Let go of titles?

What’s in a name? Why do we still use Mr., Mrs., and Ms. in Education?

Over the holiday break I started thinking about why educational institutions require learners to call their teachers Mrs., or Miss, or Mr. or Ms.? (or any other abbreviated title before a last name). What does this action mean and why do we require titles in school contexts, instead of our given first names? When I hang out with acquaintances, they call me Alison. Those close to me such as family members and friends call me Ali. I don’t expect them to address me as “Mrs. Turner” over a cup of coffee while sitting on my couch. Just as much as I am sure you don’t address your friends or circle of colleagues by Mr., or Mrs. or Miss. Why do we use such titles in Education today for learners to address educators?

Where did abbreviations of Mr. and Mrs. originate from in history? From what I could find, the word mister stems from the Latin word magister; meaning “master” or “teacher” then translated into Old English maegister or Old French maister or magis (more) which translates into master. The original use of the word is “more” to imply status of “more important”. Sometime in the 17th Century, the title Mistress shifted into Mrs. Often, people addressed those perceived socially higher than them as “Master” or “Mr.” (Or arguable were legally and unethically forced to address people this way.) This was based on social class systems as well as racial levels of social hierarchy. Yet, today we still use Mr. and Mrs. A concept worth thinking about.

Another area regarding acronyms I find interesting is why women are given titles based on marital status. Women are often addressed using Mrs., Miss, or Ms., yet men on the other hand are usually Mr. One could argue this relates back to the hierarchy of men being the ones in power of estates, people and the term “master”. Why don’t men state in their acronym if they are married or not? In today’s context, do we need to address someone based on marital status at all? Why does a learner need to know if a teacher is married or not? Does being married somehow change capabilities for educators? Does it define our identities? Another concept worth thinking about.

So what does the use of titles mean in the 21st Century context?

I’ve heard people state using titles is a sign of respect. I have to ask then, why do teachers not address learners with Mr. or Miss? Do we not owe learners respect equally in return? Learners are human beings deserving of our appreciation and entrusted in our care. If acronyms are an affirmation of respect, does this mean another human being calling me by my first name implies they don’t respect me? Hmm. How many learners in the history of Education have experienced moments of being disrespectful while at the same time calling their teacher Mr. or Mrs.? I don’t see titles as a magic badge of respect or a way to eliminate a negative behaviour. Respect is nurtured by relationship development. Respect should be expected as part of a school culture every single day from every single person.

If we are truly aiming for inclusive learning environments in Education with the belief of honouring and accepting every single human being for who they are, do we still need titles? What about gaining respect from learners through mutually earned relationship building and school culture? I feel an inclusive learning environment is attending to the needs, differences and talents of every single human being in our buildings, online and in any social interaction connected to school. Human variances should be celebrated, shared, respected, validated and accepted. I see inclusion as embracing all ethnicities, physical appearances, gender, race, religion, socio-economic backgrounds, family history, talents, struggles, and all the fantastically idiosyncratic uniqueness’s which make us human.

Are titles a tradition and we simply continue on never questioning the action? I know considering how addressing someone might seem minuscule in the spectrum of Educational ideas and I am not arguing everyone must immediately stop calling an instructor Mrs.D. or Mr.W. I am simply curious why we do some of the things we do without taking a moment to really reflect on the meaning or purpose. A learner wanting to engage in conversation with me by addressing me as Alison instead of Mrs. Turner…well, that is 100% all right with me. Alison is my name, after all.

What are your thoughts on titles in Education? Do we really need them anymore?


Living a Responsive Curriculum

My son Jacklayinginthegrass and I set off on one of our many adventure walks, taking advantage of the quickly diminishing summer days. Suddenly, Jack veered from the footpath, ran to a patch of lush green grass, and laid down with a giant grin. He yelled, “momma, come lay on the grass with me!” I couldn’t help but laugh with the energy of his spontaneity and quickly joined him. I looked up at the perfectly blue October sky, felt the soft grass tickle my skin and I smiled at the simplicity of our shared moment. My son is only three and yet emits such a wonderful wisdom on the art of enjoying life, of feeling life and of living every moment.

When approaching my second toolkit challenge, for my “Designing Inclusive Learning Environments” grad class, I felt it was necessary to discuss the concept of supporting an inclusive learning environment through a responsive curriculum. I wrote a post recently titled Learning to “leave” the classroom : Differentiating School Programming, discussing how I see Education should provide students with multiple pathways to learn and ultimately choice in their learning continuum. And in order to support multiple learning pathways, teachers need to connect curriculum in a responsive way to the students.

Why a responsive curriculum?

If I acknowledge and firmly believe that every student who enters a classroom arrives with their own past experiences, knowledge about the world, interests and curiosities, and varying areas of understanding, in order to best differentiate for them I need to facilitate the curriculum to meet their individual learning needs. Doing so honours each student as an individual human being. Not trying to fit human beings into a curriculum. I am teaching students before me today. Not students from last year, five years ago, or students in the future. So then the challenge lies in how do I create a Responsive Curriculum for my students?

Imagine going to see a physician for a leg pain, and then arriving and the doctor already has a prescription in hand before even knowing asking you about your experience in the first place. How often have I planned a Unit, or a lesson plan or thought I had a great inquiry challenge for my students, but had first started with looking at the curriculum. Then later wondered why the students just weren’t hooked? I assumed I should start with the curriculum and then adapt it to meet my learners. Teachers are here to teach the curriculum, right? However, I had it backwards. Instead, I should be asking: how do I help foster a learning experience where the students inform the choices that develop the curriculum of the year?

Because ultimately I need to honor the learner and where they currently are in life’s continuum.

So when does the curriculum come into play? 

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Learning to like online learning…

I have never taken a completely online course before. So when I enrolled in “Universal Learning Environments in the 21st Century”, a Graduate certificate program, connecting Rocky View Division employees and the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education, I was open to the unexpected. My online cohort consists of a dynamic group of Rocky View employees with varying backgrounds that range from psychology, Learning Specialists, administration, teachers, and Learning Support teachers, to name a few. My current course is titled, “Designing Inclusive Learning Environments”. We have a total of three online meeting discussion times scheduled, where we all meet online to converse about different topics and share ideas. The rest of the time, we are given a weekly challenge and required research readings to discuss and debate with each other through postings. Almost a month in, I feel this online learning experience has shown me a new perspective on Education.

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