Re-thinking “morning work”

How many adults wake up and start their day with a worksheet?

None that I know of.

Whether it is called “bell work” “morning work” or a “a daily warm up” lots of students begin their day by completing a worksheet, answering questions or a doing a pre-planned activity – all of which have been decided for them by the teacher.

Just check out Google or Pinterest to see all the different varieties:

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But how do people start their day in their ‘real world’?

I start my day by scrolling through my Twitter.

My husband starts his day by meditating.

My mother starts her day by doing a crossword puzzle.

My father starts his day by playing chess.

My best friend starts her day by working out.

My mother-in-law starts her day by reading.

My father-in-law starts his day checking sports scores.

All different. All valuable. All self-chosen.

Why can’t students start their school days like this? Why can’t students choose how they start their own school days? Perhaps if we allowed students to choose how to begin their school day we would not have to stand in the halls and count down from 10 and compel our students to enter the classroom. Perhaps they would want to enter because they are excited and happy to be at school and start their day. I know teachers have many administrative responsibilities at the beginning of the day like attendance and collecting field trip forms, so a 10 – 15 minute window of time is needed to ensure these responsibilities are met. But why are we dictating how students spend those first 10-15 minutes warming up to their day?

Next year I plan to have a discussion with my students about how humans start their days. I plan to share how my friends and family begin their days, and I hope my students will share how their friends and family begin their day. I hope we can use this to create a list of possibilities about how students might start their day and post it somewhere in our room. Then I plan to respect their freedom and choice over how they start their school day while I am competing my administrative responsibilities.

Imagine the learning that might happen….

Imagine the connections that might happen….

Imagine the skills that might be developed….

Imagine no longer needing to find, photocopy and mark “bell work”…

My plan for a more fair and free place to learn…

Yesterday I shared my thoughts and reflections about my own practice creating a democratic community in the classroom and I promised to share my plan for next year- once I had one. Well, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and as a result a plan has started to take shape, so here are my initial ideas, as promised!

Classroom Set-up

In the past I would spent the summer coming up with a blueprint for my classroom set-up and then during the week before students would arrive, I would spend countless hours setting it all up on my own. This year I plan to hold off on any classroom set-up until the first day of school. Once the students arrive and attendance has been taken, we can come together for the first time as a community and together decide how we want our learning space to be set-up. From there I am hoping we can break off into task-forces (classroom library, physical set-up, boards, resources and manipulates, school supplies etc.) where I can support students in coming up with a plan, putting that plan into action and then reflecting on how things went. I have to be prepared to let go, allow the process to unfold and resist the urge to jump in and rescue or veto. Overtime, I think the natural consequences of any design flaws will appear and as a community we can come back as a group and discuss what is working and what might need to change to better serve the needs of our learning community.

Systems and Routines

This will be the hardest for me. Every year that I have taught, I have started the year with a clearly laid of plan for every routine imaginable within the teaching day. This year, I plan to come up with these systems with my students. As a community, we can brainstorm all the times in the day it would be beneficial to have a routine, and then discuss what routines they might have used in other classes. From there we can discuss the pros and cons of different approaches and vote on the ones we want to try. I think it would be helpful at this point to document the why, how and what of each routine in a visible spot somewhere in the room – perhaps with some criteria for how we will know it is working, and clues for when we might need to revisit and refine our plans.

Community Building 

Obviously it is essential at the beginning of a new school year to build a sense of community and help students get to know each other. Similar to classroom set-up and classroom routines, this has been something I have spent hours in the summer planning – to the point that when I started a new school year, the first five day plans were fully filled out and ready to go! This fall I would like to develop this alongside my students. I plan to start with the why – and stimulate a discussion about why it is important to build relationships with the people in our community. From there we can dive into the question – how do humans build relationships? Hopefully this provides a long list of potential activities that we can use throughout the week to build a strong community.

Schedule

In the past I have always built our class schedule alone – without the input or ideas of my students. This year I’d like to try and build it with them. I have been given a schedule template (which accounts for all my specialist classes) but aside from those specified times I plan to leave the rest blank until the students arrive. When the students arrive I’d like to invite them to help build our class schedule. In order to make informed decisions, I think it would be important to first inquire into learning – how do people learn, why do people learn, how do other schools and classes schedule their learning. I also think at this point it would be important to be transparent about our limits and boundaries with regards to curriculum and programming. As an IB school that has adopted the Common Core, I think it is important for students to inquire into “what” they are supposed to learn and also “how” they are supposed to learn. Once students are familiar with what they are supposed to learn in Grade 4, how they are supposed to learn as IB students along with what options are out there for structuring a school day – then we can work together to design a schedule that meets our needs. Perhaps students will breakout into groups or work on their own to come up with a proposed schedule and then we can vote on which one, we as a community, like best.

