Holistic, Critical, Reconceptualism

Question: Based on your teaching/learning experiences and pedagogical philosophy, do you consider yourself to be a linear thinker, holistic teacher, Laissez-Faire advocate, critical theorist, traditionalist, empiricist, or reconceptualist? Why?

Response: As I think through my experiences with curriculum, including my time as a student – from kindergarten all the way through undergrad and now as a graduate student, my time as a classroom teacher, and my time working at the state department of education level, and district level in supporting and coaching teachers, I find that I do not land in a single place. Rather, I consider myself to be a blend of three of these theoretical approaches to the practice of curriculum. I am holistic in my approach to the classroom experience. I am a critical theorist in that I believe education is a pathway to continually disrupt the status quo. Finally, I am a reconceptualist as I believe this holistic and critical approach to curriculum should lead to the uncovering and ultimately dismantling of unequal power structures found within society.

As a secondary history and social studies teacher, my classroom motto has long been – Educating Tomorrow’s Citizen’s Today. I see my role as much more expansive than just conveying the relevant content and standards to my students. Early in my time in the classroom, I started to find value in focusing on critical thinking skills much more than just content. As I focused on these skills more and more I began to see them as the proper way to introduce the content. So rather than lecturing over an era in U.S. history or even discussing an event with my students, I started to ask them to use these skills to unpack the content. I would start the year focused on leading my students to ask better questions. All the other critical thinking skills we used would be based on the ability to ask good questions. Good questions are questions that are relevant, researchable, and defendable. These types of questions open up the inquiry process and demand the students use multiple other critical thinking skills as they search for the answers. I then ask students to present their answers in ways relatable to their future. Most students will not be writing essays in their future jobs. They will instead be creating videos or multi-modal presentations. I push my students to challenge themselves to grow in their creativity in how they present findings in my class. I do this because their future roles as active citizens in society supersede the standards.

As I take students along this process of learning content by developing their skills, I know we have to be willing to address the hard topics. This is made easier (and less politically dangerous in today’s climate) by focusing on student-driven inquiry. By teaching students to ask relevant, researchable, and defensible questions, the students drive the inquiry process. As this happens, my role changes from the holder of knowledge to be departed to the guide to find knowledge. This creates an atmosphere where students can explore the elephants in the room and tackle the big tough issues. Tackling these issues is necessary because critically addressing the hard things is required for society to continue to progress. The founding documents of America lay out a pathway for equality and liberty to be ever-expanding in our democratic republic society. For these freedoms and opportunities to continually expand, education has to be a, if not the primary, conduit for growth. Education becomes this conduit for growth as curriculum embraces ways of challenging the status quo. We can either choose to educate like Remus Lupin or Mad-Eye Moody (see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and prepare students to participate in this challenge of the status quo or we can stick our heads in the sand much like Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix) and see progress as the enemy.

Finally, I believe in curriculum being reconceptualist. I believe this because curriculum must lead students to use all of their critical thinking skills to address the hard and controversial things in order to change them. Further, I believe curriculum should not be rigid. Rather, it should be responsive and adaptive. The past two years in addition to my district-level roles, I have taught one, then two classes a day. In these courses, I have altered and lessened the workload for students immensely compared to when I was a full time classroom teacher. I have done this mostly due to the fact that the students in my classes now have just gone through an elongated global pandemic and their needs have changed. Since their needs have changed, my curricular approach needs to change accordingly.

Curriculum is complex. I do not believe it can be overly neatly packaged. It must be addressed in ways that best prepares students for life beyond their time in my classroom. This is why I approach curriculum from this three-pronged approach – holistically, critically, and reconceptually.