Much of our natural human perceptions of reality rely on us dividing society into smaller pieces, sections, concepts, and ideas. For example, humans, as society or the world as a whole likes to see our body in relation to the gym or exercise; compartmentalize healing to a hospital, work at the office or studio, religious practice to a church or temple, family remains at home, and personal time or enjoyment with vacation or weekends. The field of education is no different. We have classrooms for different activities. Even the learning that takes place in those contexts is different. Some procedures and actions are welcome in some environments while others are not. Sometimes there are strict rules and guidelines and at other times these rules can be bent and lead to a freer atmosphere. And this is without even taking into consideration that students and people have different learning styles. In addition, teachers have different teaching styles and strengths, but are also held accountable to reaching all students in all contexts through this fractured system.
Enter the process of teacher evaluation. Over the years education has had it’s share of ridicule including a having a corporate answer of competition to a compression of that to socialism such as the means of regulation coming from all stockholders. Both, have their arguments that support and also contrast each other. Nonetheless, we as a society, nation, state, and school district, have adopted a formal system of evaluation to support both arguments by using the Danielson Model in conjunction with the PERA (Performance Evaluation Reform Act) of IL. Yet, again, another fractured reflection of what is happening in schools.
First off, I do not have any problem with any type of formal evaluation or regulation, as good teachers will always prevail. Nevertheless, many excellent, good, and solid teachers are worried and scared of evaluations, as any tool or system can be miss used and interpreted, regardless the tool and process. So, enter the (fractured measurements of the) Danielson Model… In general, teachers are to be held to the complex standards and activity of teaching as divided into 22 components (and 76 smaller elements) clustered into four domains of teaching responsibility: 1) Planning and Preparation, 2) Classroom Environment, 3) Instruction, and 4) Professional Responsibilities. Although this is an extremely fractured and detailed reflection, let me just focus on the whole right now regarding the teacher and student. I will give more arguments addressing the smaller components and elements in the future about each main domain/responsibility and its smaller elements. For now, stay focused on the general whole teacher and/or student.
A system that does address the whole is the practice of mindfulness. Interestingly, it was also a cover story February 3, 2014 in TIME magazine. In general, it covers a perspective and experience of one person learning a technique to quit the mind and pay closer attention to the present moment. It outlines many befits and pitfalls of the practice such as large companies using it as a focus tool, rewiring your brain for self-help with regards to working through emotions. In this article, mindfulness has many claims and even is connected to being more mainstream, as it is being introduced to schools through some government research funds and sponsored by congressman. Regardless, of what you believe, I have used, and now teach my middle school students this practice and have seen some interesting changes take place.
Let’s try to combine these fractured pieces into a full mirror and connect these concepts to being a better teacher or student. The practice of mindfulness can help teachers address the 4 main domains of the Danielson Model include planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. Within the planning and preparation domain, mindfulness allows a teacher to have more knowledge of the students by observing and noticing subtle body movements and speech with non-judgment. This keen observation also enables and supports logical and rational instruction. Therefore, being more prepared, flexible, and engaging in relation to the domain planning and preparation.
Mindfulness can also mend and address the domain of classroom environment. For example, when the teacher or student has a clear, calm, and balanced mind created by the practice of mindfulness the environment will be one of respect and rapport. It will also establish a culture of open learning, create clear procedures, and support positive student engagement and behavior. Furthermore, communicating with students, using open questioning discussion techniques, and engaging students, while being flexible and responsive are also main benefits of practicing mindfulness that address the instruction domain. Lastly, mindfulness can help support authentic reflection and overall professionalism covering the professional responsibilities domain.
Basic mindfulness suggestions and practice for pasting together the fractured nature of life within the classroom to address the basic 4 Danielson Evaluation Domains:
- Sit still for 60 seconds. Observe your feelings of uneasiness and wanting to move.
- You don’t have to sit still… Slow down and take your time. No need to rush through activities. Just pay closer attention to your actions by deliberately slowing down.
- Notice your breath. Pay attention to how it moves in and out. No need to alter or change it. Just observe.
- Try to notice your body position by observing sensations such as temperature, clothes, air moving, or sounds.
- Try to detach from your thoughts and emotions. Think about your thoughts. Notice what and how you are thinking.
- Do all the above without judgment. Just observe and notice.
If you must change your thoughts or emotions, replace them with compassion and gratitude. Send yourself and others forgiveness, happiness, and love… In doing so your fractured stressed life and classroom just might become more whole through noticing the interconnectedness of teaching and learning.
More details about commenting mindfulness to the four domains of the Danielson evaluation model coming soon.