Homework

In previous years as a classroom teacher I have decided what is for homework, why it is for homework and when it is for homework. When I started to think about going back in the classroom I decided that there would be no homework ever. Now that I think about that, I have realized that either way I am deciding something on the students behalf – which I would like to avoid. Instead of a blanket decision for the entire class one way or another, I have decided to open it up to a personal and family decision. Again, in order to make informed decisions I think it would be important to inquire into the different perspectives around homework (student, parent, teacher, administrator, research etc.) and share those discoveries with the parents community. From there each student, along with their parents, can decide if they want homework. Then, I can support the students who have opted for homework to come up with a personal plan – starting with why, then working out the how and what.

Conflict Resolution

When you force 24 humans to spend 5 days a week, 7 hours a day together in one room, conflict is bound to occur. And in the past when conflict has happened, I have been the judge, the jury, and the mediator. I have had a plan for how I would deal with conflicts in the classroom, but this year I want students to not only be part of the decision, but also part of the actual processes once they are decided. At first I was going to impose a model of “council meetings” like they have at Free School, shown in this documentary from minute 23-32. But then I realized making that decision on my own for them, was just as un-democratic. So instead I’d like to discuss as a class, how humans in the real world solve conflicts. I’m hoping this leads to discussion of strategies for small conflicts and also options for when people with unresolved conflicts look for extra support form the community (i.e.. mediators, councils, town halls, judiciary committees etc.). We can inquire into how humans solve conflict in the real world, then we can see how schools have adopted these practices and then finally decide as a community which one(s) we would like to have as options when conflicts arise.

Goal Setting 

Usually the week before school starts I am exhausted from setting up the classroom and planning the first week of school….but since I won’t be doing any of that this year without my students I am anticipating a lot of unused time on my hands. In thinking about building a democratic classroom community, it is not only important that students have a voice, but also that parents have a voice. So I think a great use of my free time would be to invite parents in to meet with me for a pre-school year conference. I would love to sit down with parents and ask them what their goals are for their child for the year and what they would like from me in order to support those goals. I would also love to ask them to tell me about their child’s needs, interests, skills and passions. I think this would be a really great to lay the foundation for a collaborative partnership with my students’ families and also a great way to show that their voice, knowledge, opinion and perspectives are not only welcome, but also valued.

Thinking in this way has been a huge challenge for me. I am still very inclined to come up with these plans on my own during the summer and I actually have to force myself to stop, but becoming aware of those tendencies has helped me see more clearly the power structures that have existed in my previous classrooms. I am really excited to take this new approach and I am hopeful that the time invested to have these conversations, conduct these inquires and democratically make these decisions will lead to a really powerful and productive learning community. I know as the school year gets underway, I will need to think about how to democratically approach things like curriculum, units, assessment and reporting… but for now, I am happy with my plan in these seven aforementioned areas. And, as always, I will report back and let you know how it goes!

How do you plan to establish a more democratic classroom this school year?

How do you plan to ensure your students’ voices are equal to yours?

Working with adults will make me more patient with children

As PYP Coordinator, I have worked with adult learners for two years and I have loved every minute of it. The amazing conversations we’ve had about teaching and learning have blown my educational-mind and have played a huge part in my decision to go back into the classroom.

I have to admit though, when I took the job as PYP Coordinator I had no idea what to expect! (To be honest I was a little intimidated to work with adults!) Now, after two years of working with adults I look back and value the strong relationships I’ve built and the great learning experience I have had!

However, there were some things that surprised me about adult learners – the very same things that used to frustrate me as a classroom teacher. I have started to wonder if  these similarities might have more to do with being a human, than being a child.

