Thursday, 10 March 2011 21:50

Blog Post #2: Lucky Breaks in Year Two

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Like many young teachers, I was eager to earn graduate units to move up on my district’s pay scale.  To accumulate the greatest number of units in the least amount of time, each quarter I enrolled in an after-school class designed for working teachers.  The classes met one night a week and featured a different presenter each time.  On some evenings I would come away with useful information; on others I wouldn’t.  One night a principal from my district gave a presentation that at first didn’t appear especially applicable to my teaching situation.  Then, as my classmates and I were packing our belongings and preparing to leave, he shared a list of book recommendations.  Fortunately for me, I was still paying attention.

On that list was William Glasser’s The Quality School.

Discovering that book was my first lucky break.

I don’t think I’ve picked up that book for at least ten years, but I can retell much of the text from memory.  In one of the most joyous reading experiences of my life, I must have underlined, dog-eared, and re-read almost every page at one point or another.

Glasser’s work introduced me to a body of literature known as Quality Theory.  Sure, I knew what the word quality meant and that striving to produce quality work was an important classroom goal, but I wasn’t aware that a school of thought existed that described how to define quality, how to measure it, and how to create the conditions where quality was most likely to flourish.

In The Quality School  Glasser presents a non-coercive approach to education featuring classrooms where teachers lead, not boss, and students work hard to improve, not to earn rewards or avoid punishments, but because learning satisfies their most basic needs, such as the need for fun, freedom, power, and belonging.  In quality classrooms students do much of their work in pairs and small groups, and Glasser’s assertion that cooperative learning should be the default mode of learning in every classroom rings in my ears each time I need to decide how to organize classroom activities.  Glasser believes that cooperative learning works because it satisfies children’s need for belonging and leads to higher quality performance.  

In the type of need-satisfying classrooms that Glasser describes, children are happy because they are producing quality, worthwhile work that engages them, and teachers are happy because students are putting out genuine effort, and they are learning.  Students behave well because they understand that it’s in their best interest to behave - because doing so will have the most powerful effect on their learning and the most positive effect on their group.  There is a problem-solving orientation that characterizes Glasser’s approach, one that promotes teamwork and decision-making.  Under this approach students are less likely to rock the boat because they are co-owners of the boat and have a stake in making sure that it reaches its destination.  

In my reading (and re-reading) of Glasser’s approach, I was finding ideas that were consistent with my emerging teaching philosophy, and I was excited about it.  I was learning more about how to implement the type of classroom management approach I had always wanted to implement but hadn’t yet learned enough about.

In The Quality School Glasser draws heavily upon the work of a gentleman named W. Edwards Deming.  After finishing Glasser’s book, I was so fired up to continue learning about the concept of educational quality that I decided to read anything I could find by or about Deming.  Fortunately, there’s no shortage of books about the man.

I would soon come to appreciate why.

I consider my discovery of W. Edwards Deming my second lucky break.

In my next blog post, I will describe how W. Edwards Deming soon became the person (family members excluded) who, to this day, has had the greatest impact on my life.  I simply cannot overstate the effect his philosophy has had on the way I teach my students and the way I live my life.

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