In working with teachers, one of the frustrations I hear quite frequently is, "I want to teach my students to be more self-directed learners, but I feel like all they want me to do is tell them the answers." We know how that scenario goes. Due to time constraints, we then often end up doing exactly what we know NOT to do, which is answer the question for the student or give them so much support, we have done much more than we intended to do. As Charlotte Danielson (personal communication, 2012) says, "So, who's doing the learning? Not the student, right?"
Well, I must admit I struggle with this same scenario when teaching master's and doctoral level students. So many times, students (in most cases, teachers who are pursing their degree in Educational Leadership and who will ultimately and hopefully become administrators at some point) ask for help with assignment directions. If the written directions are truly unclear (as sometimes happens in online courses), I will be certain to give some helpful tips at the beginning of the work week in the form of an Announcement, something like, "Be sure to use the XYZ form to answer the essay question" or "Be certain to check the rubrics for this assignment as they have helpful hints for what you will want to include in your paper."
But in order for the directions and my helpful gems to work, the students actually have to read them. Every once in a while, I get an individual message from a student asking a question I literally have just answered in an Announcement. That is an easy one, in my opinion. I simply direct them to the Announcement section and say, "You'll find the answer there." If it is an APA guideline they are asking about, I might direct them to the Student Support Center which houses the APA guidelines (if they don't already have the APA manual, which is my right hand when writing or grading APA required papers).
In the same manner, when I teach face-to-face workshops, a participant will sometimes ask a question that I just answered, and that is an easy fix, as well, as I almost always have the directions that I just SAID also WRITTEN on a powerpoint slide. I will simply smile and point to the slide in every attempt to model what effective teachers do in their own classrooms.
I have the blessing and honor to observe good teachers in so many areas of the world. I watch how they handle questions from students in a way that allows the student to be a bit more self-directed than spoon-fed; methods such as:
1. See three before me ("ask up to three classmates before you come to me for the answer to a question")
2. Pose the question back to another student to clarify for the whole class (because what if someone else has the same question)
3. Challenge everyone to find the answer to the question in their text and be prepared to share it aloud in some type of creative protocol
But every once in a while, I have a student who simply does not want to do the work for themselves. They want me to give them a simpler task because they are going through honest-to-goodness trials and tribulations or perceived problems (that are likely everyday hiccups for the rest of the class). I have struggles with how to respond when a student who is taking a six-week course says, "I am balancing a lot of things right now and I don't really have time to interview a coworker" (or principal, or superintendent, or whatever the task is).
What I WANT to ask is "Why in the world did you sign up for a course when you knew it was THIS six week period and you KNEW you were going to be beginning a new job at the same time?" I believe if I asked that question, the honest answer would be, "I was hoping you would go easy on me." No way! Being an educator and being a school leader is hard work, and I truly believe if I don't prepare my students to become the best they can be without being coddled, I have failed at my job.
So...I got an email asking something to the effect of, "How am I supposed to find a lesson plan when I am taking a week off of work?" Ummmm....email someone? call someone? find a lesson plan on that elusive thing called the internet? You're in education. I'm guessing you know someone. But no. I'm guessing she wanted me to give her an alternative assignment or feed her a lesson plan myself. Instead, I prayed. Hard. Really hard. Then I composed an email that came from God, definitely not from evil Shelly the professor who is frustrated with senses of entitlement. The email gave her the suggestion:
"Consider that a teacher who you were coaching told you she couldn't come up with any creative lesson plans. What would you suggest for her to do? "
The next day, she posted a really great lesson plan (and the assignment that went with it) that she had gotten off the internet. She even said, "I found so many great ones, it was hard to choose from them!"
And the angels sang, and the chorus shouted "Amen!"
What happened? Two things: I didn't write a snarky email and I didn't give in and spoon-feed her.
What are some ways in which you help your own students, co-workers, teachers, spouses, children become self-directed?
I'd love to hear some ideas from you!!