Understanding and the How


When the faculty reconvened in mid-August, I opened the year recounting one of the most pivotal moments in my teaching career – when Coreen Hester, then Head of School at the Hamlin School, asked me, and all of the faculty, to focus on understanding. Not knowledge, understanding. I told the MTS faculty that shifting the goal of my teaching to understanding brought new life and focus to my teaching. My pedagogy – how I taught and assessed – became more engaging. My curriculum – what I taught – grew deeper.

During that first meeting, each teacher shared a photograph of something they deeply understand and discussed with their colleagues three qualities of understanding. Through the conversation, we saw that when we deeply understand things we:

  1. Enjoy the process more than the product. In my own example, rock climbing, I love selecting the route we are going to climb. Gearing up. Placing gear. Building a beautiful anchor. Climbing with grace rather than force. I enjoy how I get to the top more than being at the top.

  2. Arrive at understanding through time, trial and error, and varied instruction – a long process. My understanding of climbing is the result of a NOLS course, instruction books, and climbing. A lot of climbing. Through college and the few years after college, I climbed different types of climbs of different levels of difficulty on different types of rock. Falling, as scary as it was, and getting “off route” and having to recover was also integral to my understanding. Robin, my frequent climbing partner, could tell you that there were tears involved in my understanding of how to climb.

  3. Demonstrate understanding in numerous ways. For example, I could pass a written test on climbing. I could outline a YouTube video series on how to climb and make an instructional video. I could teach someone else to climb. This year the faculty is working together on project based learning, as well as formative assessment – two topics closely linked to valuing and refining the how of learning.

It is my hope that as the shift to understanding brought new passion to my teaching, our collective focus on process – How Matters – will similarly inspire the teaching and learning that occurs each day at MTS.

Read on to hear how faculty member, Jennifer Adams, describes her learning process experience while taking up banjo playing. And, stay tuned for additional faculty process stories in our News blog & social media.

Learning to play the banjo has been a fun and challenging endeavor. It has also given me great insight into and empathy for my students who arrive at school every day ready to learn and practice new concepts and ideas. I know how they feel! Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s hard. I have a better understanding of those moments when students are frustrated and feeling like they will never understand how to factor a polynomial or find the volume of a trapezoidal prism. I can say to them with confidence, “Don’t give up! You can do this!” Persisting and persevering through challenges grows your brain, and there is joy in the accomplishment. At least that is how I feel now that I can jam on my banjo.
— Jen Adams, MTS Math Teacher