Here I Sit…Leading into Learning

May 24th, 2018 | Category: Columns, Here I sit
By Shirley Morgenthaler

We are all in the learning business. We are learners. Our students are learners. For many, it’s the teachers who report to us who are learners. The teachers taking our courses are learners. The researchers completing dissertations are learners. The dissertation committees are learners. We are all learners.

We might say that the ultimate target of learning is the child in the classroom. The freshman student in the library. The graduate student at her computer. The high-school students in the chemistry lab. The middle-school students on the theater stage.

And that makes us leaders of learning. If you teach preschool, you are a leader of their learning. If you teach doctoral students, you are a leader of their learning. If you have ever taken time to answer a question that a child asked about rockets or stars or weeds, you are the leader of his/her learning. Think about it. You are a leader of learning.

Kim Sekulich writes in this issue about leading learning at the graduate level of Concordia University Chicago. Her discussion of differentiated teaching and learning can apply to all readers who work in classrooms or in the classroom of the internet. At the same time, we can learn from the leaders among us—principals and superintendents and university professors—as they consider how to empower teachers as they teach and lead. Bob Wilhite and his team take us into servant leadership, an important strategy for classrooms and for life. That same topic is taken up by Helen Hammond and Kevin O’Mara. Helen’s discussion of teacher empowerment and servant leadership is a good segue into Kevin’s book review of Leading with Resolve and Mastery, one of several books by Bob Wilhite, Jeff Brierton, Dan Tomal, and Craig Schilling. These Concordia faculty members are contributing powerfully to the discussion of servant leadership and teacher empowerment.

Teacher empowerment can lead to deep learning, and it is our deep spiritual learning about which Concordia University Chicago President Daniel Gard writes in this issue. As we think about deep spiritual learning, we might also think about grit and about the qualities surrounding grit. Laura LaSalle and Don Borling add to our consideration of spiritual learning and grit.

Grit is a quality in wide discussion in the United States. But not all countries work under the same philosophy. Zuzana Gorleku, a new professor in Teaching, Learning, and Diversity (TLD), tells the story of her learning as a child in the former Czechoslovakia and highlights the differences she sees in her adopted country. Those differences include a commitment to differentiated instruction, to the learning possibilities for those less able, for an identification of styles of learning and languages of learning.  Simeon Stumme, also in TLD, introduces us to the new language of immigrants, from the German of the early decades of this institution to the Spanish of today. His work takes us to new levels of welcome for our first-generation college enrollees.

All children need an invitation to learning. That invitation is the welcome that encourages learning for all students. Lauren Wellen introduces an approach to teaching and learning that welcomes all students into the enterprise. Project-based teaching and learning make the classroom come alive with activity and with learning. Project-based learning provides both time and space for questions, for explorations, for possibilities, for theories. Michele Gnan adds to the project-based discussion by describing its use in early childhood classrooms. This approach also supports the values and affective education that George Guidera longs for so passionately.

Our discussion of classrooms and teaching would not be complete without a look at two important topics in education. Every issue of this journal includes a discussion of literacy in the classroom and of teaching the different learner. Kari Pawl takes us to the university classroom to discuss the provision of online learning that is dynamic and approachable for all students. She also introduces us to the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a teacher-planning model that is used in both our graduate and undergraduate teacher education and professional development. This UDL provides an outline for planning that includes the diverse or different learner, provides for formative assessment of learning, and emphasizes the essential question of a lesson to give students a map for their investigations and learning.

Andrea Dinero takes a look at the different learner through yet another lens. Her discussion of autism and its spectrum of what is different challenges all teachers to think about and look at the different in their classrooms to see the possibilities and resilience of those we have in the past regarded, as Zuzana pointed out in her article above, as difficult or even impossible. All children need the opportunity to learn. Our challenge is to provide opportunities to learn determination, to learn persistence, to learn grit. Only then will our classrooms provide opportunities for deep learning. From where I sit, it’s deep learning that matters. LEJ