Many of you who read my personal blog know that I became a teacher because of a specific event that “wounded” me as a young child. In trying to answer this week’s cooperative catalyst question, “How do we support students developing as efficacious self-directed, social learners and involve parents as partners in that journey?” I realized that what I do in the classroom is in direct response to that specific “wounding” incident and other things that happened to me as a kid–(like my parents’ reactions to my never-ending questions.)
You see, I question everything. My parents would have told you that if they were they still alive, but just ask my Superintendent or any principal I have ever worked for or with and I’d guess they’d ALL agree that I am a pain in the neck sometimes! I also think about things other people don’t, often. And, whatever I do in my classroom, I do because of who I am as a human being–so it really IS all about me. And, your classroom is really all about YOU–how it runs, how people treat one another, what they say, how things get done!
Because I was discriminated against as a child, I swore I would never treat children that way and so I work to empower the students who come to me–I try to honor their brains and their expertise, so I set things up so they can be independent and self-directed and NOT be put down. What I found in doing that, though, is that it gives ME a LOT of time during the day–time that I can use more efficaciously myself, to teach, to write a blog to remember my thoughts, to work with students individually or in small groups, to observe student behaviors, to question kids as they work, to think about better ways to set up the lesson, to write parent notes, to update a web page, etc.
I hate wasting time. I never collect papers or parent forms–I hand a small class list to a kid and ask them to do so and to mark off names as they do. When they are finished, I have a nice neat stack of papers and know exactly who hasn’t returned it–and the child feels empowered as a organizer of the classroom. When I ask kids to gather on the rug or at a central place, they have books they can look at until everyone gets there or short games they can play. For me, it really is about getting kids to take ownership of the room, the environment and the learning.
Music signals transitions–and the song is the length I want it to be, to give warning and allow cleanup time. It also calms the savage beast, so never would I use hard rock. . . (This is my favorite for primary grades, because they sing along!) And, yes, kids turn on the music–and turn it off.
We create the classroom rules together–and I DO believe schools have too many rules.
I create rituals in my classroom to minimize behavioral issues. As kids come in, for example, there are “do nows” to involve them (in upper grades) or immediate choices they can make (in primary grades.) I teach kids not to “tattle” so the other kid won’t feel bad. We work on I messages to clearly communicate feelings and understand other people’s point of view. I also teach them strategies so they learn to take care of their own intrapersonal issues.
- use an I message to tell them how you feel and ask them to stop
- you walk away if they continue to bother you.
- you ask for help from an adult if they follow you and continue to bother you.
Rarely does it get to # 3.)
I constantly model learning behaviors so I can refer back to those strategies later when appropriate. I encourage them to enjoy the act of learning so that they are engaged, and behavior issues are minimized. I give them personal choice and listen to their personal responses because I know they will be more engaged if they feel listened to–and they will even put up with some of the required test prep when I ask because they know most times they have choices.
OF COURSE kids can work together. They learn from one another, ask each other the questions they have (which gives me more uninterrupted time with whomever I am working) and they learn to listen carefully and watch, if they are in a group, to save themselves time and effort. I encourage sharing of strategies for making the work easier–it teaches the kids who don’t have models at home.
When a child does break a rule or do something silly, I never accuse–(well, hardly ever–we all have our bad days.) What I aspire to do though, is ask them to name their behavior. If a child names what they have done, it is the first step to owning that behavior. Therefore, when I see something I need to address, I typically ask, “What did you just do?” Or “What are you doing?” in a totally neutral tone. If a kid says “nothing,” I then say , “Listen to my voice–look at my face–do I sound mad? Do I look angry? I’m simply asking you to tell me what you did.” I sometimes even smile, depending on the infraction. (with little kids I’ll sometimes even say, “What do you expect me to do–throw you down on the floor and jump up and down on you and smash you flat as a pancake?” Then I really have those kids on my side, as they laugh or giggle!) So when the kid names the behavior or action, I then say, “and what should you have been doing?” The kid, by this time, is caught. When s/he names THAT preferred course of action, I simply say, “Okay, just checking to make sure you know what you’re supposed to be doing. Do you need my help or can you do it by yourself?” The kid usually says, “I can do it.” and I move on. Because there’s been no anger, no threat, no punishment, the kids generally acquiesce.
So since behavior is generally not an issue and kids feel empowered to help in the classroom, one way I work on self-direction is to give specific feedback about behaviors I see that “smart kids” do–and I use phrases like “I see Sally doing something smart kids do–she’s making sure all of her materials are out of the way before beginning her work.” Or, “Smart kids ask questions in classroom discussions when they need to so they can clarify their thinking–that’s what you’ve been doing all afternoon in today’s math lesson.” Pointing out specifically the behaviors that self-directed learners do gives kids the strategies they need to build more skills. We talk about high quality and if a student asks if s/he can do an alternative activity for a skill or process, I usually say, “Yes, as long as it is high quality.”
I set up structures for kids to get help–the “ask 3 before me” rule is one of my favorites. I honor student expertise this way as well–when kids DO come to me for help, I often ask them instead, “Who in here do you think could help you figure that out?” When kids ask me for help with simple tasks, I don’t hesitate to say, “you can figure that one out–try and if you still need me, come back.” I also encourage kids to help one another–it does nothing but build more connections and respect between them, generally.
I always make myself available for kids to ask for help, but I push them to work independently as much as they can. Kids learn that and appreciate the opportunity to show how smart they are. Them doing that gives me more time to work with individuals or small groups, or do my “teacher work”. That way I can get more kids to be successful, and then both kids and parents see me as a successful and effective teacher. AND, because kids know what is going on and clearly understand it, it means they go home and talk to their parents (little ones do, anyway) and then their parents have a better understanding of what we do in our classroom.
When students know routines, they move through them without me. When class communities have rituals, students honor those and they become more powerful. When students are empowered to help maintain and run the classroom, they have more ownership and do it more–thus I spend less time cleaning up after school. When I have fewer kids tattling and handling their own interpersonal issues, then I have more time to enjoy them, chat with them or do my work. When the structures reinforce independence, students feel honored and I feel pretty good watching them grow and learn.
Always thinking, always questioning,