Pedro Noguera, University of Southern California Dean for the School of Education, is interviewed by Edthena founder Adam Geller for the professional development blog PLTogether. In this part 4 of this 4-part interview series, Pedro discusses the importance of teacher collaboration and shared professional visions amongst teachers.

Here is the transcript for this interview:

– Welcome to PL Together Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller. Today, we’re talking with Pedro Noguera, he’s the Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education, and he was also at one point a teacher himself. Pedro, thanks so much for joining us.

– I want to talk to you a little bit about the experience of being a teacher. But also I guess that kind of day to day of a teacher in terms of this concept that you often talk about which is the power of a teacher. what do you mean when you say teachers have a lot of power?

– Well, I think that teachers have the ability to use their classroom and use their time with their students to both build relationships and help kids to imagine possibilities that previously seemed beyond reach. So I’ll give an example, early in my teaching, I was teaching middle school at a social studies classroom in Providence Rhode Island, and I loved what I did and was really enjoying it. But I had one kid in my class who was really very difficult. And one day after class, I was standing in the hallway and I saw another teacher and he asked me, “how’s it going?” I said, “it’s great,” I said, “except I got this one kid “who was such a pain in my butt.” And he asked me, “which one?” I told him who it was. And he said, “Oh, that kid?” He said his mother’s boyfriend beats him up regularly. I said, “really?” He said, “yep, you could see the bruises on him.” And just hearing that hurt me because I had been not feeling very good about this kid, but now I realize, Oh, this kid is going through a lot more. which is probably the reason why he’s so difficult with me. Well, after that, I started really going out of my way to get to know him, find out about what his interests were. Got him to become my assistant in the classroom, helped me with distributing books. He had no idea why I had suddenly become so interested in him, but I realized that while I couldn’t change what was happening to him at home, I could change his experience when he was with me. And it made a huge difference for that student and our relationship. And I bring that up because I think very often teachers experience, we become, there’s so much that we don’t control that’s affecting our kids. But there’s a lot we do control, and it’s when we focus on the things we do control what’s it like when that student is with us? What’s their experience like in our classroom? Do they feel safe? Do they feel supported? when that happens, then education can be really powerful for kids.

– As a former middle school teacher, I’m just gonna give the like middle-school teacher solidary shout out here, which I’m sure all middle school educators will be feeling when they hear that you were a middle school teacher, not just a history teacher, a big difference. So, very helpful to hear about, I think if I were to summarize, the power of the relationships that you can build with students, I’m curious, is there also outside of that kind of interpersonal realm or emotional support realm. How do teachers have power when it comes to deciding what we’re gonna learn this year? There’s a whole world of problems out there. I could choose to try to ignore them, I could choose to try to engage with them, I could make them part of my lesson. So I guess, how does teacher power kind of surface in that question of what are teachers teaching?

– I think it’s very important for teachers to be clear about what’s most important in what they teach. Now hopefully, this is something they do not by themselves but with other teachers. And the reason why that’s important is because we want there to be a shared understanding of what’s most important. If we’re all teaching eighth-graders in his social studies let’s all get on the same page and make sure, what do we want our kids to get out, So they’ll be ready for the ninth grade? They should be able to write an essay, Should they be able to do research on their own? Should they be able to know what a primary source versus secondary source, whatever it is. We need to get clear about that because that’s how we ensure that education can be transformative for kids. Most of what kids learn in school they won’t forget. The only part we retain is the part that we continue to use. However, if we are good as teachers, what our kids get good at is they get good at learning. And that knowing how to learn, knowing how to process information, where to go when you don’t have the answer. If kids learn that while they’re with us then they will become better able to adapt to new material to changing situations, changing expectations. And they’ll be hopefully, as learners have much more control over their education.

– It’s a good reminder that you just gave about like the ephemeral value of the content that may be learned this year. I remember there was this moment where once I became an educator, it was so much more powerful for me, but I remember the shock that I had in high school asking my geometry teacher for some help. my past geometry teacher for help with some calculus, and his response was like, but I don’t remember any of that. which was like kind of mind-blowing to me as a student. But I think it’s really that real-world example of like even the math teacher in that moment could have remember the calculus. So, what are we teaching? We’re teaching how to be learners. There’s another thread I do want to call out that I kind of saw, I realized, when I asked the question originally about power I think in my mind was thinking about the power kind of in some ways, structure around this notion of the classroom. And I feel like really, even in both of the answers you gave, it was about the power derived from the community of educators sharing, certainly knowledge about their students, but also sharing a professional vision so that they were United in where they were all headed with their students, because it was almost like, one teacher with one, strong vision for one classroom, isn’t actually, it isn’t the way to derive power with, it’s not with students. But derive the power to shape what the learning is. It’s really that kind of collaboration across educators in a school community.

– Absolutely, I always say that the biggest obstacle to improving teaching is the isolation of teachers, because when teachers are working in isolation from each other, it means that the experiences and the expertise of our best teachers is not available to the other teachers. And so what we want to do is create the environment where teachers can work together, learn together, plan together so that they can grow together. And it makes teaching, it actually makes teaching a lot more fun too, ’cause otherwise who do you have to talk to about your teaching? Because chances are nobody else wants to hear it but your colleagues.

– Yeah. It’s so true. Well, Pedro, we need to take a break if you’re just joining us and want to hear the rest of this conversation, head to pltogether.org and Pedro thanks so much for joining us. We’ll be right back.

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