Whole Child and Whole Teacher Education

I recently read a chapter from the OA Springer book Empowering Teachers to Build a Better World: How Six Nations Support Teachers for 21st Century Education. It’s an academic text, which means it was a bit dry, but I read it so you don’t have to! (Although it was good – I actually encourage you to download and read it).

This created an edtech-heavy environment where student growth and success happened by helping teachers.

The final chapter was one of the most interesting for me. “Twenty-First Century Learning in Burlington Public Schools” explains how one U.S. school district in Massachusetts used whole child methods and evolving technologies to help students be more prepared for their futures. 

But the thing that struck me the most was the idea that a whole child approach to edtech and instruction REQUIRED the district also empower teachers. In order to give the most to their students, teachers needed certain things, and the Burlington school system came through for them.

This created an edtech-heavy environment where student growth and success happened by helping teachers. There were many different ways that this Burlington MA method succeeded. Here are the three that jumped out at me. 

Top Three Ways to Empower Teachers Who Then Empower Students

1. Teachers Had a Say

A common complaint teachers have is that they have no real say: federal, state, district, and individual school guidelines often tie their hands before students even get into their classroom. In the Burlington district, they allowed teachers into the district and school planning and implementation phases. Teachers, the ones in the actual classrooms, had more of a voice in how methods and standards and guidelines would be practically implemented. Also, they felt that district and school communication was open and attentive, meaning that if they had issues or concerns come up, they were listened to and acknowledged. They even said this extended to all stakeholders in the system: administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Giving teachers a say in the plans made and how those plans were implemented helped because it valued the practical knowledge and student experience teachers had and created a more open environment for discussion and dialogue for everyone in the system. 

2. EdTech that Helped and Help in EdTech

Edtech does a lot of good in schools, but let’s be real: it is only as good as the need and support offered. Let me elaborate. Edtech in and of itself should always be IN SERVICE; it should always be there to help the teacher and the student. In order to do this it should 1) fill a need that teachers and students have and 2) be accessible to teachers and students. There’s usually a lot of thought and discussion that goes into making sure students need and know the edtech they use. With teachers, that’s not always the case. Burlington decided to change that. They invested only in the edtech that they knew filled a gap or solved a problem and they gave teachers ample training in this new tech before they rolled it out to students. They set up professional development opportunities everywhere: on pd days, inside the school during free periods, after school when teachers were available. And teachers took advantage of these opportunities, learning the tech that would help them help their students. This led to more effective use of the edtech, more careful instruction using the edtech, and more helping hands when students learned and used the edtech. 

3. Mutual Aid and Respect

One of the most interesting projects in the Burlington MA campaign was the decision to establish a student-run IT Help Desk in the high school. Students could work at the help desk after a certain level of instruction, and both students AND teachers could go to the Help Desk when they had issues with school tech. For students working the help desk, this gave them a way to show expertise and learn IT professional skills. For teachers it gave them a chance to mentor students in IT and edtech issues once they became experts in these areas. But maybe more importantly, it gave teachers a chance to see students as experts in these areas. It changed teacher thinking in a positive way that empowered students in the system. 

If these three ideas were implemented across school systems, the growth in teachers and students would be tremendous. It’s a good model, and something edtech leaders and whole child educators should help implement as they reach out into more and more school districts.

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