So here is my list of 10 things that I’ve noticed we do as adult-learners that will hopefully make me more patient when working with child-learners:

  1. We talk while someone is talking – I can’t recall one staff meeting or professional development session where side conversations weren’t going on while someone else was speaking.
  2. We forget to clean up after ourselves – After most 45-minute collaboration sessions or 3-hour unit planning sessions I find myself throwing out wrappers, left over food, empty water bottles, used tissues – not to mention putting communal pencils back in their cups and clearing away scrap papers.
  3. We opt to not participate – A few months ago we did a “Sentence, Phrase, Word” Visible Thinking Routine to help our staff unpack the IB’s expectations for Three-Way Conferences. We made a chart paper for each grade and subject team where each staff member could place their post-its with their sentence, phrase and word. It was interesting that many of posters had significantly fewer sentences, phrases and words than members of their team who were present.
  4. We forget to bring things – Sometimes a request is made to bring something specific to a staff meeting or collaborative planning session, for example a device, a PYP binder, day plans etc.. And sometimes people have shown up without them.
  5. We need more time – Many times tasks are planned to take one hour… one session… one afternoon to complete, but often certain teams and individuals need more time.
  6. We take a long time to wrap up a conversation – With our large staff of 125 adult-learners we raise our hand to re-collect everyone’s attention after a group discussion. Most times this takes at least 2 minutes of holding up my hand. It makes me think of all the times as a classroom teacher I counted down from 5 (from 5!) and expected my students to have wrapped up their conversation and re-focused their attention!
  7. We take a long time to transition – We try to have a lot of movement in our professional development sessions, where staff move from place to place and activity to activity. Even if the transition is something small like go post your post-it on the chart, we are often looking at transitions of 5 minutes plus and lots of invitations (and reminders) to head back to our seats.
  8. We don’t follow instructions – At the beginning of the year we did a Chalk Talk as a staff where we explained that during a Chalk Talk you communicate with others through your marker, not by using your voice… we lasted 45 seconds without talking to each other.
  9. We get “off task” – I’m not sure there has been one grade or subject collaborative planning session when teams are working on their PYP planners, where random tangents of conversations have not erupted – …. travel stories, new restaurant discoveries, tales of weird childhood injuries etc.
  10. We choose to work with our friends – As much as possible we try to mix and mingle our very large staff in a variety of ways – instructions to sit with people you don’t know, turn and share with someone who is not on your team, name cards on tables – and yet somehow, the majority of the time,  friends end up sitting with and working with friends.

I’m not saying as adult learners we are bad or misbehaving. Quite the opposite! I’m saying that if  we as grown-up, responsible, mature, professionals do all of these things… how can we possibly get upset at children for doing them? As I head back into the classroom next year, I hope that when I am faced with children who take a long time to wrap up their conversation, forget to bring their device, talk while someone is talking or don’t follow instructions that I treat them with the same level of patience, respect and dignity that I would treat a group of adults in that same situation.

Ask yourself…

Have you ever whispered to a friend during a staff meeting?

Have you ever left behind a pencil, water bottle, coffee mug?

Have you ever showed up to PD without a device or writing utensil?

Have you ever had a quick conversation with a friend on the way back to your seat?

Have you ever sat beside or worked with one of your friends?

I know I have…

A Half Day of Personalized Professional Learning

Last week I shared our journey towards a half day of personalized professional learning for our Elementary staff. This week it happened… and it was AMAZING!

Here is how it went:

Sunday we sent out an email with some expectations and information for the upcoming half day of professional development learning. The information included a schedule, a reminder to bring a device and a copy of the “learning menu” for the day. We built the menu based on the input we collected the week before from their learning preferences forms.

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We also attached brief descriptions for each of the options in the learning and action blocks, as well as options for sharing throughout the day. This gave everyone a few days to think about how they wanted to spend their afternoon of learning.

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Tuesday students were dismissed at 11:00 and we were gathered in our multipurpose room ready to go at 11:45.

Connections

We intentionally seated our very large staff in mixed groupings to help build our learning community and allow for some personal connections to be made before we jumped into the learning. We used the chocolate bar activity from this post, where everyone select a chocolate bar or piece of candy that they felt represents them and shared their reasoning with their colleagues at the table. This was a great ice breaker as the room immediately erupted into chatter and laughter!

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Today at a glance

Then we took some time to go over the schedule and format of the half day to ensure that we were all on the same page. We also took this time to ensure that everyone’s learning focus for the afternoon was tied together with the common thread of improving student learning.

