Thursday, September 29, 2016

4 Challenges for the New Year

As teachers are working tirelessly to set up their classrooms and prepare for a new group of students, a feeling of excitement and anticipation exists. This feeling, felt both by students and staff alike, creates a buzz on the first few days of school. When teachers begin to think about the classroom, the students, the curriculum, and the learning, I challenge them to think about ways they can continually grow and learn while providing students the opportunity to share their voice and their learning.

Challenge #1

On the first day of school, don’t go over any rules.

The vast majority of students are excited to come to school at the beginning of the year. They want to learn about you and their new classroom. Spend the first-day asking students about their passions and interests and telling them about yours. Ask students what they want to learn this year and what gets them excited and motivated to learn. Get to know their likes and dislikes. Provide a window into your life so students can begin to relate to you and build those trusting relationships.
I don’t want to downplay the importance of classroom rules and procedures; they are an extremely important aspect of the learning process. However, I simply challenge you not to cover these rules and expectations on the first day. Your goal should be to have your students leave your class on the first day more excited to return on the second day!

Challenge #2

Let students publicly share their learning.

Students are capable of amazing things. We are fortunate enough to see their learning, their thinking, their creativity, and their collaboration each and every day. But how do their parents, the community, and other students and teachers witness this learning? Often, student learning is not displayed in ways that leave the four walls of the classroom. With today’s technology tools, there are so many avenues for us to share their learning and flatten the walls of our classrooms and schools. Not only will sharing student learning allow others to see what is occurring in schools, but it will also provide an opportunity for authentic discussions and lessons on digital citizenship and appropriate ways to use social media.
Students can blog about their learning either individually or as a class. They can create podcasts to share testimonials and stories about their learning. Students can film, edit, and produce videos highlighting their learning or they can be social media leaders and share their learning through platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Voxer, and Periscope. Or, better yet, ask your students how they want to share their learning. Their answers might surprise you and allow you the opportunity to tap into their creative side.

Challenge #3

Call each family and share a positive comment by the end of the first week.

Teachers know that relationships matter. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” What better way to build relationships with students and their families than by starting to make deposits in their emotional bank accounts. By calling home the first week of school with a specific positive comment, you can make deposits into everyone’s bank account early on and begin to develop relationships that last throughout the school year.
All parents enjoy hearing positive comments about their children. All students enjoy knowing that their teacher noticed something that was extraordinary and exemplary. Make those phone calls home—I guarantee you will not regret sharing the good news with each and every family.

Challenge #4

Let students create their own spaces.

What comes to mind when thinking about companies like Google, Facebook, Disney, Garmin, Amazon, Netflix, or Starbucks? All of these companies are known for their innovation and creative spirit. Schools should be preparing students to enter the workforce and become a part of innovative and creative environments. So how can schools prepare students for these kinds of environments?
Look at the physical design of classrooms. Do students sit in desks in nice neat rows or groups? Do local fast food restaurants have more comfortable and innovative seating arrangements than our classrooms? How can we transform our learning spaces to inspire creativity and innovation? Being comfortable in changing the learning environment is the first step in creating effective spaces for students to thrive. Some of the most creative and innovative learning environments incorporate student choice, student voice, and student design.
For example, learning spaces could have tables at different heights. Some might require students to stand, some might require students to kneel, and some might require students to sit. Perhaps some tables have exercise balls to help students maintain their focus. The key to making these spaces work is that students have a choice as to where they learn.
Remember, learning spaces do not have to have the walls covered in premade posters bought at the local teacher supply store. Instead, they could have walls covered with student work and student-created anchor charts. Student voice, design, and choice should be prevalent in these learning spaces, and they should be warm and inviting.
Perhaps these four challenges will cause you to think, reflect, and potentially change your practices to allow for continuous growth and improvement while creating rich opportunities for student voice and choice to be incorporated in the learning process.

This blog was first published on the ASCD Inservice Website.

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