Everything looks good – like a lovely spread in some teacher’s catalog. Desks are clean, the floor is swept, the books are shelved perfectly in their bins. It’s no wonder that the beginning of the year is daunting to teachers. Let’s get real. As we move past the beautiful pictures of the pristine classroom setup to the already lived in look of a classroom where children do the work not the teacher. This is a year of reflection for us so we can elevate our work to new levels. We want to reflect on our practice and make room for student reflections in their day-to-day work. Ownership is essential and the buy in has to come from seven and eight year olds.
Student work begins with a value statement. Right now, this is the driving force that cements teacher expectations as defined by her students. It creates the world that we are going to be working in, living in – it is what makes the classroom hum. What is valued is what will drive classroom motivation to do the work. It’s about being invested in the challenging work that lays ahead of them. This is a shared understanding that empowers students’ voices to define a classroom culture for agentive learners.
This isn’t perfection – to quote Barb Golub “Every child needs everything everyday.” It is not about starting with the perfect goal; it’s about setting the mindset. Right now, our mission is to empower children to be reflective; and it begins with an expectation for setting goals. It’s not the goal – it’s the idea that children can reflect and respond to their own learning – even if it’s not necessarily the goal that would be selected for them. Embrace the mess, an emphasis on process means that the final product may not look like anything that was envisioned. Eventually goal setting will be taken to a different level, but for today goal setting remains focused on empowering their roles as learners and our getting to know who those learners are.
From chaos to cultivating purpose. Right now, we see kids sprawled across the floor reading with with partners laughing and discussing their books. How do we build the academic muscle without taking away the fun of reading? We redefine “fun” through inquiry – we perk their curiosity and set them free to ask questions and find answers. We encourage them to take a stance so that they have real purpose for their learning. This is the secret for building stamina. It’s so much more than a quantitative number of minutes; the real measure of stamina is in the qualitative work that is marked by focused motivated learning. The litmus test is when time is up and you hear the collective: “Awe! A few more minutes.”
It’s not just me, it’s also we: building a collaborative culture takes time. Right now, we are happy to see students sitting in groups listening to each other and maybe connecting ideas. Real collaboration comes in time, and is informed by the goals we will be setting together. Being prepared, informed, and motivated to collaborate around problem solving is a way to push their thinking as readers and writers. They do this, as they become collectively more aware of their own learning, and how their actions make them accountable to their groups.
Getting real doesn’t mean compromising. Right now – we can have our professional goals and hold onto our values and still get real. Let’s all make a promise not to be too hard on ourselves. Teaching is not easy – it’s not something that can be served up according to some script. It’s about building relationships, setting high expectations, and meeting students where they are – but most importantly taking them where they need to go next.