Options for sharing

Our leadership team felt very strongly that we could trust our staff as professional to drive their own learning and there was no need for an external measure of accountability. We also felt that the true accountability was to one another and the learning community in general, so we wanted to build a variety of ways to allow and encourage everyone to share their learning with each other throughout the day. So we introduced three options for sharing; our shared blog, a back channel using Today’sMeet or through Twitter using our hashtag for the day #AISQ8PPL .

Essential Agreements

We wanted to ensure that all 125 Elementary staff members had a shared understanding of what was needed in order to make this day a truly successful day of learning. We wanted everyone’s voice in this process, so we used a modified ‘growing definition’ structure to help us build our essential agreements. First we had each group of 8 come up with their list of agreements, then we had each group add the one they felt most strongly about to this google doc, which we projected for all to see. After that, we gave an opportunity for the whole staff to review the essential agreements and offer any suggestions or changes they felt were needed. Once all 125 of us were in agreement, we each signed our names.
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Learning Block 1 & 2

Each staff member self-selected what they wanted to learn about and how they wanted to learn.

We had staff choose personal inquiry…

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Collaborative inquiry…

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Guided inquiry…

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EdCamp…

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School Walkabout…

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Workshops…

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Sharing throughout the day

It was great to see so many staff members sharing their learning journey throughout the day. We had 3 new posts on our blog, 126 entries on the back channel and 130 tweets on #AISQ8PPL. People were excitedly sharing discoveries, resources, a-ha moments and more!

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Adult recess

Then came time for adult recess – which was awesome! All 125 of us headed outside into the fresh air and sunshine to take a little body break and re-charge our minds. We had skipping, colouring, frisbee, soccer, basketball, music, Western dancing, Arab dancing and a lot of laughter.

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Action Block

If I’m being totally honest… our action block was much shorter than expected… because we extended adult recess by 10 minutes. (Totally worth it!) But after we managed to pry ourselves away from the fun and the sun, it was awesome to see groups of staff members sitting together sharing their learning, discussing their discoveries and helping one another log on to Twitter. We had 20 new people sign-up for Twitter throughout the course of the day! Talk about learner-initiated action!

Content Reflection

Now it was time to reflect. First, we used the Visible Thinking Routine “I used to think… Now I think” to encourage everyone to reflect on what they had learned and how their understanding of teaching and learning had changed. Staff was invited to either Tweet, back channel or write down their reflection.

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Process Reflection

We also  wanted everyone to think about how they learned, so we invited everyone to write, back channel or Tweet about how and when they modelled the traits of the IB Learner Profile.

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Application Reflection 

We also asked everyone to think about their experience as a learner today and how that might impact the work they do with their learners.

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Feedback 

Finally we asked for some feedback about the afternoon. We set up a google form with two boxes – one for stars and one for wishes. We wanted an honest assessment of how the day went, what worked, what didn’t and suggestions for next time. The responses were overwhelmingly positive! Here is a small representative sample of the 10 pages of feedback we received.

Stars:

  • loved the different options for learning
  • great to have time to put our learning into action
  • nice to have personal choice and freedom
  • loved being in charge of my own learning
  • adult recess was awesome!!!
  • interesting to see what other people were learning
  • nice to be trusted to be responsible for my own learning
  • differentiated with lots of choice and options
  • interacting with people I don’t usually interact with
  • range of choices for different learning preferences
  • I enjoyed having learning tailored to my needs and interests
  • allowed me to reflect on my practice
  • relaxed and teacher-centered
  • I learned so much!
  • the time flew by
  • staff were treated as professionals
  • great team building and time for collaboration
  • appreciated being able to learn at my own pace
  • learning options were various and rich
  • not having to listen to anyone talk at me
  • taking ownership over my learning
  • time for exploration, inquiry and reflection

We also received some great constructive feedback that we will use to improve our structure for next time!

Wishes:

  • more opportunity for this structure of professional learning
  • more time to think about and complete the reflections
  • longer sessions to dive deeper into the inquiries
  • set up Twitter and social media before the day so we are ready to go
  • longer adult recess
  • more time to collaborate and share our learning
  • a full day instead of only half
  • longer time to eat lunch before we start
  • bigger variety workshops to choose from, led by teachers
  • track the data of what and how everyone is learning
  • longer learning blocks
  • longer action blocks

How awesome is it that our biggest suggestion from our staff is MORE time for professional learning!?

