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Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Thinking Parent

Transitions in life provide the best opportunities for us to take stock and re-calibrate our goals and visions. I've recently had a few weeks to stop and re-assess the priorities in my life, and these moments have been priceless. 

One evening last week, I was seated in the library, waiting for my wife to get her hair done at the nearby salon. Our kids were at my in-laws' and it was one of the few rare occasions when I felt completely free. In my hands were a couple of good books and of course my trusty Macbook. After spending time reading and simply soaking in the atmosphere, my thoughts wandered to the importance of setting time aside just to think and to reflect. I begin thinking so much that I was inspired to post the following Facebook status update:

Teachers need more time to think rather than to rush around for endless meetings and other such pursuits. A thinking teacher makes all the difference for his or her students. Time to get mental rest; time to re-assess teaching strategies; time to consider the needs of individual students and how to provide them with the best learning experience. Having taught alongside some of the best teachers, there's so much for me to learn! Indeed a teacher will always be a lifelong learner!
Leading a group of tertiary students for a cultural visit to the Sea Dayaks
in Sarawak.
It all seemed crystal clear to me at that moment. Teachers teach because they want to provide the best possible learning experience for their students. Noted that there are some who simply push for academic success exclusively; however I believe that the majority of teachers still have a heart to make a difference in the lives of their students. That's the reason why teachers choose the education path - they have an intrinsic desire to influence others; just like their own teachers who had made a difference in their lives.

Working in the education sector and being involved with many young people, I can tell numerous stories where the actions of one teacher changed the path of a student, causing him or her to choose a totally different route, and influencing his or her destiny forever. Particularly touching were the stories told by the youths who were previously classified as "at-risk". Some of them shared how they were involved in gangs and other illegal activities, but decided to change their lives after the intervention of a teacher or a significant adult.

Teachers truly want to make a difference in the lives of their students. However, the busy education system does not always afford them the time to make critical changes that would help their students. That's why I suggested a "thinking time" for teachers, a time set in the curriculum specifically for teachers to reflect and recharge. This would allow time for self-care as well as for teachers to assess their current teaching strategies and modify them to suit the needs of individual students. Educational pedagogy refers to this as "differentiated instruction", where teachers not only adopt different teaching methods for different classes, but also do so within the same class according to the different learning needs within the class.

That said, it is not so easy to implement differentiated instruction. Lots of time needs to be taken to first identify the different learning needs of the students, and then choose the best teaching strategy to engage them. This especially in a classroom setting where the needs of the minority get subsumed by the demands of the majority.

That's why teachers need time to think.

If teachers run around from one classroom to another, attending endless meetings and other such pursuits, they would hardly find the time to fine-tine their teaching practices. Unfortunately, as reflected by a comment on my Facebook page, the management of many schools in Singapore is often result-oriented and a specific "thinking time" might not sit well if it does not generate direct academic results.

But that's all the more why such a "thinking time" is needed. I reflected that the school management would only be convinced if adequate research is conducted in this area. I even mused about a possible future book in this area titled "The Thinking Teacher".

However, in writing this blog article, I have realised that there is already a body of research arguing for teachers to take more time to think before entering the classroom. For instance, in 1994, a US-based National Education Commission on Time and Learning published a report calling for teachers to be given more professional time and opportunities to do their jobs. There are even guides to help teachers manage their "thinking time". One such guide, published in 2006 by educator Ben Shearon in Japan, can be found here.

As a parent who happens to be an educator, I am convinced that what is essential for teaching is also crucial for parenting.

Parents need time to think.

Oftentimes as parents, we rush by our day tending to the needs of our children without much rest. I shared how a typical day in our household is like in an earlier post here. On weekends our time can sometimes be more tiring as children demand for our attention for most of their waking day. We sometimes find ourselves getting into arguments about where we should go, or what we should do in order to occupy their time. And we often make decisions without much thought.
Drinking coffee has its advantages. Perhaps that's one reason why I
consider the beverage to be the "thinker's drink"...
During the past few weeks, I have re-discovered the importance of thinking. There are times when I drive my wife for her counselling work, and wait at a nearby coffee shop enjoying a meal of nasi lemak or chicken burger with a glass of iced coffee. I then take the time to read about parenting or education or any other issues that interest me. These are the times when I find that I learn the most about the subject-at-hand, and am able to immediately apply what I have learnt.

I have also been spending time to search for the "Quote of the Day" for this blog. In the process I have learnt much about parenting and education, and have tried to also apply some of these principles. For instance a recent quote from Mother Teresa discussed the importance of "love in action". Since then I have been thinking about how to show love to my children even in the midst of taking care of their daily needs. I realised that I have since been more intentionally attentive and also been thinking of more interesting ways to play with them.
Intentionally spending time with the boys in a way they
appreciate - such as going for long walks in the park...
Our elder son loves plays and we spend time out with him at the theatre.
Parents need time to think; a time to obtain mental rest, as well as to re-assess parenting strategies and how to show love to each child in the language that he or she is conversant with. (You may refer to this article for more on the 5 Love Languages of Children.) I truly believe that a thinking parent would result in a more secure child; one who is certain that he or she is loved; and someone who will then develop to the best of his or her ability, making a difference in the lives of those around.

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