Why Should I Be A Flexible Teacher?
The Importance of Differentiation
"If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow."
~ Alfie Kohn
No two days are ever the same for a teacher. Interruptions and disruptions occur all the time. Because of this, it’s essential to have a flexible approach to teaching. This is imperative for your students, who depend on you to provide a sense of structure and leadership, despite the circumstances. It’s also important for your peace of mind.
Flexibility, often called differentiation, is important because of the need to respond to different learner abilities, requirements, and interests.
An important concept here though is the one of fairness. With the increase in student diversity and the expectation for differentiated instruction, issues surrounding fairness are more evident than ever. Educational professionals often experience intrapersonal conflicts around issues of fairness. Cultural, linguistic, and ability differences are factors that influence fairness in the classroom, as students may come from varied backgrounds and have differing abilities.
All of these put further demands on the teacher to ensure that he or she is flexible. And there are few demands greater than the requirements for teaching of the 4th Industrial Revolution in a post-COVID society.
The Importance of Flexibility in a Post-COVID Society
The demands on the educational system for the next two to three years may be summarized in the following few bullets:
- Teamwork. The education system which is now being designed for the industrial economy requires transformation, from a system based on facts and procedures to one that actively applies that knowledge to collaborative problem-solving.
- Integration and Holistic Approaches. There is a requirement to "merge" the curriculum (fewer silos, i.e. less focus on individual subjects by themselves) and to design learning experiences that will encourage learners to make things by collaboratively solving interesting real-world challenges.
- Flexibility. We will need to work with teachers, parents, lecturers, technologists, and employers to re-define what excellence is because in preparing children and workers for jobs that don’t exist yet, there is going to have to be far greater emphasis on flexibility, creativity, and teamwork in our education and skills system.
- Personal Development. Further education, vocational training, and opportunities for life-long learning will all need to be further invested in and in many cases revisited.
- Managerial and Leadership Qualities. Teachers are increasingly expected to become more expert in leadership and managerial roles.
In such an environment the demand for flexibility, fairness, and differentiation speaks for itself. But how does one go about it practically?
Becoming a Flexible Teacher: What does it imply?
In an ideal world, you would adapt your teaching style and method to the specific profile of each and every child. But with especially big classes this becomes impossible to do. Hence teachers have to try and adapt by taking into account the differentiated learning needs of children, whilst at the same time trying to be as integrative and holistic as possible. A difficult task.
The answer is to try and be as effective as possible. Effective teachers are great at being flexible, which means that they can balance several responsibilities at once and still make students feel good about themselves. Effectiveness develops as the teacher matures in her role and gains more experience with each new class and challenge.
With new teachers, many are trying to figure out how to do the job. As they become more experienced, they make improvements along the way. Teachers go through phases and the first stage is known as the survival level. Survival means that the teacher is usually (a) reacting to the class, (b) unorganized, (c) uninteresting, and (d) uninterested in learning new techniques.
The next level is mastery. This is when those new teachers have figured out how teaching works and know their material. They are experts in their field and can help students learn. They are more effective than the survival-based teachers.
The highest level of effectiveness is inspirational. To inspire is to teach. These teachers change student lives and leave a positive impression on their students. They have developed an intuitive approach to flexibility in their teaching, by being able to "read" the mood and abilities of their class at a glance. They do not use discipline but use management and understanding.
In such an environment having the flexibility to adapt to various children’s needs, is key. But what about flexibility within the early childcare centre itself, i.e. leadership and management within the specific creche or kindergarten?
Flexible Leadership and Early Childcare Institutions
There seems to be no single style of leadership that is suitable for all types of nursery, creche, kindergarten, or children's centre. The most successful early childhood leaders are those who create a "participative" culture and empower their staff to influence the process from the bottom up.
Effective and flexible leadership involves adopting different forms of leadership to provide different services and to achieve greater clarity of professional roles. For the principal, it is relatively easy to apply an approach of situational leadership to each and everyone of his or her staff.
But often even the best possible models of early childhood leadership are constrained by internal institutional factors and governmental or local authority regulations. This can lead to a great deal of frustration, especially when teachers are not equipped with the tools to address these challenges properly. The best approach here is to ensure that they receive management and leadership training. There is a good argument for embedding such training into the initial early childhood qualifications.
Having the maturity, flexibility, and understanding of different organisational and leadership models is key to making these centres operate optimally. There is therefore a need for greater application of models of leadership that are not hierarchical, that distribute responsibility and acknowledge the wide range of skills available in a multi-professional team. But it is also important to recognise that a level of maturity within the organisation has to be achieved before this can be effective.
Flexible, differentiated learning is a must for the modern, post-COVID early childcare institution. It is however not without its challenges. The key for principals is to shorten the path for their teachers from the survival to inspirational stages as quickly as possible. It is also necessary to, at an early stage already, ensure that teachers are equipped with the correct leadership and management tools.
Lastly, especially within the early childcare environment, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Teachers need to be sensitive to the challenges and requirements of differentiation and fairness in their daily interactions with children. Ongoing needs assessments of teachers’ skills and resultant additional vocational training needs to be the norm within the performance assessment environments in preschools.
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Public Health Image Library from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Stabile, C. Becoming an Effective Teacher: What does it Imply? The Center for Teaching and Learning. 2005.