Thinking back on the day, I have a few of my own personal reflections:

  • It was great to develop a structure that allowed for every member of our staff to be a learner and spend time learning things relevant to their position within the school- especially the people who are usually delivering PD on these types of days (admin, coaches, coordinators, etc.)
  • It was amazing to see the learner-led action that resulted from this day. Staff members joined Twitter, started blogs, made changes to their teaching practice, signed up for workshops and more
  • If you trust your staff and develop the structures to help them to take ownership for their own learning, they will not disappoint. Our staff not only met our expectations, but went above and beyond our hopes and dreams for the day!
  • This structure of professional learning did wonders for our sense of community and staff morale
  • Sometimes the best way to help someone learn about inquiry, differentiation, learner choice and voice, social media and technology integration is not to have that be the content of learning, but instead the conduit for learning
  • Adult recess if life changing

We started on this journey by being very vulnerable and transparent with our staff saying “If you hate PD, that’s a clue to our leadership team that we are doing something wrong.” If that’s true, then hopefully these Tweets and post-its are clues that we’re doing something right…

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Since this is the first time we’ve tried something like this, we would love to hear your feedback and suggestions to continue to help us grow and extend our model of personalized, professional learning for all! 

 

PYP Bad Words

There is no denying that teaching and learning looks and feels different in an inquiry-based classroom compared to a more traditional classroom. With that, comes a collection words in an educator’s vernacular that no longer have a place or purpose. Here are a few words commonly used in traditional education, that really don’t belong in a PYP school.

Work“Finish your work.” 

If we truly value learning in the PYP, then why would there ever be a need to talk about work? Here is a great post by Edna Sackson that explores this issue and asks the question of whether our classroom time is being spent more on work or learning. 

Cover. “We didn’t have time to cover everything we wanted to.”

If the PYP is all about inquiry, discovery and exploration then why are we still talking about covering standards and content? The notion of covering something gives way to the ‘checklist’ mentality where we as teachers have a collection of things to teach and we can tick them off as we go. This leads us down the dangerous path of “I taught it, but they didn’t learn it.”

Test“Tomorrow we have a test.” 

If we truly believe that PYP students should own their learning and have a voice in how they share their learning with others, then why are we still giving tests? Tests are usually created by teachers, behind closed doors, without the voice or input of students. Tests often measure if students’ know what their teacher thinks they ought to know. Not to mention they are often closed, detached from real-life, assessed quantitatively and heavily dependant on reading ability. Why can’t we invite students to choose how they are going to share their learning? Here is a great blog post about how to open up summative tasks.

CopyCopy this definition into your notebook.”

As PYP teachers, if we truly value thinking and creativity, then why would there be a need for students to copy something down. Whether it’s a definition, a list of attributes, or instructions for how to do something, doesn’t the act of expecting students to copy down whatever it is we are looking for steal their thinking? If learning is all about making meaning, aren’t we missing an opportunity to have students construct their own meaning if we are expecting them to copy down someone else’s meaning?

Worksheet“I just have to print off this worksheet.”

Oh, worksheets. I have shared my feelings about worksheets before (especially commercially made worksheets). If student questions are meant to drive inquiry in the PYP, how can pre-made, one-size-fits-no-one worksheets contribute to a student’s exploration of their interests and curiosities? I often am met with the argument of “skill practice” in defence of worksheets. However, aren’t skills embedded in context and purpose in the real world? So I often wonder the purpose of isolated skill practice. Even if you can convince me of the value of “skill practice”, aren’t there better – more differentiated ways – to help 22+ students practice the skills that are relevant to them in ways that require true thinking, not just “watch and do” procedures? I hope so! Here is a great post that compares worksheets to candy… some food for though!

Cute“I found this on pinterest. It’s so cute!” 

Beware of cute at the expense of thinking. Before you call something cute, ask yourself if it is based on students’ questions, promotes inquiry, and is driven by deep, conceptual understanding. If so, then go for it. If not, then you may want to reconsider. I’ve read many IB publications providing guidance about making the PYP happen in your classroom. I have never once come across the word cute in any of those documents. Here is a great post about how many cute things on Pinterest have  “glitz and only the appearance of learning”.

Activities“Can we plan our activities for the unit?”

