Is The Teacher At The Helm? Further Reflections On CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING

Over the years, I’ve read many educational resources, but few have made me stop and think as regularly as Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. This weekend, I finished reading Chapter 3 in Shanker’s book in preparation for our upcoming Book Club Meeting on May 5th. Chapter 3 focused on The Cognitive Domain, and while this chapter resulted in numerous notes and many a-ha moments for me, I think that I was left at the end with the biggest question of all: Does the “teacher” play the most powerful, pivotal role in a student’s success or failure?

I put the word, “teacher,” in quotation marks because I think that students can have many teachers at school – from classroom or prep coverage teachers to educational assistants to DECEs in the Full Day Kindergarten Classrooms – but I’m starting to wonder if all of them really are the keys to student success. Please don’t get me wrong: I always believed that teachers played a valuable role in student achievement, but now I’m thinking about the extent of this role.

Just like in the other chapters in Shanker’s book, this one is full of examples to highlight his main points. Here’s what I see from these examples:

  • When students are playing in the classroom, it’s up to the teacher to know when to intervene, when to stay back and watch, and how to interact with the students to help scaffold their learning, while also allowing them to self-regulate their behaviour. (pages 49-50)
  • We want students to persevere during difficult tasks, and we want to give them time to do so, but if they’re given too much time or if the challenge is too much, the students will go from engagement to disengagement. Teachers really need to know their learners to create an engaging environment that allows all of them to succeed. (pages 52-53)
  • Students with learning needs may need different strategies and/or different supports in place to meet with success. Teachers need to know about these student needs and strategies that can allow for increased self-regulation. (pages 54-55)
  • Teachers can play games in the classroom, such as Simon Says, to help increase attention. While these games can help students follow auditory directions, for further classroom learning, teachers also need to put into place options for students that cannot remember long lists of oral instructions (such as visuals or written cues). Small changes can lead to big success. (pages 58-59)
  • There’s definite value to DPA (Daily Physical Activity) in the classroom. Whether this is done through classroom obstacle courses, digital dance and movement activities, or even fun games, students can develop both self-regulation and listening skills. Again, teachers knowing their students and their needs (e.g., students that may become upset with “out” options and ways to work around these) will help make these activities successful ones. (pages 60-61)
  • Rules are important, but they can’t just be given to the students. Children need to take ownership over these rules, and that comes with co-creating them. The teacher acts as the facilitator in this important activity. (pages 63-64)
  • Teachers need to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students have always struggled, and teachers believe that they won’t succeed, then this will happen. Instead, teachers need to provide scaffolding and meaningful choices that will result in success. They need to get the parents involved, and teachers need the parents to also see this success. Working together is essential. (pages 65-68)

Looking back on these examples, I can’t help but focus on the role of the teacher. What we do and how we do it seems to be crucial for student success. Teaching is a HUGE responsibility — and a wonderful one — but how do we ensure that we meet the needs of all students? What do you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


4 thoughts on “Is The Teacher At The Helm? Further Reflections On CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING

  1. I totally agree with the statements made by Mr. Shankar. Meeting the needs (and I am not only talking about academic needs) of students is one of it greatest challenges. I think it is the truly skilled teachers who is in tune with his/her students. Noticing a student who just doesn’t seem to be have that smile she usually comes to school with, or the one who usually is afraid to ask for assistance even though he/she is struggling with a given activity. Knowing when to keep your mouth shut because a student could be on the verge of arriving at a unique path to a solution. Knowing who needs to take a walk down the hallway to release some bottled energy. Realizing that you are talking way too much and the students attention is definitely drifting. Making sure you have those manipulatives or visuals ready for that students gains understanding much more easily when new concepts are not taught in a visual way.
    I think it comes with knowing your students. I believe there are students in some classes who quietly do their work every day and are shy whose voices rarely get called upon. Those are the ones to watch for. I have taught some that I have been told by parents they have felt invisible by some teachers. Just taking the time each day to ask them how they are doing or inquiring about some activity in their life means to much to them. They have told me. While I look out for all my students, I really watch for those quiet ones. The squeaky wheels tend to get the grease in classroom while the ones who barely make a sound could be needed it even more.
    I have teaching is like conducting an orchestra. Every student is an instrument who needs to be fine tuned in their own special way. When we figure out what that is, we make beautiful music together.
    I offer this challenge to all readers of your blog Aviva. Write down the names of all your students on a lined piece of paper. Take a few moments to write something you know about each of these students. What are their interests? What would they love to share with you? Don’t forget to include their learning style. If you have some blanks on the paper, I suggest it’s time to do some tuning/learning about the members of your orchestra.
    I may have strayed a bit off your topic Aviva, but thanks for letting me get on my soapbox.

    • Thanks for the comment, Herman! I love your orchestra analogy, and absolutely agree with you too. I’m going to tweet out your challenge to others, and I hope that many try it out. What a great way to see if we all really know our students! I think that this activity really aligns with the ideas in Shanker’s book: while teachers may be at the helm in the classroom, it’s important to give the students choice/control over more of their learning. Knowing what interests them is a great place to start!


      • Thanks Aviva:

        My apologies for the typos. Sometimes I get so into writing that I don’t follow the advice I give my students to edit their work. I will work on that.
        Let me know how your tweet challenge goes as I don’t tweet. If I was giving a workshop, that’s probably the first thing I would have the teachers do.
        Have a great week and keep up the thought-provoking blogging.
        Have you ever given a thought to creating a reading list for teachers and one for junior students?

        • Thanks Herman! No worries about the typos. I so appreciate you sharing your thoughts, and I’m eager to see if others try your challenge. I know I will!

          I love your idea about a reading list as well. I never really considered doing one before, but maybe this will be a good new thing to try. Thanks for getting me thinking!


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