Like a hearty wind that whips leaves up and around. Like the swirling air that carries the leaves across fields or rivers and then drops them scattered wherever they land. With time and the forces of nature, the leaves will remake themselves as they revitalize the soil and cultivate new life.

Good teaching is like the wind, creating magic that will change the course of the world. Teachers who lay down the scripted texts of their curriculum and think about what they want to teach, how they want to teach and what their students need, can create the winds of education that will carry their students forward and nurture the world with their own creative contributions.

Paolo Freire, a renowned educator from Brazil, wrote extensively about giving students “the freedom to learn.” He cautioned us against a “banking method” of education that created individuals who could spout back what was given to them, but who didn’t develop their creative abilities or critical thinking.

When a teacher walks into the classroom, he or she has a plan for instruction, but that plan must be flexible enough that it can be adapted at a moment’s notice. Students come in with their own energy, their own ideas and their own questions. These must be considered an important element of curriculum. Often it is special moments brought on by the students themselves that create the best teaching moments in any classroom.

A good teacher will blend the energy created by students into the master curriculum and abandon elements that do not fit. After all, what do students really take away from the classroom? Is it a list of facts and figures, or is it the moments of joy they experience when they discover something and attach it to their own lives? A good teacher knows that it is the life-changing moments when a light bulb of understanding occurs that make the difference in someone’s life, not the accumulated facts or figures of a textbook.

When teaching and learning are the most successful, there must be a coordinated event — one that does not presume the absence of teacher or learner, but rather combines them in a dance that is invigorating and exciting. It happens when teachers and students listen and communicate with each other so that dreams are legitimized and possibilities are unlimited. It happens when students find themselves part of the history, part of the discovery, part of the experiences of life and not just a passive observer.

It is a time when students are changed and enlightened. It prepares them for the thinking and challenges that lay ahead of them as they continue to mature and take responsibility for their lives, their children’s lives and the future of the world.

The best teaching happens with the unexpected, when a teacher or student suddenly breaks out into song, or poetry. It happens when a heartfelt exchange brings meaning to an element of the curriculum that seems to bear no relationship to real life. It happens when teachers and students share moments of spontaneity, joy and shared enlightenment. It is the sudden sleight of hand worked by a true magician that brings out the unexpected and leaves a lasting sense of wonderment that leads to a future of exploration and critical questioning of the world.

Alis Headlam, Ed.D., lives in Rutland.

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