“What a great planning session! We have 10 weeks worth of activities all mapped out.” is something Kath Murdoch claims true inquiry teachers never say. Activities give the impression of something that is done to students. But learning can’t be done to students (or for students). Learning is something students need to do for themselves. Activities also give the impression of a one-off event or experience. If we want inquiries to allow students to generate and explore their own questions, they shouldn’t need a string of disconnected activities chosen by teachers. Instead why not use these guiding questions from Kath’s inquiry cycle to structure each step of the way. Do you really need activities when you can ask “What do you already know about this?”, “What do you want to know about this?” “How are you going to find out about this?” “How are you going to sort out the information you have found?” “What else do you need to find out before you share your discoveries?” “How are you going to share your learning with others?”  “Now that you know what you know, what are you going to do about it?”

These kids. “Inquiry works, just not with these kids.”

In the video What Does it Mean to be an Inquiry Teacher? Kath Murdoch clearly states that one of the defining features of a true inquiry teacher is someone who sees their students as competent, capable, curious, partners in learning  and someone who acknowledges that there is always something in each and every child that makes them intrigued and makes them light up. If we believe this to be true (and who can argue with Kath Murdoch when it comes to inquiry!?) then there would never be any reason to use the phrase “these kids” pejoratively when it comes to learning… regardless of the type of school, the age, the country, the community, the language, the culture, the personality. There are no “these kids” that true inquiry doesn’t work with.

Think about the conversations you have with students, parents, colleagues and administrators about teaching and learning:

  • How often do you find yourself using these PYP bad words?
  • How do the words you use reflect your beliefs about teaching and learning?
  • How can you shift parts of your teaching practice so you no longer have to use these words?

What do you think?

Do any of these words have a place in a PYP teacher’s vocabulary?

What other words do you hear or say that should be considered “PYP bad words”?

 

My Magic Answer

As PYP Coordinator, I am honoured to be considered a resource for teachers when they have questions about teaching, learning and everything in between. The questions I am asked cover a wide range of curiosities:

“How should I set up my classroom?”

“How can I welcome a new student coming part way through the year?”

“How can I have my students show what they’ve learned about ______ ?”

“How can I get my students attention?”

“What should the timeline be for this project?”

“How can I be a better teacher?”

Even though I get asked a wide range of questions, I noticed something interesting. Something very interesting! I can answer all of the questions above – and most of the questions I get asked throughout the day – with the same answer:

“Ask your students.”

Go ahead, try it. Go back through the list and see if that answer doesn’t work for any of those questions…

Teacher: “How should I set up my classroom?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I welcome a new student coming part way through the year?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I have my students show what they’ve learned about ______ ?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I get my students attention?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What should the timeline be for this project?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I be a better teacher?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

See! It is magic! It works for every question! Let’s try some more…

Teacher: “How can I build a classroom community?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I use Twitter in the classroom?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What should I put up on my inquiry cycle?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I have my students reflect on their learning?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What resources will help my students inquire into ________ ?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I tune in to what my students already know about ________ ?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher:“Why are my students not engaged?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Oftentimes teachers are so busy and bogged down… now I know why! They are doing the thinking on behalf of all of their students. Why not share the load? They say two heads are better than one, so surely 20+ heads are way better than one!

Why not invite student voice into your decision making?

Why not share problems of teaching, learning and everything in between with your students?

Why not turn the questions we have as teachers into collaborative inquiries with your class?

Why not trust your students to have creative, brilliant solutions that you maybe haven’t thought of?

Why not get rid of “secret teacher business” altogether?

Why not trust students to tackle the problems we grapple with as adults?

So next time you have a question why not try turning it over to your class first, because you know what my (magic) answer will be anyway…

Ask your students. 

 

Connecting with Students

At the beginning of the year, I chose the word connect to guide my intentions, goals and actions for the year. I wanted to connect more with students, teachers, parents and the on-line PYP community. Three months in, as I reflect on my growth so far, I can see that I have made the most progress connecting with students. As I try to unpack “why is it like that?” (causation) I can identify a few  factors that have helped me.

