I’ve heard it said that an outstanding educator is “a pretty good educator who is working to make himself better.” The process of critical reflection, professional development and self-improvement are what distinguishes outstanding educators from the rest. I’m always in search of a better method, a new technique, or a different way of looking at a problem. And although I think that what I do is pretty good, I’m willing to admit that there may be better ways, and open to learning them.
Outstanding teachers don’t work in isolation. Teaching isn’t a private practice, it’s a team effort. I’ve been a team leader, an administrator, and a supervisor; as well as a teacher and a teaching assistant. I serve on school board committees and advisory panels. I’ve led large group committees and small teams. My school uses the facilitative leadership model to make collaborative decisions – a model that I believe is empowering.
Over the last several years my school has made significant progress at converting “computers” from a stand-alone pullout specialist class – like Music or Physical Education – into a system where meaningful technology and 21st century skills are integrated into the regular classroom curriculum. Seven years ago I taught good, powerful lessons in a computer lab. My students learned, and what they learned was useful. But those lessons pale compared to what my students do today – when students in middle school, for example, analyze data collaboratively in a multidisciplinary lesson co-planned by their teachers in math, science, and technology. The most meaningful teaching of 21st century skills happens when teachers model those same skills: the collaborative, technologically-rich lessons require teachers to use the problem solving and creative thinking ability we want students to learn.
One of the most powerful self-reflective processes I’ve engaged in was the NBPTS National Board Certification I went through a few years ago. It was a lot of work, and it certainly wasn’t easy, but it caused me to set aside extra time to engage in the practices that we all know we should spend more time doing. I observed myself on videotape, wrote long self-reflections, analyzed my teaching practice and worked on ways to improve it. At the end, it wasn’t just an external validation of my teaching; it was an honest internal self assessment and journey of self improvement.
As a child, I was raised in a military household, so I am used to moving and experiencing new cultures. I spent three years of high school in Tokyo, which was probably a contributing factor to my choice to live and work internationally. The challenges and differences that some people find to be difficult are the aspects that I find fun and interesting. Above all, every day in an international school is a learning experience, and learning is what school is all about.