Reflections from the New Guy

A few short weeks ago I was in my 8th grade math classroom asking students to put away their fidget spinners, managing the controlled chaos that is a junior high classroom, and encouraging groups of students to argue in a productive way about math problems from the curriculum.

Coming to AIMS has put me in a whole new scenario, both physically and mentally. Meetings with colleagues now involve discussions of philosophy and learning theory rather than yard duty schedules and class size. While both are important, I’ve only had a lot of experience with the latter.

For the past month or so, I have been wrestling with new understandings and new contexts for words I was once familiar with. Through a conversation with Richard Thiessen, I was encouraged to not only gain this new understanding but to take time and reflect on HOW it came about. As I tackled the task of reading doctoral level research, it was a confusing experience. I looked at the words on the page and could make almost no sense of them, looking for anything familiar to grab onto. However, several days later, I finished it and felt like I had a pretty good idea of what was being written about. Moreover, I was ready to move on and learn more. So how did I construct that understanding?

A few things helped a great deal. First and foremost was having conversations. I asked a lot of questions and went down a lot of rabbit holes. Conversations with those who had already been down those same rabbit holes helped clarify or redirect my thinking where necessary.

Secondly was a teleconference with Dr. Leslie Steffe, one of the authors I was reading. This was tremendously helpful, not just because it allowed me to connect a face with all of the things I was reading, but to know that this was a person who had also wondered and questioned and sought answers. Our conversation showed me that his writing was not simply an impersonal textbook, but a snapshot in time of another person’s learning.

Finally, by finding ways to tie all of the theoretical concepts back to my personal experiences with children, I was able to make some more sense of the writing. I spent a lot of time reframing the concepts into mental pictures of experiences with former students and my own children, or even remembering how I learned concepts as a child.

Taking the time to not only understand but also reflect on how I have come to understand has been very interesting and not something I have done often as an adult learner. Nor did I give students enough time to do so in the classroom. Given future opportunities, I will need to remedy both of those situations as often as possible.

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