Number One** Not your ordinary, endless list – just what’s number 1.

                              The Freedom To Teach

I haven’t done much with the #1 lists of late however I’m restarting my engine and will be updating the ebook and this post is a good blast off.

I truly believe that what education anywhere needs is more freedom for its teachers, more independence.  Much has been said about Finland and why it is so successful at educating its citizens.  My own conclusion, PISA results or no PISA results is that the success of Finland is directly related to how much freedom and control its teachers have in the classroom.  Teachers in Finland are given the freedom to teach (read more at Pasi Sahlberg’s portal site).  They can put their own selves into each classroom lesson, change and adapt lesson material based on students’ needs. They don’t “teach by numbers” or by flipping pages or turning to exercise 4, page 26.  We need edupreneurs in the most strict sense of that word. We need to trust our teachers as professionals (as Diane Ravitch points out in this must read) , we need to liberate the curriculum from the bondage it is now under, we need to give our teachers the freedom to teach as they best see fit in their classrooms.

My own travels, witnessing different teaching cultures and teacher training has led me to this conclusion.  I can even frame it as a “law” – call it David’s law.  The greater the freedom of teachers in an educational system, the higher the corresponding achievement by students as measured through long term results (not short term standardized scores). 

Too often, we see talented teachers frustrated by the inability to practice their own trade. They are tied up, imprisoned by requirements to cover x material in y fashion. Frustrated by having to teach z when they know students are only ready for y.  Teachers are stressed as the human factor is sucked out of their daily teaching day.

I find it incredulous that the greatest freedom in most educational institutions is given our early childhood educators AND that they are paid the least.  All teachers should have the freedom to teach and part of that freedom is a commitment by society that they will be free of financial duress and paid appropriately.

Hand in hand with the “Freedom To Teach” is the notion that teachers should be well trained and supported in their professional development. All freedom requires a matching responsibility.  Both teachers and administrations need to commit to being well trained and progressive (in the wide sense of that word).  Better paid AND better educated teachers are needed in our schools so that the freedom we promote is realized.

Now you are probably saying to yourself, “What exactly is this – freedom to teach?”  Well, here is my short list defining the conditions required for the blossoming of this most precious right. Call it a mini manifesto and I hope its flag blows across the world and becomes a standard oath, a wind blowing us away from the monstrous restrictions most teachers presently face when teaching.

The Freedom To Teach

1.  Teachers should be free to enact the curriculum as they see best.  Teaching shouldn’t be about following but about leading, leading students.

2.  Teachers should be allowed to take detours and personalize instruction. Teaching should not be an objective and distant, abstract activity.

3.  Teachers should be able to teach from their own set of teaching beliefs and with their own teaching style.  Teaching should not be a one way delivery system.

4.  Teachers should be free to set their own teaching day and vary it as they see fit.  If they need to spend a whole week on a novel, they should be able to. If they need to skip music so students can finish math, so be it. The teaching day shouldn’t be set in stone – no longer should the Minister of Education be able to look at his/her clock and know what a grade 4 class in Lyon is studying.

5.  Teachers should be judged by how well they get students involved and engaged, by the thought and feeling that is happening in their classrooms. Teaching shouldn’t be about short term scores or outcomes nor should any teacher be judged by a number alone.

6.  Teachers should be able to use any and all materials that will help their students learn. Teachers shouldn’t need approval to use x book or talk about subject y. Teachers should be treated as professionals that understand students and are sensitive to students’ and the wider societal needs.

7.  Teachers should be free from financial stress and paid at a rate that is appropriate for their highest importance in the society. Teachers shouldn’t be at the mercy of  needing to stay in a job because they can’t pay the bills any other way. Teaching should be a free choice and not one based on financial necessity.

This is just my short list. I’m sure you can think of many more parts to this “Freedom To Teach”.   We also might flip this and together look at it from the students’ side – The Freedom To Learn.  Students don’t have this freedom and so many, too many, spend days of boredom, trapped between walls.  Just as teachers need the freedom to teach, we need to give our students’ a voice and the freedom to learn.