Here are the 10 things I’ve tried that I think have helped me connect more with students:

  1. Smile at them – a simple act that makes a big difference. I notice that when I smile at a student, their usual first reaction is shock and surprise, always followed by a smile back. I often wonder why students are so shocked to have a teacher or adult smile at them? Is it that rare? I truly hope not.
  2. Say hello and goodbye – As often as possible, I try to position myself in a place that allows me to greet students in the morning and send them off at then end of the day.
  3. Learn names. Use names. Pronounce them properly – Recently I read a quote that said some students can go a full day at school without ever hearing a teacher/adult say their name. How heartbreaking! This year, I have intentionally tried to learn as many names as possible and use them in my interactions and conversations with students. Whether its a greeting, a question, a compliment, I find using their name adds a nice personal touch. I’ve also tried my best to pronounce each name properly. This often requires lots of practice and seeking out feedback from students. But the students are always so appreciative of the effort. It has taken me three years to master “Ahmed”! My next challenge is “Khaled”.
  4. Ask questions and care about the answer – Edna Sackson advises us to go beyond learning students’ names and start learning their stories. How can we do this without asking questions? How was your weekend? How is your family? How was your day? This year I have tried to ask questions, not just to ask, but to really listen and care about the answer. It has been amazing to learn about students’ lives outside of school.
  5. Inquire into their interests – 90% of my conversation with the Grade 5 boys at my school are about WWE. I have absolutely no interest in WWE myself, but I love hearing their passion and excitement when they talk about their favourite wrestlers, favourite matches and favourite moves. Whether it is WWE, Trash Packs, Bey Blades, Geronimo Stilton, Premiere League or Frozen, there is such power in learning about the interests of each student. You don’t need to care about the same thing, but you can still acknowledge their interest and ask them questions about it to show you are interested in them.
  6. Care for themThe Relevant Educator has a great post explaining the difference between caring about students and caring for students. This has been my inspiration for actively seeking opportunities to care for students. Whether that means picking up something they dropped, holding a door open for them, helping them carry a heavy backpack or teaching them how to to tie their shoe. Small, simple acts of kindness can go a long way to show you care.
  7. Take interest in their language, culture and religion – As an international teacher, most of the students at my school are from a different culture, speak a different language and practice a different religion than me. I find the more I ask, listen and learn about their language, culture and religion the better I understand them as people and our relationship becomes stronger. I enjoy being able to use simple phrases or hand gestures that students understand. It is great to be able to acknowledge and wish them well for an upcoming holiday. It is clear that they appreciate the interest and the effort.
  8. Take their problems seriously – Sometimes I find we minimize students’ problems. I think it would be helpful to reflect on how we would feel experiencing those same problems as adults. How upset would you be if your money was stolen out of your purse? Could you focus on your job if you and your best friend were in a fight? This year I have tried to empathize more with students when they are looking for help solving their problems – both big and small. I have tried to put myself in their shoes and consider how I would be feeling if I were them, and it has helped me invest more time in listening to their problems and supporting them through solving those problems.
  9. Have a sense of humor – I love having jokes with students. One student calls me Cruela Daville, one student gives me points when she sees me drinking water and takes points away when she sees me drinking coffee, one student thanks me for the Starbucks I left on his desk (which I never do) and I love it. I love joking around with students. I love laughing with students. I love being invited to see that side of their personality.
  10. Play with them – This is the jackpot. Whether it is playing tic-tac-toe, who can reach my hand when I wear high heels, stella-ella-ola, solve the riddle, a moon walking contest or the latest version of rock-paper-scissors (which requires going into the splits!)  I find that playing with students is the best way that I can build genuine relationships with them. I try to force myself to go out for recesses that I am not on duty, specifically to play with the students. (Not to mention it provides fresh air, exercise and stress relief for me!) 

It’s interesting that sometimes you hear teacher’s say “I don’t have enough time to build relationships with students”. As PYP coordinator, none of my direct responsibilities involve students, but I actively seek out opportunities to purposefully connect with students. For me, building relationships with students is intentional… and essential… and the best part of working in the field of education! I often ask myself, Who have I not connected with yet? What can I do to form a bond with this student? and I purposefully invest the time and effort to build that bond. And the investment is so worth it. I am proud to say I have numerous authentic, meaningful relationships with many of the students at my school. I love when they run to my office to share their learning with me. I am honoured that they trust me with their problems. I enjoy the inside jokes we share. I appreciate that they listen to me when I have a reminder or redirection about their safety or behavior. I like being invited to take the Bean Boozled challenge! (If you don’t know what this is, consider yourself lucky!) 

I can also acknowledge that connecting with students is not accidental. It’s  a causal relationship. I invest in the relationship in purposeful ways and I reap the benefits daily.

Which of these do you already do?

Which of these might you want to start doing?

What else do you do to intentionally connect with the students?