This post originally appeared on the blog The Write Stuff.
When I first started teaching, my vision of being a teacher involved me being the center of the classroom. The children would look to me to provide them with the lessons they needed to succeed and move forward to the next grade. There was always time to get to know the students but what was more important then, was that they make friends; I had curriculum to teach. I had all the information and I would share that with my students in very organized and efficient lessons to ensure maximum understanding. I knew that to keep their attention, I had to add some element of “drama” or curiosity to the lesson. I was in charge of that and my classroom management depended on it. I had high expectations of my students and they always rose to the challenge. That’s a good thing, right? Growth mindset was important for my students. Little did I know, it was also important for me.
I may be the teacher but that doesn’t mean I know every little idiosyncrasy of my students and how each one learns best. Only they can really know but it may not be something that they can express. Learning, socializing and growing in self, requires deep reflection. It requires an environment which encourages safe and developmental learning. Using the curriculum content as a vehicle, I started planning units of learning WITH my students.
I also started to think about all those things we as teachers do because “That’s the way it always has been done” or this is what is coming so you better jump on the wagon. For example:
Learning is always done with a pencil and paper.
Evidence of learning must be captured with a test.
We go to the gym to get exercise. In a big school, we get gym once a week for 30 minutes.
Learning should be done at a desk.
Recess is when you have a snack.
If the class is quiet, learning is happening.
Technology is here to stay and we should be replacing our activities with technological versions.
I started changing my own learning and learning more about how students learn; especially in these new times.
The gradual release of responsibility model worked nicely to help scaffold my students’ learning in a facilitation model without directing them too much if they didn’t need it. Now I taught less teacher directed lessons, and provided students with more mini lessons in a coaching model and then set them off to construct their own learning and understanding of the concepts. This freed me up to check in on them more often and do a bit of formative assessment so I knew where I was going next. I didn’t need a test to tell me that.
I changed my seating around to accommodate all kinds of learners. My students always wanted to go out into the hallway to sit and work. When I would go and see their learning (half expecting them to be fooling around), I would see collaboration and lots of comfort in learning. Being able to sit in the hallways was a “treat” for responsible learners. So I started bringing that seating into the classroom. I always had a small love seat and some bean bag chairs but I started using tables rather than desks and allowed more freedom in where they chose to sit as long as they were engaged. I realized that dynamic teaching is great but it is not necessary to be “on stage” for a great length of time in order for students to be learning. Much of their learning is done with shorter lessons, interesting topics and lots of choice.
My students talked a lot. “What a chatty bunch” and “My class talks so much” are things I often hear and certainly would describe many of my classes. Yes, I surely had THOSE classes and it’s tough. I started to utilize their need to talk by teaching communication skills and collaborative and cooperative learning. This really helped my students to have a focus for their discussions.
As I began to change things, I noticed that my wiggly students were getting a little less wiggly. I knew that having gym only once or twice a week was not enough so I began taking breaks in class and going outside for some exercise more regularly. What a difference! Luckily in my school district, daily physical education was implemented so it became a requirement. Luckily, also, #GoNoodle was also created, giving teachers and students a nice outlet within the classroom for those “in” days. (It was one way to use technology too.) I noticed that with the new, more open-ended seating that I had created, I didn’t need to offer up those “wiggle” cushions that I used to provide. I liked that students were learning to make good decisions in their seating choices based on what they knew about themselves. They didn’t need me to tell them and they didn’t need some THING to help them. They needed to be able to move where they felt comfortable.
After a while, I noticed that kids were with being silly or losing interest in their work very early in the morning. I started paying attention to students and whether they might be hungry. Some students, sadly, were arriving to school without eating breakfast. While you might think that left them with no energy, often it did the opposite AND they were grumpy! You know that saying about being “hangry”? So what started out as me and sometimes the school providing snacks for a few students turned into me asking myself – maybe more children would like to have a snack while they work? Why is it that students are “not allowed” to eat until recess? I’m sure many of you have students wanting to eat their sandwiches at recess time. Why was I as their teacher, restricting them from eating a snack if they were hungry? Part of it was that was how it has always been done, and part of it was that I wasn’t sure if they could eat and work at the same time. I decided to try it out and in conjunction with a unit on nutrition, I introduced the healthy snack morning. After being in school for an hour or so, I tell students they can have a “healthy” snack of fruits or vegetables. It’s something that they can eat while working. Voila! What a difference. Students started chomping on apple slices and carrots and working like busy bees. If we increase their exercise, they are going to be hungrier. Many students took another snack out 45 minutes later for recess. Students wanting to eat all of their lunch at recess stopped.
So you see, as educators, we need to take a step back and notice. Times are changing. Kids are changing. We need to change too to accommodate all learners and new ways of learning. You can’t promote a growth mindset in your classroom when you direct all the learning instead of having kids construct and personalize their own learning. You can’t expect kids to be fully engaged when they are sitting in desks and listening to long lessons just like you can’t change your classroom to flexible seating effectively without changing the method by which children will be learning. It all works together. It all works if YOU have a teaching growth mindset.
My technology use began to change to realizing I needed to use it for a purpose. I realized that I really didn’t need to try to “keep up” with all the latest and greatest apps. It was so overwhelming. I realized that technology is there to serve a purpose. It needs to be embedded into our teaching and not become just a “thing”. I got myself a document camera several years ago and started using that to not only demonstrate teaching but to have students come up and show others their learning and explain their thinking. One school I was at had a microphone system for teachers so that they didn’t lose their voice. Since there were two microphones, I started using that to allow my students to share their writing aloud. It was great for students to learn more about effective communication and speaking skills. I ended up buying an inexpensive one for myself when I moved to a new school. I found websites that allowed me to bookmark great learning sites for quick future reference. I developed my own set of skills and familiarity and then I began using iPads with the students. We used the iPads to research for our project based learning and Genius Hour projects and to support learners with reading and ELL learning. Technology supplements our learning, it isn’t separate.
So back to the beginning of my teaching journey when I knew that kids should be making friends in school but that my job was to teach content. This is the way school was designed when I started. After many years teaching and lots of the changes that I began to make, there was a new shift in my thinking. I realized that teaching the whole child was much more important than content. I began to introduce mindfulness and character development into my classroom along with the other changes. This was a magical way of putting it all together for the whole child. There seemed to be a whole new mutual respect between the students and I and the students and each other.
While others look at and research The Evolution of Education, I notice and reflect upon The Evolution of MY Education. I grow each day in my learning with students and I help other teachers do the same. I feel proud to say I am a public school teacher and I include and teach all students. The only thing these days is that sometimes, the students teach me more than I teach them. That’s a good thing, right?