Are You Ready to Be Relevant, Or Will Natural Selection Happen to You?


In 1859, Charles Darwin advanced his theory of natural selection. It states that for a species to survive, production of variations in traits needs to occur throughout generations. Though he formed his theory while observing animal species on an island chain over 150 years ago, Charles Darwin could have just as easily been talking about teachers today. As such, there are certain characteristics of effective teaching that lead to an extra survival probability in the classroom. After reading the following six traits, ask yourself, are you primed to remain relevant, or a potential victim of educator evolution?

Pursuing professional development is not an exception, it’s the rule. Blogs, Twitter, wikis, podcasts, Edcamps, and other social-learning activities are not simply add-ons, but complements to what thriving teachers and principals do. In the 21st century, best practices are being crowd-sourced and largely found online. Whether or not you have time to log on isn’t a relevant concern anymore. It’s an expectation.

Collaborating with colleagues is a fundamental extension of a willingness to grow. About as obsolete as classroom desks are classroom doors. Successful educators are engaging in rich and meaningful discussion with professional learning communities on a regular, if not daily, basis. Contrary to using their prep time for photocopying or updating grades, collaborative colleagues analyze student data and create differentiated instruction to meet individual learners’ needs so that every student has an equal opportunity to grow, succeed, and achieve.

Creating context in the classroom isn’t explaining when math students are ever going to use the quadratic formula beyond Algebra. It is students engaging in work that actually matters. Teaching content standards is important, but learning in a meaningful context is essential. To survive as a teacher today, ensure that your students are too busy asking how they can demonstrate their learning to be asking how much work they actually have to do.

Sharing student work on social platforms follows from adding context to the curriculum. Instead of asking students to turn their work in, require them to publish it online. Why else would we spend our time working on a project if we weren’t going to share what we did with the world? In addition to creating an authentic audience to motivate quality engagement with learning, having students publish their polished projects on the Internet is assisting them in establishing a positive digital footprint long before they will ever wish they had one.

Offering autonomous learning paths is also a practice whose time has come. School is the only place where we are expected to leave our personal pursuits at the door. Apparently, they aren’t valuable enough to budget classroom time for. Not anymore! Allowing students to design self-directed learning projects isn’t en vogue. It’s encouraged by neuroscience. Whether that is time carved out of the day for Genius Hour or a pedagogical approach through quest-based learning, it is imperative that we empower our students by acknowledging that what drives them is at least as important as what drives the curriculum.

Building bridges beyond the blackboard through connecting with other classrooms, experts, and cultures can not only transform your teaching but take instruction to new heights. No longer do you need a school-bus, permission slips, and a cooler full of sack lunches to leave the classroom for the day to explore the greater world. With an Internet connection and a webcam, endless opportunities abound. Software such as Skype, Google Earth, Adobe Connect, and Ustream, along with social networks including Twitter, Google+, and Instagram provide a number of avenues to exit the classroom for an academic journey that will move students to higher order levels of thinking. By designing virtual field trips, video conferences, live streamed productions, and more, your classroom can be as large as you allow it to be.

It’s not sexual selection, but it’s just as important; adopting characteristics of effective teaching leads to survival of the fittest in education. Failure to evolve most likely won’t cost you your job. Much worse, it will cost you your students as they disengage and daydream about getting back to real life, real meaning, and really anything other than what you have to offer. So, are you willing to steer your own HMS Beagle or let natural selection happen to you?

Dave Guymon

Dave Guymon is a public online middle school teacher, edtech blogger, and the author of If You Can’t Fail, It Doesn’t Count.

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