Great Teaching, American Indian Education, and Social Media

My first two blog posts had to do mostly with cultural burning, with the “eco-cultural restoration” and “history” sides of my interests.  Today I’ll zero in on my third area of interest, on education.  Eventually all three areas – education, history, and restoration — should interweave on this blog, since lighting fires on the land for cultural purposes is like lighting fires of inquiry in human minds.

During my K-12 classroom teaching days, my current work on the Lessons of Our California Land (LOCL) curriculum, my past work with the California History-Social Science Project, and my ongoing work with the California Postsecondary Education Commission’s Improving Teacher Quality Program, a question has often come up:

What is good, great, or “effective” teaching?

The California Standards for the Teaching Profession (2009) answers the question this way:

Effective teachers integrate the following: (1) ethical concern for children and society; (2) extensive subject matter competence; (3) thoughtfully selected pedagogical practices; and (4) a depth of knowledge about their students, including knowledge of child and adolescent development and learning; an understanding of their individual strengths, interests, and needs; and knowledge about their families and communities.

Regarding the last clause in these state-listed criteria, unfortunately, professional development programs for teachers almost never strive to help teachers deepen their “knowledge about [students’] families and communities.”  In my work with professional development programs for teachers, involving a total of about twenty universities and perhaps fifty school districts, I have only rarely – quite rarely – seen the leaders of the programs try to foster such knowledge.

If the subject at hand is American Indian culture and history, and if Native American students are present in the class, how can teachers meet the State of California’s standards by extending their subject matter competence and deepening their knowledge of the students’ communities?  I’ve provided suggestions for how to get started on the tasks in LOCL’s teacher resource materials (PDFs here and here), but the challenges for teachers who want to develop their knowledge of Indigenous culture and history and improve their teaching are considerable, especially for teachers in rural, isolated school sites.

Some of the best models for approaches to professional development in American Indian education may come, surprisingly enough, from the UK, where a movement is underway to facilitate connections, communications, and collaboration among teachers, subject matter specialists, and families using social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter.  Take a look at the policy paper “Tweeting for Teachers” (PDF), for instance, for examples of how educators are using social media to cross boundaries and work with each other and with the communities that host their teaching. Here in California, social media holds great potential for teachers, community members, and experts in Crescent City, Covelo, Highland, Hoopa, Julian, or Lakeport to exchange ideas with others in Oroville, Santa Ynez, Temecula, Tollhouse, or Winterhaven.  Great teaching – great American Indian education – could follow from these connections.

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