Annual conference focuses on more effective teaching methods

North Texas principals, teachers, superintendents and school board members gathered at UNT Nov. 11 for the annual Education Leadership Conference hosted by the College of Education.

At this year's conference, educators learned how they can adjust their teaching methods to better benefit students. The conference featured speakers, research presentations, breakout groups and keynote speaker Yong Zhao, presidential chair and director of the Institute for Global and Online Education at the University of Oregon.

Several presenters touched on the need to improve student achievement through the development of educators, especially through the implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), groups of educators who regularly meet to share their knowledge and who work together to improve their teaching methods so they can help their students succeed.

Zhao suggested another way to improve student achievement: embracing and encouraging students' individuality and diversity.

Zhao said that although every person is born with unique, individual talents, not all talents are equally valued in society. Society values verbal, logic and some number skills, because those are the skills that are necessary for the traditional jobs in society, he said. According to Zhao, this is why education has been about instilling these standards in students – to prepare them to succeed in the work force.

However, Zhao said, due to advancements in technology and globalization, many of these "traditional jobs" students have been preparing for are now either outsourced or done by machines. Zhao said this change is not a disadvantage, but an opportunity to improve the way students are taught, allowing educators to tailor a new form of education to this era of innovation.

"We have come to a time where the traditional paradigm has stopped working," Zhao said. "(It is) a new time when all talents are valuable, but we are still working by old standards, 'fixing' students (to achieve the standard), depriving them of opportunities by making them do things they are not good at or passionate about."

Instead of following the traditional schooling that caters to the curriculum, Zhao said this new form of education should cater to students, allowing them to explore their passions and succeed in their own individual way. Zhao said not only will this help students become more engaged with their schooling, but it will also teach them how to develop their passions into something they can use in the work force.

"I think when I look at kids and I see what they can become, I'm seeing what they could make rather than the roles that they could fit in," said Mark Felts, a graduate student at UNT studying curriculum and instruction. "I think that applies directly to today's conference. I look at these students as defining their own success and path rather than 'which path do they fit in in traditional paradigms of education?'."

Zhao said implementing a broad and flexible curriculum allows students to have a voice to construct instead of merely comply so that they can discover and develop their passions. Zhao also encourages the new idea of "project-oriented learning," in which students learn about subjects by creating something useful or meaningful. He also advocates a disciplined process of creating drafts and reviewing them with students in order to improve their work instead of immediately telling them their work is wrong.

"Our children are the creators of future jobs," Zhao said in his keynote speech. "Your job as educators is to ensure that we capture students' interests and passions, and cultivate them so students can find value in themselves -- so they can create a future."

Conference attendee and educator Gypsy Mishoe, an instructional coach of advanced academics and gifted and talented students from Grapevine Colleyville ISD, said Zhao's message of embracing diversity in students is critical in today's modern classrooms.

"Diversity is something that should be celebrated," Mishoe said. "It is our key to providing opportunities for our kids. Focusing on remediation only can often rob students of those opportunities."