies to engage in inquiry-based learning. You can conduct smaller, self-studies, aimed at improving an area within your own practice. Dana and Yendol-Hoppey (2009) have written extensively about teacher-based inquiry and their book (see references) provides step-by-step instructions for completing your own inquiry.

Foster a Spirit of Inquiry

Finally, never stop asking questions. Be curious. Inquire. Either mentally or even better, on paper, generate questions on a regular basis. Is what I’m doing working? What can I change? What are others doing in the classroom? Is there a better way to teach this? What do my students think about this? How can I involve my students more in the curriculum, in my teaching? And the list goes on.

Work to become and remain a teacher-thinker. Read, discuss, learn, research, question—think critically and deeply about what you do—it matters for you and the children.

References

Beyer, B. (1983). Common sense about teaching thinking skills. Educational Leadership, 41(3), 44-49.

Callender, A.A., Franco-Watkins, A.M. & Roberts, A.S. (2016) Improving metacognition in the classroom through instruction, training, and feedback. Metacognition and learning,  11(2), 215-235.

Dana, N. F. & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2009). The reflective educator's guide to classroom research: Learning to teach and teaching to learn through practitioner inquiry (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hooks, B. (2010). Teaching critical thinking: Practical wisdom. New York, NY: Routledge.

Loughran, J. (2006). Developing a pedagogy of teacher Education: Understanding teaching learning about teaching. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Paul, R. (1993). Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World, an Anthology on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform. Santa Rosa, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.