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Teach by Learning

by Brian Thomas

Another long break.  I am getting into the habit of taking time away from my writing.  Actually, it's not that I am taking time away so much as I am exploring new terrains in my career as an educator.  In these past few months I have been busy making myself stretchy, at least that's what I like to call learning new things.

One of the reasons I chose Roland Barth's 'Learning By Heart' as the educator's book club choice is to illustrate that teachers must be learning all of the time.  Not just the taking classes kind of learning, which I am also doing, but also making certain that new pathways get built for learning.  No matter where an educator may be in his or her career, learning should always be a priority in our schools.

Certainly the students should be learning but teachers and administrators should be learning, too.  In fact, choosing a school for one's child should incorporate how well and how often does the prospective school learn.

Roland Barth discusses innovative teachers as leaders in schools where these folks must swim against the tide of recalcitrant colleagues or unremarkable administrators to wrest control of the learning environment.  It's true. Good schools learn.  Not just on teacher in-service days or even continuing education classes, but all the time.  Some schools have study groups where new and timely books that pertain to a given discipline can be read and discussed.  My school has formed a Master's Degree cohort with other educators in and out of my school to study curriculum and progressive education through a local university.  Still other schools offer competitive grants and stipends to teachers who demonstrate scholarship that can be brought back to the school.

Parents often ask me, 'What should I look for in a school for my children?' First of all, I always tell people that you have options.  Whether you are in a big city with magnet programs or a small town with a one-room schoolhouse, parents can do more to educate their children than schools ever could.

You don't necessarily have to home school your children to provide them with an excellent education.  One hint: It's still not about test scores.  If your child is curious and hungry for knowledge, feed that hunger with books, the Internet (parent approved sites), museums, guest speakers, a wilderness trip, a journey to the local newspaper, a letter to a favorite author, or whatever else comes your way that involves your child's interest.  Children by nature are curious.

Also, parents can promote learning in their children by turning off the television.  Let their brains soak up the information from an elder or grandparent instead.  Brain to brain contact works best in terms of learning new things.

Finally, see if your school community is a learning one.  Ask about your child's teacher and principal's interest in education.  Tap their passion. Feed it.  If they are interested in the old Negro League Baseball teams, read up about it and talk to them.  If your principal understands the principles of John Dewey and Maria Montessori, study their teachings and have a discussion about how those educators are visible in your community.  The education and interests of the adults in your school probably impacts your child's education in some way.  Support the learning community by being a big part of it.  Make education a dialogue instead of a monologue with words written by Washington bureaucrats.  

Finally, learn something useful every day. Subscribe to an on-line word of the day -- Merriam-Webster has a great site devoted to giving people one word every day via e-mail.

Being a teacher, husband, parent, and writer has its drawbacks.  It means that I don't connect as often as I would like with the readers of 'In the Promiseland.'  However, I hope that my learning will payoff in the future because I'll have something to say to you.



**Born and raised in Harvey, Illinois, Brian Thomas earned a degree in American History and later became an actor. Brian had a recurring role during the second season of NBC's "A Different World, a spin-off from "The Cosby Show." He earned an Emmy Award in 1988 for his work on "Fast Break to Glory: The Du Sable Panthers." Currently, Brian lives with his wife, Jaime, and two children, Eian and Olivia, in Portland, Oregon where he is the Assistant Head of a prestigious prep school and founder of .

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